Governments are cold-blooded. One farmer dies of farmer suicide every 30 minutes in this country. So why did the Prime Minister announce the repeal of the farm laws? Here are some reasons.
First. Delhi is not a citadel, it is a cage. The nails laid on the roads leading to Delhi will remain forever in the history books. Delhi is about tall gates and high walls. This is the way the powerful and the influential keep the powerless out of their line of sight and their vicinity. But this time around, it was different. The protests caged the powerful inside Delhi. It was not the powerless who were kept out, it was the powerful who were kept in.
Leaders who claimed they had a great connection with the ordinary people of the country were reminded of their distance from reality. The moral authority, which electoral victories give to governments, was eroded slowly but irreversibly.
Incidents like Lakhimpur Kheri only added to the government’s image as anti-farmer. And anti-farmer governments cannot work in a nation that is 65 per cent rural and dependent on agriculture.
Every Villager Is Also a Voter
Second. The notion exists that a government with a large majority can pass any law through Parliament, that the ‘agenda’ of the government is already before the people during elections as manifesto and campaigns. And that the ‘vote’ in support of a political party also summarily validates its agenda. The farmer protests seriously questioned this notion and the legitimacy of governments to push for their ‘agenda’ in the name of the people.
This is an important turning point, as it can apply to other controversial decisions of this government, which have also led to widespread protests.
The lack of deliberation with all stakeholders appears to be a deliberate move by the government, which knows it will not find support for the laws. Protests are not anti-democratic – protests are a marker of a larger majority, and that is of the citizens outside Parliament.
The citizens have shown they have power as well as the patience to change laws imposed upon them.
Third. The repeal announcement may have been for electoral reasons, especially with regard to Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. The protests sites of Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur are represented by these two states, among others. Farmers who returned from Delhi carried the experience of waiting outside the gates of power. Every villager knows how their brothers and sisters were mistreated. Every villager is also a voter.
Farmers Refused to Give Their Struggle a Political Colour
Lathi-charge and water cannons were used repeatedly against the farmers, and many received serious injuries. Such violence should have moved a government immediately.
Instead, farmers were discredited, vilified, and seen in contempt. But who is not aware of these tactics against the weak? They are part of the daily struggles of the urban Indian, as well as the rural.
Fourth. Farmer protests have been relentless, dignified and selfless. Farmers refused to give space to politicians and studiously remained apolitical themselves. They even disowned those who gave ideological perspectives to the farmers’ protests. Any attempts to divide the protesting farmers and their unions failed for the same reason.
Governments, when cornered, also need space to find solutions. There were no motives that could be attributed to the farmers, who were fighting for justice. There were no winners or losers, and the demand was only to repeal the farm laws. The debates that raged around this demand helped in a deeper understanding of how farm reforms should be implemented.
The BJP Govt Undermined the Middle Class
Fifth. The middle class has been the most underestimated segment of the population in recent years. Tax-paying citizens have been stereotyped and pandered with politics that is entertaining but empty. Over the last year, farmers were portrayed as anti-national, the protests were seen as a threat to the unity and development of the country. It was expected that the middle class, busy with its aspirations, will have no sympathy for the farmers.
This is far from the truth. The middle class has been with the farmers all through their struggle. As this author has written before, corporatisation of agriculture, food availability and price rise are middle-class concerns. Any government’s policies and popularity are tested in the kitchens of common people. Along with the brutal fuel price rise, this government is failing in this test.
Lastly, the announcement of the repeal of farm laws reveals the nervousness of the government towards the coming elections. But it also shows the power of protest in a democracy. And this must be factored into every electoral calculation and legislative decision going forward.
(Dr Kota Neelima is author, researcher and Director of Institute of Perception Studies, New Delhi. She writes on rural distress and farmer suicides. She tweets @KotaNeelima. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)