The scenes from Karnal on Saturday have once again underlined that politicians have all but abdicated their responsibility to play the mediating and moderating role vis a vis the farmers’ movement against the Centre’s three farm laws.
Nobody must be allowed to breach the security cordon without a “broken head”. That was the brutish, illegal instruction sub-divisional magistrate Ayush Sinha — caught on camera— gave to the police on Saturday in Karnal, where farmers had gathered to protest against a BJP meeting led by Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar. In the aftermath of a lathi charge that left several farmers injured, the officer has claimed the video recording was selective and that no crackdown on protesters happened in his vicinity. The chief minister says the officer’s “choice of words” was not correct, but that “strictness” was required to maintain law and order, even as his deputy from another party has promised appropriate action against the SDM. The question for the Haryana Chief Minister is this: How can any notion of “strictness” in a democracy get away with being so flagrantly anti-people? And what does it say about the Haryana government if the law and order machinery treats the farmers as the enemy, not citizens with a grievance and a constitutional right to protest? The larger question is this: Where is politics, and the politician? The scenes from Karnal on Saturday have once again underlined that politicians have all but abdicated their responsibility to play the mediating and moderating role vis a vis the farmers’ movement against the Centre’s three farm laws. Political interventions are actually reactions, after the event. For the most part, protesting farmers have been left to confront a stone-walling and quelling police force — even as what is most needed are not check-posts and barricades but outreach by the people’s representatives, and a listening state.
It is true that the Centre has conducted 11 rounds of talks with the farm union leaders and that in round 10, the NDA government bent enough to place on the table an offer to suspend the farm laws. And that the dialogue broke down in January because the farmers refused to relent from their maximalist demand of a complete repeal of the laws, and a legal guarantee for MSP, and then, due to the movement’s brief lapse into violence on January 26. But what is also true is that the Centre’s dialogue had come too late, and after too much name-calling. By then the movement had already surged and strengthened on the back of fears and insecurities of farmers, mainly in Punjab and Haryana, over the new legislation shortchanging them while benefiting big corporates. That the Centre was seen to push through the changes last year, first as ordinance amid pandemic, without consultation, and then as law through Parliament without adequate debate, laid the ground for the distrust that has only thickened since.
Now, nine long months after the mobilisation moved to Delhi’s borders, and with assembly elections to Punjab only months away, it is essential that politics finds its way back in. The farmers’ problem cannot be kicked down the road, it is not going to go away by a strategy of wearing them out. There is no alternative to the government engaging the farmers through their representatives and leaders, and persuading them about the benefits and efficacy of the new laws.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on August 31, 2021 under the title ‘Break their heads’.
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