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View: Protest is fine, anarchy is not; protesting farmers should accept offer to suspend the laws, go home


A section of protesting farmers broke the agreement reached with the Delhi Police over the route their tractor rally would take on Republic Day, marched to central Delhi, clashed with the police, vandalised property and desecrated symbols of national sovereignty at the Red Fort, planting a religious flag atop domes that have borne only symbols of national self-assertion since Independence.

This is condemnable. It only serves to discredit the agitation and give credence to the conspiracy theory that the entire farmers’ agitation is a conspiracy against India hatched by Sikh separatists. No wonder the Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the collective face of assorted farmers unions conducting the protest, has distanced itself from the vandals.

Trying to stage a rival parade in the national Capital on Republic Day was always a bad idea. There would be few among those camping along Delhi’s borders to protest against the three new farm laws of the government who have either not served in the Indian armed forces or do not have a close relative soldiering for the nation along a risky border. They have come to protest, not to challenge the nation.

But those who took the law into their own hands and marched on the Red Fort and hoisted a religious flag where only the flag of the Republic’s secular power should fly challenged the integrity of the state and India’s sovereignty. They took the agitation away from farmers’ demands to the politics of anarchy. That is not acceptable. It is welcome that the major parties of the Opposition have condemned the vandalism of the agitators.

The farmers achieved their demand, in effect, when the government offered to hold the laws in abeyance for one and a half years, while all the concerns raised by farmers were thrashed out in a committee. One and a half years could have been negotiated to two years. At that point of time, it is unlikely that the government would risk another major agitation with barely a year to go to the next general election. Unless action had been taken to address the real, as opposed to theoretical, concerns of both sides, the farmers and the government.

Open-ended subsidy at ever-rising support prices is a good way to make a minority of farmers happy but a poor way to manage either the nation’s food security or public finances. The strategy that once was the backbone of making India self-reliant in food is now a blight on Indian farming. It produces unwanted mountains of grain, depletes ground water, makes the soil toxic with chemicals, drains the exchequer and is grounded, besides, in inequality between regions where procurement takes place and where procurement is a distant dream.

A shift in that strategy is required, clearly. But such a shift cannot be achieved by a stroke of the pen: it is a process of crop diversification, away from grain to crops such as oil seeds, fruit and pulses, in which farmers need to be given the kind of support which lured them into cultivation of high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat to launch the Green Revolution. This calls of orchestration of inter-related policies on crops, farmer-market linkages, farm produce handling infrastructure, electricity, and logistics, and training of farmers in new crops and crop husbandry.

The duration for which the farm laws are held in abeyance should be used to carry out this transition. If that interval is treated merely as a grace period for political bargaining, the result would be another confrontation some time in the future.

The farmer unions should accept that the deviants among them have served to give some credence to the government’s conspiracy theory about Khalistanis taking over the farmers’ protests. They should accept the government’s offer to discuss things threadbare as the laws are held in abeyance, and go home.

It makes sense for the farmers’ agitation to live to fight another day than to continue a battle in which they have allowed their credibility to be damaged.

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