Farmers want trouble. They now even don’t want MSP or APMC.
Let’s say there are two sets of demands of farmers: One concerns MSP and APMC. The other is a host of other issues including electricity, matter-in-civil-courts-only, no-hard-penalty-on-stubble etc. If the government is making concessions on all these issues and still the farmers bring placards of “Yes’ or “No” to Vigyan Bhawan, what inference do you want to draw?
You think private players are the root of trouble? That they would hold “poor farmers” to ransom? But since when have wheat and paddy been produced in factories? And even if elephants do fly, how would it take away your MSP. Do you need be told that more paddy from Punjab was procured at MSP jthan at any time in India’s independent history? That the first record it broke was in 2017-18 with 176.61 lakh tonnes procured. That it has bettered this year with 202.77 lakh tonnes procured. How could private players deprive you?
Be that as it may, farmers are at Delhi’s gates. They have laid siege to the Capital. And they won’t go away in a hurry. The “poor farmers” have also brought in their women and children and elderly. In Delhi’s cold and with Covid-19 surging, they have both power and persuasion as their aces. Where do we go from here?
One, simply throw this notion out of the window that the next round on December 9 would see a breakthrough. There won’t be one, on Wednesday and in other rounds if they occur.
Farmers feel they have nothing to lose, at least for the next few weeks. For they have all the time in the world. If government blinks, the template of anarchy would succeed. If it doesn’t, agitating farmers hope it spins out of control.
You see, Punjab farmers are free because paddy season is over. It has been sowed, reaped and sold in Punjab. The next one of wheat has also been put into fields. Harvest is only due in April. Farmers have 8-12 weeks to dance on Centre’s head.
What options Centre have? Clearly, it doesn’t want to use force and it must not. It doesn’t want to lose the perception battle. It’s not a communal matter, it concerns the “annadatas” of the nation and before you know it, this entire farce would morph into something entirely different and all those infamous slogans of Modi-baiters—“Democracy in Danger”, “totalitarian India”, “Hindu extremists”—would fill the air. The prepaid media would be rubbing their hands in glee, and EU, UN and US Congress would be practicing in front of mirror which finger looks best on camera.
So farmers want to appear “peaceful and vulnerable.” Centre is “sympathetic and caring.” Both are engaged in perception battle. We know on whose side the propaganda is. Where does Modi go from here?
Let’s look at how the next few days could unfold. Centre: we are agreeing to all what you want. So why still have the agitation? If you want the three Farm Acts to be repealed, only the Parliament should take a call. After it, it was the Parliament which turned those Bills into Acts.
Farmers are unlikely to accede. For it could be back to square one. They would insist: Scrap the Acts. One, they have only a few weeks free. Thereafter, it’s wheat crop. Time is critical here.
Government could respond: Are you representing all farmers of India? Could we take a referendum please? Let India’s farmers take a call whether a simple majority want “Yes” or “No” on Farm Acts. Modi would obey it as “janadesh.”
What, you are still not ok with this? So let’s do one this thing: We know 40 farmers’ unions are leading this agitation. That’s why they have a seat in Vigyan Bhawan. You claim to be voice of India’s farmers. Could we see how many members you have on roll? You and I both would know if you are voice of India’s farmers.
This is a battle of attrition. An exercise in perception. Farmers are losing it from time to time—like calling for “Bharat Bandh”—and declaring “effigy burning” (did it really happen on Saturday?). It’s called “muscle flexing”; “baring teeth” to scare the opponent. They also want to project it’s not just Punjab but farmers of rest of India who are agitated. December 8 either way won’t offer a clue. Farmers of Western Uttar Pradesh, for example, won’t stay around for long. The sugarcane season would beckon and this agitation can wait.
So Modi won’t lift a baton. The only course open to him is the Art of Persuasion. If farmers still want to agitate, they would have to explain why now. Farmers can’t lose time. They can’t also be anything but peaceful. So stay put if you want. You might win the Battle of Propaganda. And lose the War on Reforms.