Prime Minister Narendra Modi dramatically announced repealing of the three farm laws on the Guru Purab, the birth anniversary of Guru Nanak Dev Ji. He also declared that a committee would be constituted to look into all aspects of Agriculture, including the Minimum Support Price (MSP). The decision has been interpreted by different people differently, depending on their political affiliations. What do the so-called farmers' protest and the decision to repeal the laws mean to our Constitutional democracy?
The opposition parties, especially the Congress and Trinamool Congress, competing for the same opposition space, quickly came forward, congratulating farmers and taking credit for the victory. This celebration is not surprising at all. Calling this – a triumph of democracy – because the laws were undemocratic and draconian- is a shocking and dangerous argument. The political parties challenging the ruling dispensation do not realise that by encouraging this toolkit politics, they undermine the Constitutional mechanisms of which they are part and parcel.
On expected lines, the protesting farmer's organisations claimed their victory but continued with the protests undermining the rights of other citizens. After consultation in the parliamentary committees, in May 2020, the farm laws were proposed. They were open to inputs and suggestions. Then, the agitating farmer's organisations did not take much trouble to deliberate and discuss the same. When the bills were passed by the parliament, the agitation started in Punjab mainly by the middlemen who were into the agricultural produce business in September 2020. After two months, the protesting mobs were diverted to the borders of Delhi with the fundamental argument – we (farmers) did not ask for the reforms. A ridiculous argument one can hear in a country where framers of the Constitution believed the legal text as an instrument of peaceful social change. When the Government called for dialogue to make necessary amendments, unconditional withdrawal of the laws was the single point agenda of the protesters occupying streets. After the repeal of laws, now a new set of demands has been put forth.
The impact of this agitation on democracy and the farming community can be long lasting. The toolkit controversy involving international actors has already put the protest under the scanner. The shades of religious extremism, pitching for the release of rioters and secessionists, and the use of violent criminal acts during the protests undermined the credibility of Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) and its leadership. Now their reckless response to the repealing of laws has further eroded the same. The way civil society organisations, mainly mobilised by the communists of various shades, are using this agitation to challenge and weaken the democratic structure of Bharat is disturbing.
For the Government in power, withdrawing the decision taken at the executive level and passed at the legislative level is not an easy task. The protests in the name of farmers tormented the social fabric in the states like Punjab and Haryana on the religious and caste lines. The possibility of exploiting social divisions for political objectives by the external actors enhances in such a situation. Now using the legal course vacating the occupied public spaces should be Government’s priority.
A toolkit is a fashionable form of politics with the growing influence of social media. World-over, similar strategies are adopted to undermine democracies while using the democratic spaces. Non-democratic countries can effectively use such a scenario in the bigger strategic game. An extensive and reasonable debate on reforming the agriculture sector to enhance the affordability and sustainability of farmers is desirable. At the same time, this toolkit of protests that believes in occupying public places, blackmailing state machinery and promoting anti-Bharat agenda should not become a template to challenge the Constitutional democracy must be our core concern as a nation.