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Home >Opinion >Columns >Farmers’ stir: A question of who would blink first

During the ninth round of the talks between the Union government and protesting farmers, the only consensus was that they would meet again for the next round on 19 January. The national capital is witnessing a unique kind of agitation. Neither party is willing to relent, despite a number of agreements. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court postponed the implementation of the three laws which are the bone of contention, but the fight continues. Both the government and the agitators are perhaps testing the patience of the other side to see who would blink first.

Both sides have a different strategy to win the game. On the one hand, the government wants to tire the protesters out. On the other, farmers’ organizations are continuously devising new ways to engage protesters—now they have planned to organize a huge tractor rally on the Republic Day on 26 January. This is their way to further increase pressure on the government. I wish by then some solution is reached. No one wants this unique agitation to end with some kind of a turbulence.

Thousands of agitators are sitting at the four entrances to the national capital with unprecedented conviction. Despite more than 50 days, they have not lost their patience. Despite the harsh winter and unseasonal rains adding to their woes, they have not budged.

During this period, some organizations even tried to ‘hijack’ their struggle. Some objectionable posters were seen at the site of agitation, some speeches were also heard which may be objectionable to any Indian. But farmers’ leaders identified and got rid of them without any delay. Not only this, they succeeded in creating an amalgam of religion, society and culture, while fulfilling the immediate needs of the agitators, which managed to keep such a large crowd united. Farmers’ organizations claim that more than 75 people have died at the dharna sites so far. After such tragedies, people usually lose patience, but this time it did not happen. Some farmers and a religious figure committed suicide—this was not much publicized to ensure others do not follow suit.

Meanwhile, a mobile gurdwara is parked at the Singhu border. Religion during the struggle has proven to be a unifying and encouraging factor. Not only this, police and security forces also maintain distance from religious places during operations. Where Guru Granth Sahib is established, that place is considered holy and revered. Protesters have used faith and devotion to maintain trust.

A large number of women and children are also present. It gives a different identity to this struggle and also attracts more media attention. Farmer leaders also took care of the surrounding neighbourhoods and villages by not disturbing them. Volunteers put their full force to maintain peace. As a result, they started getting public support. If they did not mobilize it, the government’s work would have been easier.

These are undoubtedly big achievements, but is this enough?

I have been repeatedly saying that every agitation has a period of effectiveness. As the struggle gets prolonged, people’s attraction towards it decreases. Non-violent movements were founded in this country by M.K. Gandhi. His greatest strength was that he understood when and how long an agitation should be stretched. He managed to keep his demands and issues alive despite respectfully stepping back at the right time. Farmers should learn this. Perhaps the absence of a single leader or organization is the reason that they did not think that way.

Farmers’ organizations should also think over the fact that such a long agitation affects the surrounding industries and slows down traffic on highways. It is directly related to the development of the country. They may persist with their demand for the continuation of minimum support price (MSP), but they should not forget that despite this system, more than 110,000 of their brothers have committed suicide in the last 10 years. Every day 2,000-2,500 farmers are forced to leave their village for a job in urban centres. Every system needs to be amended, otherwise, it loses ground. Today, if the sons of the soil have deserted their villages, then surely reforms in the agricultural system are necessary. Whenever some changes are made, a dispute is bound to arise. Such a large country cannot have a single opinion, that is why the Constitution gives the right to protest. Farmers are using this right in an excellent way, but now they too should think about finding a middle path.

At the same time, the government will also have to make extra efforts to convince them. Long agitations sometimes create great trouble. The rail strike of May 1974 is an example. After this, Indira Gandhi lost her confidence and imposed Emergency on the country. This may not happen again, but a prolonged display of dissatisfaction may result in chaos and isolation. It is necessary that the government’s next attempts do not prove futile. Constant deadlock is not in anyone’s interest.

Shashi Shekhar is editor-in-chief, Hindustan.

The views expressed are personal

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