The violence that happened in some areas in Delhi during the farmers’ rally, some actions like the hoisting of sectarian flags at the Red Fort and the unruly conduct of many participants, do no credit to them or their leaders nor help their cause. The chaos and anarchy that reigned in the national capital for hours was a sad spectacle, and the leaders of the farmer groups that organised the rally will certainly be held responsible for it, though they claim that it was the work of other organisations and mischievous elements. Some possibility of spontaneous or even provoked trouble had to be expected in an emotive public event in which tens of thousands of people took part, and there may perhaps be relief that it did not escalate into bigger trouble. The leaders have called for a return of the farmers from the city, but it is not known if everyone will heed the call.
But the events should not deflect focus from the issues that underlie the situation. The two parades Delhi witnessed on Tuesday presented two images of the republic on the 72nd Republic Day. Both were spectacles but they carried contrasting symbols -- one of State power, the other of people’s power, however unruly and disorganised. The day commemorates the vesting of sovereignty in the people and the exercise of power on their behalf by the State. But the dissociation between the people and the State, through erosion of the institutions of democracy that link them, has been more glaring this past year than at any time in the past. This was a year when the people were rendered powerless by a scourge as never seen before. The State, unfortunately, used it to make itself more powerful and rob people of their agency. It was a bad situation when the executive proposed, the legislature disposed, and the judiciary did not oppose decisions that had great consequences for the people, taken without consultation with them. The tractor rally in Delhi was a symbol of people’s protest against that, with all its faults.
Specifically, the farmers are protesting against the three laws enacted by the government without taking their views. The government sought to impose on them what it decided was best for them, and exploiting the limitations posed by the pandemic hustled it through Parliament. It then looked down on the protests, stuck to its position, took too long to talk to the protesters, and created such a situation that the offer to put the laws on hold has not appealed to the farmers. The untoward scenes in Delhi on Tuesday are yet another reminder of the need to find an early solution to the problem and for the government to reform its attitudes and ways of governance.