Since the end of 2019, a recent phenomenon of agitations has emerged to demand an outright rejection of laws passed by the Parliament. A few hundred people in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh laid seize of roads leading to Delhi demanding to scrap CAA and NRC acts alleging that these were intended to deprive the Muslim community of its Indian citizenship. Later, a section of farmers rose against the three agriculture laws and sat for agitation by blocking the roads leading to Delhi. When challenged to name the particular sections of law which were against the Muslim community or were intended to harm the interests of the farming community in the three laws, the agitators identified no section of law. Yet they did not relent and continued to press for the outright burial of these laws, not on the strength of logic and truth, but to satisfy with the whims of a minor section of people. It means that no law passed by the Parliament will be a law unless ‘ratified’ by an unruly mob of agitators harassing the people by jamming traffic on national highways.
The crowd of farmers blocking the highways that lead to the national capital Delhi is getting thinner and thinner day by day. Some farmer unions that earlier were part of the agitation have since parted company with Rakesh Tikait. Many farmers had to go back to their villages to reap the harvest they had sown. According to media reports, many farmers felt elated when the money they earned by selling their crops was instantly transferred to their accounts. It had never happened before.
The farmers’ agitation has been there for the past six months with no immediate solution in sight. The leaders now seem to be looking for an honorable and safe exit. That is why on May 22, 2021, the farm leaders wrote to PM Narender Modi “to remind” him that, as the head of the government of the largest democracy in the world, “the onus of resuming a serious, and sincere dialogue with the farmers lies with you.” They seem to want to end the agitation yet remain steadfast on their demand to scrap the three Acts: the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act. The government has expressed its willingness to once again enter a dialogue if the farm leaders come up with a logical proposal.
The NDA Government did not stand on its prestige. It immediately entered a dialogue process with the agitation leaders mainly from Punjab, Rajasthan, and some parts of Haryana and UP to iron out the differences over provisions which, the farmers’ unions claimed, pinched the farmers. During the eleven rounds of talks, farmer leaders could not put their finger on a single such provision in these Acts. Their apprehensions about their lands being usurped by big companies were allayed. Yet, they continued with their chorus for an outright scrapping of the Acts.
In other words, the agitators wanted to make the democratic process bow before the whims of a mob, which is not in tune with the spirit of democracy.
Democracy runs to the fuel of truth and logic, not with the rod of whims. The difference of opinion is the very bane of democracy. Unanimity is not a rule, but an exception. Differences should dissolve into acceptance once an Act appears on the statute book.
MAJORITY RULE IN JUDICIARY
The rule by majority pervades in the judiciary too. There are instances when judgments in High Courts (HC) and the Supreme Court (SC) are not unanimous — three or four judges for and two or one against. The verdict of the majority reigns supreme as the final order of the court. The minority judgments just cater to academic interest and nothing more. No judge in the minority has ever claimed the superiority of his opinion over that of the majority.
The government had offered to freeze the three laws for 18 months during which some agreement could be thrashed out. The center was also ready to give in writing that the system of Minimum Support Price (MSP) would continue.
It was introduced in the country in 1966-67. Since then, while the hue of the governments at the Centre and the states it underwent many changes, yet no government or political party has ever demanded doing away with it. On the other hand, MSP has only seen a rise throughout.
In the meantime, the SC stalled the implementation of these laws for the time being. It made up a four-member committee (one member withdrew) to hear both the government and the farmers on the controversial sections of the law. Many farmer leaders from different states have appeared before this committee. The committee is yet to submit its report after which the SC which will pronounce its judgment.
The farmer leaders have decided not to appear before the SC-appointed committee, and also remain uncommitted whether they will respect the verdict of the highest court of the country. Their silence seems to show that they will abide by the SC judgment only if it complies with their demands.
At the end of the last meeting, the NDA government puts the ball in the court of the agitators saying the government is just a phone call away to resume the dialogue if they come out with a concrete proposal. Farm leaders, even now look to be groping in the dark with no proposal to break the impasse. It is interesting to note that the new letter signed by the leaders of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha does not bear the signatures of Rakesh Tikait, who has so far been the key person leading the agitation. What it signifies is anybody’s guess.
Of late, a new tendency — extra-constitutional, of course — has raised its head, refusing to respect the will of the Parliament, the embodiment of the will of the people. This attempt started with the demand for the scrapping of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and the National Register of Citizens Act (NRC) in Delhi’s Shaheen Bagh where a few hundred local citizens blocked the roads for a few weeks.
It looks like the farmers’ agitation has taken a cue from the Shaheen Bagh tactics. The Shaheen Bagh agitation raised the bogey of the CAA and NRC were enacted to deprive the citizenship of Indian Muslims. Similarly, farmer agitators allege that the 3 Acts were against the interests of farmers. Both were adamant about the demand of scrapping the Acts. The government challenged the opponents in both cases to pinpoint the sections in these laws that were against the Muslims and the farmers. Both failed to accept the challenge, yet they continue to insist on removing these acts.
The Supreme Court in one of its judgments opined that though people had the right to protest, they had no right to deny the right of free passage to the commuters. The Delhi police did well not to use force to evict the squatters. Over time, Shaheen Bagh agitation withered away on its own.
In the beginning, the farmer’s unions vehemently affirmed that their agitation had nothing to do with politics. For some time, they kept political leaders at bay from their stage. Yet, most political parties in the opposition made a beeline to assure their full support to the farmers’ agitation.
The Kisan leaders also want a statutory assurance that the minimum support price (MSP) would never go away. Grant MSP had its origin in 1966-67, and since then it has remained in force despite the change in the hue of the governments in power at the Centre and states. The NDA Government expressed its willingness to give an assurance in writing.
On June 09, the NDA government has announced an increase in MSP of certain Kharif and paddy crops including pulses.
Rakesh Tikait and other Kisan leaders wanted to observe Republic Day of January 26 by taking out a tractor parade. They assured the administration that the march with national flags fluttering on their vehicles would be the most disciplined and peaceful. But what happened was the reverse of it. A section of the protesting farmers digressed towards the Red Fort, the area they had never said they planned to go. What they did at the Red Fort was a disgrace, a well-planned operation executed with precision. On one hand, the farmer leaders disowned their role in the Red Fort shame and, on the other, the person whose tractor overturned while performing tricks and died on the spot is being eulogized as a martyr to their cause. Tikait is on record having said before the media why didn't the police open fire. That is what they wanted. Firing by police would have generated sympathy and legitimacy for their cause.
The role of the Delhi Police on duty at the Red Fort was praiseworthy for keeping their cool despite grave provocation. Had a single person died in police action the ‘secular-liberal intelligentsia and a section of the media would have shouted from their housetops that innocent people were slaughtered on Republic Day.
The agitation from the very beginning suffered because of a lack of inner strength of the unity of thought and action. Whenever they went to have discussions with the Government of India, it was not led by a single leader or a delegation of three-four persons but by a crowd of about 40 persons. It showed an absence of trust between various unions.
The siege of the national capital with agitations held a mirror to a display of the affluence of the participants. They were seen travelling in expensive luxury cars. The breakfast, lunch, and dinner served at the agitation sites did not present the picture of the plight of a common farmer who cannot make both ends meet with his smallholdings and meagre returns from the produce, some even resorting to suicides. On the other hand, it sent the viewers mouth-watering, wishing they too should have been there to enjoy those tasty and sumptuous meals. The opulence of the agitators on display at the sites failed to attract the sympathy of a common man.
Adoption of such unconstitutional, extra-constitutional, and undemocratic methods to achieve political objectives which some people and political parties failed to achieve through democratic means can never stand up to the test of law and the constitution. Adoption of such techniques seems to have boomeranged on the agitators.
While many in the opposition and some in the media raised a great hue and cry over the Kumbh Mela having acted as a spreader of the Covid-19, they maintained a stoic silence on the sit-in by farmers who deliberately defied the virus protocol for the last over six months. They even refused to get vaccinated. The spurt of Covid cases in Punjab, Haryana, UP, and Rajasthan could be attributed to the agitators.
Now it looks the agitation is running out of steam. It has almost disappeared from print and electronic media. In frustration, they have started surrounding the local leaders who are not with them.
It has also been reported that West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee has invited Kisan leader Rakesh Tikait to Kolkata. It is to be understood that she is now toying with the idea of spreading her TMC’s wings to other states. She may try to exploit the farmer's agitation for her party’s political means. To what extent these leaders will promote the farmers' interest by being played into the hands of the political parties remains everybody's guess.