The Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar, who is helming the talks with the representatives of the protesting farmers in an effort to break the deadlock over the farm sector reforms, yet again appealed for their resumption. On Wednesday, farmers had peremptorily rejected the detailed proposal offering a number of concessions aimed at addressing their grievances.
Talking to newspersons on Thursday, Tomar expressed surprise that the farmers while still engaged in talks, should threaten to intensify the agitation. This showed a lack of faith in the negotiations. The government was still ready to hear from the farmers about its detailed proposal and consider further changes, if any, in good faith. But the farmers were not ready for anything less than the outright repeal of the reform legislation. This was not acceptable to the government.
The protesting farmers, it seems, are caught in a trap of their own. With multiple unions, each led by an ambitious leader, they were fiercely competing among themselves to assume the overall leadership of the agitation. Therefore, anyone adopting a reasonable attitude to reach a compromise in a spirit of give-and-take fears being isolated. Thanks to the game of one-upmanship, every leader feels obliged to take a maximalist position, that is, repeal or agitation. This is bound to prove detrimental to the cause of farmers. As a result, even as misguided farmers are led to disrupt normal life by blocking roads and rail tracks, the government may be left with no option but to harden its stand, especially if there is an attempt to create lawlessness and anarchy on the borders of the national capital.
How retrograde are some of the demands of the protesting farmers can be gauged from the one about the burning of farm waste. A major source of pollution at the start of the winter in the north Indian cities, including Delhi, farmers insist the law criminalising the burning of paddy husk and other farm waste for preparing the fields for sowing a new crop be repealed. The AAP government in Delhi criminalised farm waste burning some months ago, prescribing fine and imprisonment for violators. But such is its hypocrisy that led by Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, everyone in the party is shouting its support to the protesters from the housetops.
Also, it is significant that the leaders of the Opposition parties on Thursday appealed to the farmers not to end their protest until the repeal of the reform legislation. Clearly, the Opposition leaders hope to regain some relevance, riding on the coattails of the farmers. If only they had remained sincere to their own pre-poll promise to implement the same reforms which the Modi Government legislated in September, they would have used their good offices to adopt a more conciliatory attitude.
By instigating the farmers further, the Opposition exposes itself as a negative force in the present-day polity. However, farmers will harm their own interest should they reject the compromise proposal offered by the government. The force of public opinion is with the farm sector reforms, not against them. And that matters the most to any ruling party while handling such protests.