The SC is going soft on farmers blocking public roads and highways, holding out an olive branch to them
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Donald Trump wrongly believed he had been cheated out of an election he had won with over seven million votes. He fuelled the false impression for weeks, eventually amassing his equally misguided supporters in front of the Capitol Hill. And when the day neared for the genuine winner to be duly certified as the next President-elect, he incited his crazed supporters to try and forcibly reverse the legal outcome. The result was the desecration of the highest seat of American democracy.

Now, cut to the Singhu border, where thousands of mainly Punjab farmers have squatted for 50 days, blocking the passage to the national capital. Their single-point demand is the repeal of the three farm reform legislations. In bitter cold and almost negligible amenities for human habitation, they have rigged up a make-shift township on tractor-trailers, customised buses and trucks and in the nearby open fields. The hardy lot is happily roughing it out, determined on nothing short of the repeal of the laws.

However, failure to force the government on its knees has now led them to step up pressure. The proposed tractor parade on the Republic Day on Rajpath is fraught with severe law and order dangers. Though the lawyer claiming to represent them told the Supreme Court that the tractor parade was unlikely, given the scant respect they have shown to the court by boycotting the expert panel tasked to examine the three reforms afresh, a confrontation with the police on R-Day cannot be ruled out completely.

Say, from Rajpath, the mob smarting under the completely wrong impression that the reforms are anti-farmers decides to storm the Parliament complex or generally create mayhem, spreading terror in the capital. To claim that the protesting farmers have been peaceful thus far is no guarantee they will remain so in future as well. Sikh peasantry is always a volatile lot. A mere spark can light a conflagration. Why is it so hard for all those who claim to be their supporters to persuade them to lift the siege and wait for the expert panel to address their grievances. Fuelling suspicion and distrust a la Trump can cause untold harm to their cause. Allaying their grievances, instead of inciting further fears and suspicions of the farm reforms, is the greater national cause.

Finding fault with the Supreme Court, as some columnists have done, for intervening on a clutch of PILs, shows, first, an anti-Government mindset. For the visceral critics of Modi believe that the apex court was animated by a desire to let the Government off the hook, rescuing it from a seemingly intractable stalemate. Although a judicial intervention inspired by such an objective by itself would not be bad, given what was at stake in a potentially sensitive law-and-order situation, the critics conveniently forget that the apex court intervened in the farmer-government dispute with due locus. Which was the plea by a Delhi citizen to respect his fundamental right to unrestricted free movement which was being denied by the forcible occupation of the highways leading into the capital by the Punjab farmers.

The pleading before the court was to enforce the law, as it had enunciated in the Shaheen Bagh case and free the public roads of protesters who could squat but only at the designated sites of protest. If the doors of the highest court in the land are to be shut to ordinary citizens seeking defence of their basic rights, what sort of democratic order do the critics of the court envisage?

The trouble with the so-called armchair intellectuals is that they remain untouched by a whiff of reality, nay, pragmatism. Would the court have met the approval of these critics had it limited itself to the upholding of the Shaheen Bagh precedent and ordered the farmers to vacate the public roads at the pain of forcible removal by the forces of law and order? In fact, the court, by settling for the softer option of a panel of experts to look into the grievances of the farmers, offered them an olive branch, much to the chagrin of those who would rather have it enforce the right to free movement of citizens and cause a potentially explosive situation.

Clearly, the critics who rushed to fault the court for intervening in what they believe was a political dispute did not think through the full implications of its decision to sidestep the real issue of the breach of citizens’ rights by the protesting farmers. To get back to where we began, should the false propaganda about the real intent and objective behind the farm reforms go unchallenged, the danger of misguided farmers overrunning the capital, a la Capitol by the Trump supporters, cannot be entirely ruled out. The impasse should be broken. The SC intervention needs to be respected sincerely by all sides to the dispute.

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Free Press Journal