Indian farmers, mostly from Punjab, parts of Haryana and western UP, are holding the nation to ransom. They have blocked road and rail access to Delhi from neighbouring states by lining up hundreds of tractors along the route and bringing people at the protest sites. The genie of mob-protest to settle grievances that the Punjab chief minister released so triumphantly has started taking its toll also on telecommunication networks and lives of misguided protesters. Worse consequences are to follow.
Strangely, agitators’ anger is against the Acts that allow farmers to sell their produce anywhere in India, engage voluntarily in contract farming and permit traders to stock unlimited produce to reduce wastage, export surplus and keep prices stable. Neither Minimum Support Price (MSP) nor Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) have been abolished. Still, APMC bosses and middlemen won’t back off unless the Acts are repealed and MSP is protected by law.
Since the farm Acts are not cast in stone, they may have flaws but these need to be discussed and negotiated with an open mind. Issuing ultimatums won’t help.
Agitators also had the option of approaching courts to get the Acts declared unconstitutional or wait to replace NDA with a government that would repeal them. But they chose not to take these courses, for they neither had respect for public order nor believed in law, Constitution and judicial process. They must understand that their protest is causing a daily loss of ₹3,500 crore, and supplies of grains, fruits, raw material and movement of troops and fighting equipment for soldiers in forward areas are getting severely disrupted. Moreover, there is an urgency for the economy to stabilise so that it meets the twin threat from the coronavirus pandemic and Chinese aggression. The irony is that courts don’t want to restrain them from protesting and Prime Minister is too democratic to use tanks and artillery to clear roads of squatters.
The leaders behind the protests are rich and wield enormous political clout in their states. They can afford to carry on the spectacle until the Prime Minister loses his nerves. One has to visit the protest site to see their affluence, stockpile of supplies and how picketers are being pampered with choicest of cuisine, health food, warm clothes, massage chairs and cozy shelters. Their confidence has grown manifold from the support they draw from opposition political parties, kisan union leaders, civil right activists, Khalistanis, Naxalites and Muslim fundamentalists who have their own sinister agenda to pursue. Modi must not concede their unreasonable demands but should also not shy away from rectifying omissions and incorporating provisions that clarify misgivings. He can’t let down the promise of a second Green Revolution to usher in.