The People have every right to demonstrate to press for the acceptance of their justified demands and want themselves to be visible while doing so, so are hapless farmers.
V S Pandey
On the occasion of Republic Day yesterday, whereas the traditional parade was being held on the Rajpath, a large tractor rally was also organized on the outer boundaries of Delhi, by the farmers, agitating for the abolition of three agricultural laws for 60 days on the borders of Delhi, which deviated from the scheduled route and the program. Thousands of peasants broke and removed the barricades put up by the Delhi Police and reached the ITO, and along with their tractors went to the Red Fort where some of them also hoisted the flag of their farmer’s union. All this went on for hours and the police had to struggle hard to get these protesters out of the Red Fort. During this rally, at a few places there were scuffle between the police and protesters and in many places the police also fired tear gas shells and had to resort to lathi charge in which both sides got injured.
After this incident, rounds of rhetoric have started from all sides. While the Farmers’ Coordination Committee has blamed some external mischievous elements for the entire incident of forcibly entry into Delhi, the media put the entire peasant movement in the dock and declared that the farmer leaders have lost control over the movement and the movement has lost its way and is no longer effective. The government and other leaders condemned the violence during the rally and demanded that the leadership of the farmers be directly held responsible.
The incidents that took place on Republic Day need to be analysed in the context of the reasons for the current farmer’s agitation and their peaceful dharna continuing for more than two months and the rules and regulations that have been enacted in the various states and the capital city of our country for organizing dharna, demonstration and agitation etc. We all know that in a democracy, the people’s will is paramount and they have every right to speak, express their views and demands. The public exercises this right by writing, petitioning, demonstrating, staging of dharna and sometimes holding a bandh. All these mediums of protest and expression of desire, viewpoint are used to reach out to the powers that be and build public opinion in favour of their demand. Now the point to ponder is that if the dharna is done in such a place where no one comes and goes, then the impact of such dharnas and protests will be negligible on the public and on those in power and the purpose of the protests and dharna etc. will fail. Similarly, if the demonstration or rally is done in a place which is not in the vicinity of the common people or people cannot even see it, then what is the benefit of such a demonstration? For the past few decades, the ruling class, political and bureaucratic both included, contrary to the spirit of democracy, changed the place of protests in all the states and in the national capital, Delhi, to a place which is far away from the site of the people sitting in power and the general public. Now siting on dharna or protests does not matter to the ruling class nor to the general public. When people gathered at Jantar Mantar to demonstrate, everyone could see and hear their voice but if people organize dharnas forty kilometers away from Delhi then it does not cause any discomfort to those in power. Just think of any political party being ready to take out its roadshow forty fifty kilometers away from the heart of any district or city? They always hold their rally through the heart of the city and then they claim that public does not have any problem due to the stoppage of traffic etc. Optics is integral to success.
This is what is happening with the current farmer’s movement. For the repeal of the three agricultural laws, when the farmers decided to come to Delhi to protest, they were allotted a ground forty KMs away from Delhi, for dharna. Since the farmers did not listen and sat on the highways, they could manage some visibility. Had they accepted the offer of administration for the dharna, even if they would have sat on that ground for a lifetime, it would not have had any effect on those who rule. The same thing happened with the tractor rally. They were told by the Delhi Police to take a route, for the tractor rally, on the outskirts of Delhi while the farmers wanted to organize the rally on the Outer Ring Road. It is true that in view of the security situation on Republic Day, it was very difficult to accept this demand of farmers, but the point is that due to whose rigid attitude, this situation of taking out the tractor rally was reached? There was total chaos between the Police Headquarters and the Red Fort, but the Delhi Police, while showing restraint, control led the situation and eventually succeeded in restoring peace without any loss of life and property.
The farmer’s associations have decided to continue the agitation in a peaceful manner and have also decided to march to Parliament on February 1. Respecting the sentiments of farmers across the country, the government should now repeal all these laws and decide the future framework for the development of agriculture, in consultation with the farmers. By this act, the government will be able to win the hearts of all by showing its sensitivity and generosity. This will also show to the world that the democracy in our country is not only strong but fully alive.
(Vijay Shankar Pandey is former Secretary Fertilizers, Government of India)