What the protesting farmers stir can learn from Gandhi. The agreement reached after the ninth round of negotiations between the protesting farmers and the government was that they would meet again on January 19. No party is willing to move the needle in inches despite various related agreements. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court has postponed the implementation of the three disputed laws.
Both groups have used different strategies to gain power. The government hopes it can hold on until farmers stop. Farmer organizations, meanwhile, are exploring various ways to engage perpetrators. A major Republic Day tractor meeting is scheduled for January 26. Farmers hope to continue to pressure the government in this way, but this is not the solution. We can only hope that this long commotion does not lead to some kind of chaos.
The protest was different because thousands of abusers were present at the four entrances to the capital and looked firm in the belief that these laws should be lifted. Hold them tight for more than 50 days now. They have endured much of the rainy season and bitter winter until now. It is difficult to manage a diverse and large crowd but the farmers seem to be strong.
However, during the crisis so far, some organizations have tried to hijack the organization. Some questionable posters were erected, and provocative speech was made. But farmers’ leaders spotted the interlopers and cut them short. The protest brought together people from different faiths and various socio-cultural issues in a cohesive manner. Farmers’ organizations say more than 75 people have died in dairy areas so far. Often such tragedies cause people to despair, but this is not the case here. Some farmers reportedly died by suicide but this was not praised with the intention of preventing this from becoming a habit.
Religion has been a factor in the protests, which explains why the Gurudwara movement was established at the border of Singhu. Police and security forces have shown empathy by maintaining a dignified distance and religious sites while on duty. When the Guru Granth Sahib was placed on site, it was considered sacred and this was the meeting place of the abusers.
A large number of women and children are also present in the protest area. This has attracted a lot of media attention. Farmer leaders also took care not to disrupt normal life in nearby villages and volunteers were fully utilized to ensure peace. This has benefited the community movement. If the masses were out of control, the government would gain a advantage.
This is a commendable achievement, but is it enough?
Every trouble has a successful operating window. As the struggle continues, interest in the people diminishes. Mahatma Gandhi, who founded a nonviolent movement in India, was wise enough to judge the length of the riots. He was able to keep his needs and problems alive even though he came back on time. Farmers should learn from his example. Perhaps the absence of a single leader or organization is the reason why this has not happened so far.
Farmer organizations should also take into account the fact that such long-term development affects the surrounding industries and restricts access to highways. All of this has a detrimental effect on people’s lives. They may insist on demanding a continuous subsidy (MSP), but they must not forget that without this program, more than one farmer has committed suicide over the past decade. Every day, between 2,000 and 2,500 farmers are forced to leave their villages to look for work elsewhere. If the current system were to function properly, the situation in our rural areas would not be so bad.
All plans need to be improved and amended according to changing times. Today, if farmers feel compelled to leave their villages because agriculture is unpaid, that certainly suggests that reforms in agriculture are needed. Such changes will be controversial and that is why the Constitution gives people the right to protest. Farmers have done that in a constructive way so far, but now they have to consider finding a middle ground.
Government must go further to convince farmers of its good intentions. It should not allow this interruption to out of control. Recall the May 1974 railway strike. It caused Indira Gandhi to feel in a corner enough to force an Emergency.
This is likely to happen again but such long-term manifestations of dissatisfaction may end in chaos. Government must now take concrete steps to make concerted efforts to prevent problems and farmers must embrace well-intentioned proposals to address this problem.