Mighty people’s struggle: The historical significance of farmers protest

Protesting farmers (Image source: IndiaToday)
Protesting farmers (Image source: IndiaToday)

The present ongoing Indian farmers agitation is of historical significance, and I wish to explain why.

1. Our national objective must be to transform India from an underdeveloped country to a highly developed, highly industrialised one. Without doing so we will remain condemned to massive poverty, record unemployment, appalling level of child malnourishment ( every second child in India is malnourished and/or stunted, according to Global Hunger index ), 50% of our women are anaemic, almost total lack of healthcare and good education for our masses, farmers distress ( over 300,000 farmers have committed suicide ), skyrocketing prices of foodstuffs and fuel, widespread corruption, etc.

2. This historical transformation of India from an underdeveloped to a highly developed country is only possible by a mighty people’s struggle, for there are powerful forces which will oppose it.

3. For this mighty people’s struggle to succeed we must have unity among ourselves. Presently we are unfortunately divided on the basis of caste and religion. The agitations in India till now were mostly on the basis of religion, e.g. the Ram Mandir agitation, or on the basis of caste, e.g. the Jat, Gujar and Dalit agitations. The present ongoing farmers agitation, whatever its outcome, has shattered the barriers of caste and religion, and has risen above it. Thus it has forged unity among our people. It has also kept our politicians, who often polarise society on caste or religious lines ( for vote banks ), at bay. This unity was absolutely essential, as mentioned above, and this is its real significance.

The farmers are demanding repeal of the 3 farmers laws recently enacted by Parliament, at the behest of the Indian Government, and fixing a minimum support price ( MSP ) for their produce by law, while the govt appears unwilling to take these steps. To break this deadlock, the Supreme Court, in its recent hearing, has suggested withholding implementation of these laws to create a conducive atmosphere for holding talks. In a recent article published in I have said that the govt should accept this wise suggestion of the Court, and so should the farmers.

The govt must realise that farmers constitute over 60% of our huge population of 1.35-1.40 billion population, and this constitutes a huge vote bank, which it may lose in future elections if it antagonises the farmers.

On the other hand, the farmers must realise that immediate repeal of the 3 laws will be a big loss of face for the govt. There is a principle of administration that the govt must not surrender under pressure, for if it does, it will be perceived as a weak govt, and then more pressures and demands will come. Presently the govt is under pressure from the farmers who have practically besieged Delhi and blocked roads leading to it. So it is unlikely to immediately repeal the laws.

The Supreme Court has offered a reasonable via media, and both sides would be well advised to accept it. The govt can say it has not repealed the laws, and the farmers can say they are not being implemented. This will be a partial success for both.

After withholding implementation of the 3 laws, the govt should set up a Farmers Commission consisting of representatives of the farmers organisations, govt representatives, and some agricultural experts, which should hold several meetings ( which may stretch over several months ) consider all aspects of the problems of the farmers, and then the consensus which emerges agreeable to all sides may be enacted as a law.

This to mind is the only reasonable solution of the present impasse. Both sides must bend a bit, and not take a too rigid and obdurate stand, if the present standoff is to end. The alternative is too frightful to contemplate.

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Markandey Katju

Written by Markandey Katju

Justice Markandey Katju is the former Chairman, Press Council of India. Prior to his appointment as Chairman, Press Council of India, he served as a Permanent judge at the Supreme Court of India.

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