The Union Government is trying to change perception instead of policy on the Farm Bills. This is not the ‘mandir moment’ in the Farm Bills crisis, where elected governments can leave tricky decisions to the courts and retrieve their image.
Thousands of farmers camping in freezing temperatures on the outskirts of Delhi for almost two months is not just perception — it is a tragedy, and the government cannot counter it with anything less than a policy change.
As this author had written in this space two weeks ago, it was expected that the government will first try to change the increasing negative perception.
Contrary to the claims of the government and the ruling party, the middle class has sympathy for the farmers who are risking their life and livelihood for justice. The argument no longer holds that the farmers are politically or ideologically motivated – the middle class is intellectually mobilised for the Indian farmers, whatever may be the colours they wear, or the languages they speak.
Who Will Believe In ‘Neutrality’ Of Committee Set Up By SC?
This solidarity of the urban with the ‘distant rural’ will trouble any elected government in India. It exposes the depth of misgovernance and exploitation that takes place in our villages – something that the middle class does not envisage in its idea of India. The farmers on Delhi borders have brought the rural reality to the urban doorstep. And it cannot be ignored.
The Committee set up by the Supreme Court is at the heart of a possible solution to the impasse between the farmers and the government. However, all four members of the Committee appear to be in favour of the Farm Bills, and may not recommend a repeal.
This begs the question – who will believe in the neutrality of this Committee?
The farmers – no, they have already rejected it. The urban middle class – no, they are aware of these tactics. The rural middle class – no, they are facing the brunt of the Farm Bills. The very poor – no, because they are at the mercy of the powerful. The rich – no, because they are the powerful.
But the legal system will give sanctity to the Committee findings. These will be converted into a belief to be imposed on a disbelieving country.
Failed Attempts To Turn The Perception Against The Protesting Farmers
There have been many attempts to turn the perception against the farmers.
- First, the farmers were called anti-nationals. This did not work because citizens sympathised with the farmers and their cause, even if they did not approve of their methods.
- Second, it was said that the farmers only came from two states. This was not true because farmer representatives came from Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, and other states.
- Third, the ruling party charged that only middle-men and arthiyas were protesting. This also did not work. Instead, it turned the focus on big businesses, which are now the middle-men between the consumer and the farmer.
- Four, the tear-gassing of the farmers on Rajasthan-Haryana border and the police action was an attempt to change the focus from the Farm Bills to the farmer protest sites. This was the last strategy to fail, before the SC stepped in.
All through this time, eight rounds of talks with the government were called, which consistently failed. The perception was being quietly built against the same protesting farmer groups, with whom negotiations were being held.
What Is The Way Forward?
What does all the perception-building show? The conduct of the government reveals that the repeal of the Farm Bills is being seen as a ‘loss of face’ by the decision-makers. However, leaders taking Farm Bills personally is a folly.
The Bills’ demerits themselves should dissuade any politician from attaching their name to them. Also, there has to be realistic assessment of the farmer’s unshakable demands, and the impact of protests across sectors.
In the perception of the middle class, it changes nothing if the ‘issue is in court’. This is not like the ‘mandir moment’ in the Ram Janmabhoomi-Babri Masjid case, where the citizen could take a detached legal view. This will affect every middle class person every time they buy food, and every time they sit down to eat.
The remedy is to repeal the Farm Bills and redraft them in consultation with the farmers this time.
Now, why would the government not do something as pro-people as this?
Instead, why is the government finding new ways of discrediting the farmers? Why don’t the deaths of over 50 farmers at the protest sites matter? These are the real questions that are damaging the perception about the government and the ruling party.
(Dr Kota Neelima is Author and Researcher with Institute of Perception Studies, and writes on rural distress and farmer suicides. Recent book, Widows of Vidarbha, Making of Shadows. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)