Rasheeda Bhagat

A farmers’ agitation like no other

Rasheeda Bhagat | Updated on December 14, 2020

The Centre’s refusal to hold a meaningful dialogue, under the guise of the need for agri-reforms, has the potential to cause chaos

Who had thought India’s farmers would put up such a brave, consistent and non-violent fight against a strong government such as the one we have at the Centre? This humongous and spontaneous agitation, as natural as it is powerful, with no recognisable leaders or politicians pushing them, is against the recent farm laws and what the farmers call the “corporatisation of agriculture”, and especially detrimental to small farmers.

A unique feature of this agitation, most aptly described by the Hindi idiom Sarkar ki naak mei dum la rakha hei (given a really hard time to the government), is its getting support both from civil society as well as some arms of the government itself.

First, a confession: I am an unabashed admirer of the Punjabis/Sikhs’ large heartedness, zeal for life and compassion. Zindadili, the Hindi word that captures the essence of Punjabis, is written all over this agitation initiated and led by farmers from Punjab and Haryana. Stunning images and reports of Sikh farmers serving food and water in Karnal to policemen in uniform, with some even wearing riot gear, seated on the national highway are heart-warming. After all, the Haryana police had been used by its government to rain tear-gas shells and water cannons on farmers in the biting winter cold.

Other striking images are of the agitating farmers preparing food in huge vessels. The few mainstream television channels, and print media, doing honest, fair and comprehensive coverage of this three-week agitation, have brought us wonderful snapshots of the grit and determination of these farmers, including women who are now joining them, braving the weather but determined to stay put till the three farm laws are binned — their primary and only demand. There is no breast beating, or tears.

Spontaneous help

Help is pouring in from various organisations and generous donors who recognise the value of our annadatas. As they stay put at the Delhi borders, we see a constant supply of cooked meals, fruits, dry fruits, chaat, and even pizzas. Khalsa Aid India has put up a temporary massage centre with foot massagers to soothe their tired legs! There are arrangements even for laundry service and medical treatment. Next stop — balle balle?

And, now, many from the armed forces, particularly the veterans, have pledged to return some 25,000 medals given for their service to the nation, as they fully support the farmers. Not only do they hail from farming families, many of them now live by tilling their land and putting food on our plates. The jai jawan, jai kisan slogan was not given by former prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri for nothing. There is an indelible and deep-rooted bond between the farmer and the jawan. In a largely agri-based country such as India, it is only natural that not only the hawaldars and other lower-rank army personnel, but also the police and other government workers come from rural, agri-families.

Puzzling doggedness

It is puzzling to find the Centre’s stubbornness and doggedness to defend the three farm laws with all its might, throwing only a few crumbs to the farmers at every negotiation. Not only that, the agitating farmers are being slandered as tools of the Opposition parties (as though any are left!) by BJP ministers, who call them and their supporters anti-national, pro-Pakistan, terrorists, urban naxals, etc. This is pointed out in an open and hard-hitting letter to the government signed by 78 retired civil servants, mostly IAS, IFS and IPS officers who have served both the Central and various State governments in senior positions.

The letter says these officers “support the Constitutional freedom and Constitutional right of peaceful protest being exercised by farmers and others. It is time that the ruling dispensation listens carefully to the demands being made and demonstrates its respect for democratic traditions, procedures and practices by engaging in dialogue inside and outside Parliament.”

The bureaucrats have also slammed the “undermining of democratic processes and total disregard for public consultation in the ways in which Article 370 was repealed, demonetisation was implemented without warning or preparation, the Citizenship Amendment Act was brought in and a lockdown ordered with hardly any notice, resulting in untold suffering for millions of migrant workers.”

Common to all these actions, they add, “was a refusal to consult the people affected beforehand and a determination to not hold a dialogue afterwards”.

Well, a refusal to hold a meaningful dialogue and listen to the agitating farmers, under the guise of the need for “agri-reforms”, has the potential to cause chaos, and prove the oft-mouthed government slogan of ‘jai kisan’ to be only a false, empty rhetoric. Will history record that it took the humble Indian farmer to point out that the emperor has no clothes, when it comes to fundamentals of democracy such as consultation and dialogue?

Published on December 14, 2020

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