The Punjab farmers’ protest is now set to enter its second month. Despite multiple rounds of talks, there is as yet no compromise in sight. This is most unfortunate. No dispute can be resolved if one side takes a rigid stand. In this case, it is the Punjab farmers who have shown little flexibility, hell-bent as they are on the outright repeal of the three farm reform legislations. The all-or-nothing stance smacks of arrogance, making the search for a negotiated settlement much harder.
Despite several rounds of talks, the farmers have refused to budge from the demand for the repeal of the reforms. On its part, the government has shown remarkable resilience, agreeing to virtually emasculate the long-overdue salutary reform laws universally endorsed by agri sector experts.
Yet, the cash-rich farmers from Punjab most stubbornly refuse to abandon their 'my way or the highway' stance. They boast of their staying capacity for months, threatening to keep the siege of the highways leading into the capital with their trucks and tractor-trolleys and other such vehicles for as long as their demand for the repeal of the laws is not met. This is blackmail, pure and simple.
So certain are they of the intimidatory tactics bearing fruit that they contemptuously rejected an offer from the government for further talks. Such was their insouciant conduct during the last round of talks that their representatives sat with their backs to the Central ministers, shouting loudly that they were there not to negotiate but to hear them announce the repeal of the laws.
Given that their case against the farm reforms is not based on the actual contents of the three legislations but on fears and suspicions of what may follow from their implementation, the government has sought to allay their concerns by virtually committing itself to the continuance of the old system under the antiquated Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act. Also, the government has offered to guarantee the continuance of the grain procurement under the MSP scheme.
How far out on a limb has the government gone to reach out to the farmers can be gauged from the conciliatory gestures of the Prime Minister himself. He has spoken often during the course of the protests to address their concerns, offering to concede all their genuine demands and appealing to them not to be misled by the false propaganda of the Opposition parties. Yet, the farmers’ diffuse leadership remains unmoved. Having come riding a tiger, multiple union leaders, each keen to out-pitch the other, find it hard to dismount, fearing a reasoned compromise will make them lose face.
Yet, the democratic way is to narrow differences through a peaceful dialogue and strike a compromise. No group of people, howsoever important, can hold the entire society to ransom in pursuit of their narrow interests. Should the farmers remain adamant on repeal-or-nothing, they will forfeit whatever little goodwill they may still enjoy.