NEW DELHI witnessed chaotic scenes on Republic Day as farmers protesting against the “unjust” farm laws entered the capital on tractors. They clashed with the police, broke barricades and stormed the Red Fort, raising even a religious flag on the 17th century Mughal monument, The police responded with tear gases and lathi charge. One protester was killed in what the police called an accident. But the farmers alleged the deceased was hit by a police bullet.
It was an unprecedented show of strength by the farmers who have been camping on the borders of New Delhi for the past two months. And so far they had held their calm. But a part of the Republic Day tractor parade went off-track. However, the farmers union Samyukt Kisan Morcha blamed the “anti-social elements” for the violence. The union dissociated itself from all such elements that have violated discipline. Morcha also called off the tractor parade and appealed to participants to immediately return to their respective protest sites.
The violence during the protest prompted the union Home ministry to call meet. It remains to be seen how the government responds to the escalating protest by the farmers. So far, the government has offered to suspend the three controversial farming laws for 18 months, but the farmers want a complete repeal of the laws. The farmers argue that the laws will only hurt their livelihoods and will only benefit large corporations. The situation remains deadlocked. The farmers, meanwhile, continue their siege to New Delhi, blocking its main entry points. The government, it seems, has now fewer options left but to accede to farmers’ demands. If this happens this will be the first time that the Modi government will be forced to withdraw any of the laws it has passed so far.
One of the biggest charge against the BJP-led union government is that it is unilaterally passing the far-reaching laws with a bearing on the lives of the millions of people. This started with sudden demonetisation of Rs 1000 and Rs 500 notes in November 2016 that plunged the country into a virtual chaos. People thronged the banks to either exchange or deposit their old currency. Long queues of people, a significant number of them senior citizens, appeared outside the banks and ATMs to deposit their cash. Scores lost their lives in the process. Then followed the GST reform which crushed the small businesses. This was followed by the revocation of Article 370 that granted J&K its semi-autonomous status within Indian Union. The move’s disruptive fallout is still playing out in J&K and Ladakh, the former parts of J&K state, now downgraded into two union territories. Following this, the centre came up with Citizenship Amendment Act that ensured that only non-Muslim refugees from the neighbouring countries are entitled to Indian citizenship. Though the CAA was also resisted by people, the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic ended the protest. Now the farmers protest is taking place despite the pandemic. The best course for the government is to address the anxieties of the farmers and do everything to assure them that their livelihoods will not be threatened.
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