Delhi is a fragile place, like all centres of power. The capital’s strength lies in the ‘perception’ of power, which is neither real nor justified. The real power lies with the people in a democracy, but Delhi consolidates the administrative need for a centre into a moral one.
This false perception made the present central government pass farm bills over 60 days ago, without thorough consultation with farmers themselves and without following the deliberative process inside Parliament.
The result? Lakhs of farmers are gathering on the outskirts of Delhi, preparing for a siege that should be uncalled for in a democracy. There are two options before the central government; first, to maintain the perception of power until the citizens are worn out or are intimidated; and second, to rollback the farm bills and collaborate with the stake-holders.
4 Years Left For Next General Elections – No Threat To Govt To Make It Yield To Farmers & The Poor
The first option is an often-used technique with the present central government.
Since 2014, farmers have protested on the following issues – land acquisition, farmer suicides, GMOs, delayed irrigation projects, better MSP, loan waivers, power supply and tariffs, among other issues. In 2018, over 70,000 farmers tried to storm through Delhi borders after waiting patiently for their demands to be heard. They wanted better Minimum Support Prices (MSP) for their produce and were protesting that the government prices were less by 40 percent.
The farmers in 2018 had also wanted one job or one employment opportunity for a member of a household where a farmer had died by suicide. The protestors were lathi-charged and tear-gassed to keep them from walking into Delhi.
A similar escalation of the present crisis is clear and obvious evidence of the distance Delhi maintains from ground realities and the plight of the common people. But with four years left for the next national general elections, there is no threat to the government’s perception of power, however false, that can make it yield to the poor, the farmers and those who face the water-cannons on the national highways today.
Why Offers & Discussion By Govt Do Not Hold Credibility With Protesting Farmers
The second option will enable the government to initiate the collaborative development of rural India.
Farmers today are protesting against the dismantling of the MSP system and the walk-through given to corporates to take over rural markets, facilitated through the 3 farm bills passed in Parliament by the government in September, 2020. Farmers in various parts of the country are selling produce at lower than MSP, as there is no mechanism outside mandis for price realisation.
The farmer organisations are aware of the government’s fixation with corporatisation and it’s unwillingness to negotiate changes in the farm bills. Mainly, this is the reason why any offer of discussion from the government’s side does not hold credibility with the protesting farmers.
Along with that, the BJP has maintained a pro-corporate image, with low interest in improving prospects of the farmer.
The farm bills are seen as part of the planned elimination of the farmer from land and agriculture, and to shift focus to rapid urbanisation of the rural. Rural India has another reason for its distrust. The recent migrant crisis during the COVID lockdown, when lakhs of farmers had to walk hundreds of kilometres home, demonstrated to the poor that neither those in power nor those in business care for them. Urbanisation would only be another way of exploitation of the farmer as either the owner of cheap land or as the provider of cheap labour.
What The Central Govt’s True Legacy Will Be
Finally, the central government must weigh whether it can afford to make the farmer-voter unhappy. Records show that despite farmers protests, BJP has won the last general election with 37.6 percent vote share in rural India. This was an increase of 6 percent from 2014 elections. Further, popular media has sided with the government in most crises. Prime time television for the last one day has focussed on other issues, even as water-cannons were used, roads were dug up, and barricades erected to keep Delhi ‘safe from farmers’.
However, it is also true that political realities change every week in Delhi.
The central government’s insecurities will be evident from which option it chooses to handle the farm bill crisis – whether it uses force to quell protests or reconciliation to collaborate with farmers.
That will be the real legacy of this government, and not the Rs 20,000-crore-Central Vista project, paid with the money earned by the same tax-payer who is also paying for the lathi-charge of the poor farmers on Delhi highways. Hopefully, this may be the end of the year of the gullible Indian.
(Dr Kota Neelima, Author and Researcher, writes on rural distress and farmer suicide. Recent book, Widows of Vidarbha, Making of Shadows. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)