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Competing farmers unions prolong stir

By VIRENDRA KAPOOR
December 29, 2020 17:36 IST
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Let the implementation of reforms be left to the discretion of individual states and ensure an end to the illogical stir, argues Virendra Kapoor.

IMAGE: Farmers at the Ghazipur border in New Delhi, December 28, 2020. Photograph: Atul Yadav/PTI Photo
 

The farmers' protest is now into its second month.

Despite six rounds of talks there as yet no compromise in sight.

This is most unfortunate.

No dispute can be resolved if one side takes a rigid stand.

In this case, it is the farmers who have shown little flexibility, hell-bent as they are on the outright repeal of the farm reform legislation.

The all-or-nothing stance smacks of arrogance, making the search for a negotiated settlement much harder.

Despite five rounds of talks, the farmers refuse to budge, the demand for the repeal of the reforms is non-negotiable. Period.

On its part, the government has shown remarkable resilience, agreeing to virtually emasculate the long-overdue salutary reforms universally endorsed by experts.

Yet, the cash-rich farmers most stubbornly refuse to abandon the 'my way or highway' stance.

They boast of their staying capacity for months, threatening to keep the siege of the highways leading into the capital with their trucks and tractor-trolleys and other such vehicles for so long as their demand for the repeal of the laws is not met.

This is blackmail, pure and simple.

So certain are they of the intimidatory tactics bearing fruit that they contemptuously rejected an offer of further talks.

Such was their insouciant conduct during the last round of talks that their representatives sat with their backs to the central ministers, shouting loudly that they were there not to negotiate, but to hear them announce the repeal of the laws.

Given that their case against the farm reforms is not based on the actual contents of the legislation but on fears and suspicions of what may follow from their implementation, the government has sought to allay their concerns by committing itself to continue the old system under the antiquated Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act.

Also, the government has offered to guarantee the continuance of the grain procurement under the MSP scheme.

How far out on a limb has the government gone to reach out to the farmers can be gauged from Prime Minister Modi's conciliatory gestures himself.

He has spoken often during the course of the protests to address their concerns, offering to concede all their genuine demands, warning them not to be misled by the false propaganda of the Opposition parties.

Yet, the farmers' leadership, or rather what passes for it, remains unmoved.

The absence of one clear leader might actually be proving to be a stumbling block in the search of a compromise.

With over two dozen unions, each claiming to be more solicitous of their cause than the next, it is hard for them to agree among themselves for them to present a considered proposal to end the stalemate.

This may be why their demands have escalated progressively to now seek outright repeal of the laws.

Initially, all they demanded was a firm assurance about the continuance of the MSP procurement.

Competitive unionism soon led it to the solitary, take-it-or-leave-it dictate: Scrap the farm reforms.

Having thus come riding a tiger, multiple union leaders, each feeling obliged to out-pitch the other, find it hard to dismount, fearing a reasoned compromise will make them lose face.

Yet, the democratic way is to narrow differences through a peaceful dialogue and strike a compromise.

No group of people, howsoever important, can hold society to ransom in pursuit of their narrow interests.

Should the farmers remain adamant on repeal-or-nothing, they will forfeit whatever little goodwill they may still enjoy.

Meanwhile, the farmers need to consider that their protest does not enjoy popular support.

For any such sectional protest to succeed in a democratic system it is important for it to have a genuine grievance.

Here in the case of farmers, the focus is not on not the actual content of the three reform legislations.

No. Far from it. Farmers are protesting what they fear might happen should these laws be implemented.

It is like preventing the construction of a roof in your house for fear that it may fall on your head.

By this logic, everyone must go back to living in thatched huts.

Neither cold reason nor commonsense is an ally of the anti-reform protesters.

Their only ally is their fears and suspicions.

Last but not the least, if the union leaders are so sure of the righteousness of their cause they should offer to counter with cogent reason and facts the case made by several farm sector experts in favour of the reforms.

Without convincing the people about the justness of their demand, protesters cannot hope to succeed.

Their new-found defenders such as Sharad Pawar, Rahul Gandhi, Arvind Kejriwal et al are on record having openly in print and on news television media supported the very-same reforms.

So much so the Kejriwal government actually implemented one of the three laws as soon as these were notified.

There are a number of television anchors too share the shame of being chameleons, keeping their anti-Modi prejudice miles ahead of farmer welfare.

Farmers should treat such opportunists with contempt.

Given the intransigence and unreasonableness of the farmers, the onus is still on the government to find an amicable solution.

Which, under the circumstances, can be the grant of option to the states on the implementation of the farm legislation.

In this case, let the BJP-ruled states implement the reforms while others such as Congress-ruled Punjab can continue to operate its farm markets without the benefit of the reforms.

Such a compromise will persuade the farmers to lift the siege of Delhi while the Centre will still have the opportunity to showcase the gains of reforms from the implementation of the new laws.

It may not be the ideal compromise, but when someone is determined to cut the very branch of the tree he is perched on, and refuses to be reasoned out of it, it is best to leave him to suffer the consequences.

Let the implementation of the reforms be left to the discretion of individual states and ensure an end to the illogical stir.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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