Farmers’ stir: Sabotage from within or without?

New Delhi (14.12.2020): Everyone loves to fish in troubled waters. And why not? The catch is always easy and abundant. So the NDA government may be missing the point in blaming the opposition for the continuing agitation of farmers of Punjab, Haryana, western UP, and possibly of some parts of Rajasthan. And there is no gain in saying that the agitation is infiltrated by leftists and Khalistanis. That will always be the case. Where there is an opportunity, there will be opportunists. Everyone loves to fish in troubled waters.
The question is who troubled the waters?
Did the agencies tell the PM and the HM that the Punjab, Haryana, and western UP farmers were convinced by their migrant Bihari workers that the removal of the MSP – the system doesn’t exist in Bihar and most other states – would turn them into hapless pawns into the hands of corporate sharks. In Bihar, a middle farmer, who may be producing more than his requirements, has to beg the local merchants to dispose of his surplus produce. And the poor farmers always get a distressed price but the local merchants and everyone in the supply chain beyond gets a neat commission without investing a penny, or doing labor, or risking one’s investment.
Did the agencies tell the PM and the HM that Bihari migrant workers also convinced the small farmers of the troubled three areas that once the contract act comes into existence, they may not be able to take land on lease or contract from absentee or disinterested landholders because they would be elbowed out by companies? In Bihar’s countryside, moneyed people have been taking the larger plots of disinterested farmers on a lease or sharecropping basis, leaving out only small plots of land for small, marginal, and landless peasants.
Taking land on a lease or sharecropping basis has become one of the major means of sustenance for small, marginal, and landless peasants in the troubled areas as many landholders and their children move out of agriculture in search of better income and professional career.
Already struck by the law of diminishing returns on their produce, farmers across caste and class were thus convinced that what has been happening in Bihar would replicate in Punjab, Haryana, and western UP if the laws were not repealed. Marketers of several dystopian ideologies, smelling the opportunity, jumped in. Ambani and Adani were branded as the chief architects behind the three laws. And women activists of the hammer and sickle gangs were roped in to sing the song of death for the PM and the HM.
As the waves built and tides formed, wishful thinking – that it can be controlled by blocking the entry points of farmers to Haryana and Delhi – continued to paralyze the central administration. It wasn’t till the tides hit the borders of Delhi and farmers pitched their camps there that NDA leaders woke up to the moral and existential threat and started to work out the plans to reach out to farm leaders.
The plans helped. What helped more was the admission of Union Home Minister Amit Shah and others in a meeting with a delegation of agitating leaders that the government indeed faulted in not consulting farmers and their organizations before drafting the laws and even when the three controversial farm laws were all set to be tabled in Parliament for passage.
That admission was a first good step in the direction of reconciliation and harmony. Fortunately, it was followed with commitments to legalize the MSP system and remove the anomalies in the three laws that had fueled the fear of an existential crisis among the farmers. A lot more needs to be done. Farmers should be given a deal that they can’t reject. This is urgent to overcome the insistence of farmers on first repealing the laws before the negotiations could move on a meaningful trajectory.
What’s the deal the farmers should be given that they can’t reject? Let the government formulate it or ask the farmers to formulate it for them.
PM Naren Modi is right: we can’t survive in the 21st century with the laws of the 20th century. Well, charity begins at home. It is apparent that we also can’t survive with the bureaucratic practices, traditions, and structures of the 20th century. And the most debilitating and paralyzing manifestation of these is the steady evolution since July 1965 (when for the first time the post of principal secretary to the PM was created) of the PMO itself where all the powers of the state are vested.
In view of the grand failure of this august and formidable institution to anticipate the trouble that its duly-approved farm laws triggered, it may be worthwhile to investigate and fix its responsibility for the acutely embarrassing and credibility-destroying episode. Considering the PM has been insisting that the wording of laws should be such that they are easy to understand, it will be interesting to find out the officials and agencies that filled those acts with bureaucratese and ancient legalese verbose that only aided and abetted suspicion and distrust.
Even though the PM might have intended well (never mind the fact that all roads to hell are always paved with noble intents), it is senseless and self-defeating – like many BJP leaders are seen nitpicking about the opposition role – to keep harping on the same points that farmers have not only rejected but are fast turning into the most fertile base for breeding rumors being planted by the left-liberal gangs.
As rumors surge and provocative slogans made, even the association of retired officers, who hit headlines from time to time, has found an opportunity to be in news again by declaring their support for farmers. Undoubtedly, farmers would have greatly appreciated if these officers had contributed their one month’s pension amount to their struggle or at least spent a night with them on roads in these cold winter months.
Who may win the final battle of the evolving narrative?
A good fighter knows only too well how to duck a blow and use the rival’s own strength against him. Amit Shah and his team have been seen already moving in the direction of upending the opposition’s campaign by displaying the moral courage of admitting their faults. One more forward movement is required – that’s of stepping back.

Sometimes, even at the cost of looking weak and cowardly (remember Krishna the Ranchhod and Shivaji the ‘Mountain Rat’), one has to do wise things. Such is the dynamics of wisdom. So let farmers get what they want since NDA can’t afford to lose their empathy and goodwill. And that may be the final stroke to end a tragic development on a happy note.

Comments are closed