The Bharat Bandh called by the protesting Punjab farmers for Tuesday, hopefully, will pass without violence and disruption of normal life. The organisers themselves have curtailed the bandh period to four hours, from 11am to 3pm, exempting all essential services from any curbs. This is welcome. The protest against the three farm sector reform laws ought not to descend into violence and chaos.
On its part, the Government has issued an advisory to the States and UTs, emphasising the need to ensure all Covid-19 precautions. The reassuring feature of the farmers’ protest is that its organisers have consciously sought to keep away extraneous elements with their own diversionary agendas. Though the Opposition parties have lent overt and covert support to the protest, its leadership has remained with various farmers’ unions. Even the on-going negotiations with the Government are conducted by the farmers’ leaders, though a number of busybodies who show up at all such events have offered gratuitous advice.
The Prashant Bhushans and Yogendra Yadavs and other such anti-government activists have paid well-publicised visits at the protests sites where the farmers are huddled together in groups. However, the onus to break the impasse remains with the Government. The seventh round of talks is scheduled to resume on Wednesday. Farmers expect the Government to come up with a concrete proposal to allay their suspicion that the reform legislations were a precursor to the dismantling of the Minimum Support Price mechanism for the procurement of foodgrain. Multiple iterations at the official level have failed to assuage the farmers’ doubts.
Instead of standing on false prestige, the Government must do all that is legally feasible to persuade the farmers. Even though it is highly selfish of the Punjab farmers to over-exploit the MSP regime and thus burden the FCI with more than twice the required levels of wheat and rice, instead of switching to high-value crops and livestock, as is the case in other States, the protest having reached this far needs to be resolved immediately. Meanwhile, the Modi Government should at last learn from this bitter experience and stop acting in a unilateral manner. Its huge majority in the Lok Sabha does not for a moment justify its habit of taking major decisions without prior consultations with the stakeholders. In a democracy to consult people is statesman-like, and not a sign of weakness.