By R. Raj Rao
EXPERTS such as Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj India, and P. Sainath, author of the influential book Everyone Loves a Good Drought, have argued that the new farm laws, which snatch away the ground beneath the farmers’ feet, so to speak, are detrimental to the farming community. Dispensing with the mandi system without guaranteeing the farmers of a minimum support price, the experts say, expose the vulnerable farmers to the gamble of market forces.
This accounts for the recent farmer protests in India which have generated support to the farmers and criticism for the Government bot, locally as well as internationally.
The government, though, has acted typically in character.
A predictable tactic of governments is to allege that it is opposition parties that are behind any protests, always with a view to bringing down a duly elected government. In this case, however, the farmers have made it abundantly clear that the protests are entirely their own, and not the brainchild of any political party. In fact, the farmers have gone to the extent of banning political parties from coming with their banners anywhere close to the protestors. On the contrary, the farmers allege that it is the government that has deviously planted some farmers from Haryana who claim that they support the three new farm laws, albeit with amendments.
Yet if protests serve as a catalyst to bring the opposition together, motivating 24 political parties to seek an appointment with the President, they safeguard a democracy in danger of turning into a dictatorship. This happened during the CAA and NRC protests, and it is happening once again, proved by the unanimous support given to Tuesday’s Bharat Bandh, not just by political parties, but also by crusaders like Anna Hazare. Workers from other sectors too observed the Bharat Bandh in solidarity with their farmer brothers.
As always, the government has been quick to brand people who disagree with its policies as people instigated by the enemy. If the anti-CAA and NRC opponents were called Pakistani agents, the Punjab farmers have been called Khalistanis. This was especially so after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau took up the cudgels on behalf of the farmers, and expressed his displeasure over the police assaulting protestors with water cannons in the chilly winter weather.
Branding is a colonial act. The British branded various indigenous people when they ruled India. Some tribes were called thieves, as the Marathi writer Laxman Gaikwad, himself a victim, says in his autobiography. When a nation begins to brand its own people, it takes on the role of colonial oppressor. When Nirad Chaudhuri was described by his critics as pro-British and anti-Indian, he saw it as an act of abuse.
The protests by farmers in Delhi at the end of this year are an exact replica of the anti-CAA protests at the beginning of this year. To the extent that it was elderly women who braved the cold weather and stayed put at Shaheen Baug through January and February, insisting that they would not end their agitation till the controversial CAA and NRC bills were withdrawn, here it is elderly grandmothers who are out in the open with a supply of rations to cook for their agitating farmer sons, refusing to budge till the government gives in to their demands.
Had it not been for corona, which has necessitated the closure of campuses; it is almost certain that college and university students too would have joined the farmers’ protests to have the government’s new farm laws repealed. It will be recalled that during the CAA and NRC protests, students, not just in Jamia Milia Islamia and JNU, but indeed in universities all over the country, including my university, the University of Pune, played a major role in opposing the new citizenship laws that discriminate against Muslims.
A democratically elected government needs to be humble, not arrogant. If it has erred, it must have the humility to accept its mistakes and surrender to the wishes of the people. Such humility, it seems to me, is singularly lacking in the current dispensation. Once they set their heart on something, they obstinately cling to it. On Tuesday evening, the day of the Bharat Bandh, Home Minister Amit Shah attempted to effect damage control by holding an emergency meeting with some farmers unions. But the farmers are unanimous in their demand that they will settle for nothing less than a complete abolition of the new farm reforms.
Whether the Modi government will win or be forced to backtrack; only time will tell.
Views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily represent that of Kashmir Observer
- Dr. R. Raj Rao is an internationally known Indian English novelist, poet and critic. He was Professor and Head of the Department of English at the University of Pune in Maharashtra. He has also been a Visiting Professor at universities in Canada and Germany
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