Farmers-govt face off: Who will blink first?

Farmers-govt face off: Who will blink first?

Farmers have seen through govt's intentions and tactics, distrust corporatised media, and have played social media effectively

Representative image. Credit: AFP Photo

The farmers' unions argue that the new farm laws, which remove restrictions on the purchase and sale of farm produce, enable contract farming based on written agreements, and lift caps of the 1955 Essential Commodities Act concerning inventory, will cause them irreversible material harm, while benefitting Big Business. That is the reason farmers are unwilling to accept anything less than repeal of these laws.

The eighth round of talks on January 8 between farmers’ unions and three Union ministers had the government saying that it “cannot, and will not” repeal the farm laws. When asked for their response to the government’s stand, a farmer who had attended the meeting said, “jeetenge ya marenge,” (“We will win (repeal of the laws) or die.”

Effectively, both sides have dug in their heels. The farmers are implacable, showing steely determination but peaceful and disciplined behaviour, even though over 70 protestors have died due to cold and exposure. They view the government as displaying unbecoming intransigence and insensitivity.

The Supreme Court has directed the government to hold the farm laws in abeyance, is “disappointed” with the government’s handling of the farmers’ protest, and has shown concern for the health and safety of the protesting farmers in the winter in pandemic times. It wishes to appoint an “expert committee” to review the policy and legal angles.

It would suit the government’s purpose very well if the farmers withdrew the protest on the promise of holding the laws in abeyance. But it is understood that the farmers’ unions have seen through this, and insist that repeal alone will satisfy them. Indeed, the farmers are saying: “shantipurna sangharsh hi aage ka rasta hai; hum apna haq lekar hi vapas jayenge” (Peaceful struggle is our way forward; we will return [home] only after we win our rights [laws are repealed]).

Farmers have seen through the government’s intention to wear them down by stretching the timeline with infructuous talks, and legal red herrings.

It is a sad commentary that the farmers do not seem to have confidence in the Supreme Court either, as evidenced in a farmer leader’s remark that a former Chief Justice of India was, upon his retirement, nominated to the Rajya Sabha by the BJP government. On Monday, the court was moved to say to the farmers, “Whether you have faith or not, we are the Supreme Court of India. We will do our job.”  

Choices and calculations

The government may choose to evict the farmers from Delhi’s borders at Singhu, Tikri, Ghaziabad, etc., using police – and heaven forbid, the military, because large numbers of Veterans are among the farmers – force. This would inevitably result in death and injury casualties, and intensify anger among farmers and workers countrywide, besides creating problems among the rank and file of the Armed Forces, CAPF and state police.

Other sections of the population joining cause with farmers and workers is evidence of a groundswell of public opinion against corporatisation. The corporate-controlled “mainstream” media is downplaying the countrywide enlargement of the protests and agitations for obvious reasons.

An estimated 96,000 tractors and 12 million farmers-workers are protesting around Delhi alone. But the government, with self-righteous belief in its ‘mann ki baat’, appears unable to comprehend the reality of public discontent, oblivious to the deep, ominous rumble of social turmoil. The government-corporate nexus appears self-deluded.

Political parties are attempting to embarrass the government by taking advantage of the farmers’ initiative, although they had themselves done little for farmers over the decades. The farmers are well aware of widespread corruption among the political class in general, their duplicity, pro-corporate leanings and quid pro quo obligations.

The farmers have consciously and successfully kept political parties out of their protest, thereby giving the lie to the government’s statements that the protests are instigated by opposition parties. They are watchful of agents provocateurs instigating violence to defame the protest.

Allies have left the BJP-led NDA government over the farm laws, and joined cause with the farmers. Also, many among the ruling party are uncomfortable with the government’s unyielding stance and its negative political effect on their electoral constituencies, but lack courage to question the ‘supreme command’.

In another recent case, the SC had held that the court cannot strike down government’s policy decisions unless they violate fundamental rights. On the backfoot, the government may be expecting the judiciary to pull its farm law policy decision chestnuts out of the fire of its own making.

Media-savvy

A youthful voluntary social media team working for the farmers on the twin basis of “no offensive language” and “no financial aid” has largely neutralised the well-financed pro-government cyber troll team whose USP is hate and falsehood. Farmers’ “Tractor2Twitter” campaign has stormed across cyber space and countered the names – terrorists, Khalistanis, etc. – the protesting farmers have been called. Although much of it is in Punjabi, they have effectively used social media platforms to reach out to farmers-workers in non-Hindi speaking states.

The farmers are prepared to continue the siege for many more weeks at the gates of Delhi. They have planned various nationwide peaceful programmes, which will keep state governments and their security resources engaged.

They propose to stage a peaceful Republic Day Kisan-parade on Rajpath after the customary official military (Jawan) parade. This would further the “Jai Jawan Jai Kisan” sentiment, which started with the catchy “China border, Jai Jawan; Singhu border, Jai Kisan” slogan.

Arguably the world’s largest farmer rally, it avowedly does not want to embarrass the government, unlike the political parties which aim to do precisely that. Farmers only demand justice and fairplay by repeal of the three farm laws, so as to retain their lands and livelihoods and remain out of corporate clutches.

In what appears to be a contest of attrition, farmers and workers are well aware of the far superior economic, communication and logistic resources of the government, but are confident of overcoming all with the strength of the justice of their cause, and the power of truth and non-violence. The Mahatma would have been proud of them.