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Farmers’ Agitation: Let Us Thank God For Small Mercies

By Pradeep Mathur

Whatever be the end result, it can be said with a degree of certainty that the farmers’ agitation has changed the political scenario in the country. Besides other things it has changed the course of public discourse, which now is more issue focused. No doubt, several charges have been levelled against the agitators who have in turn accused the government of being pro corporate. Yet the charges and their language is much better than the cynical “Pappu” and “Chor” syndrome that we have witnessed in the past few years.

Let us briefly examine the charges that have been levelled by the two rival parties to the dispute against each other. Intolerant of dissent and unfamiliar with the culture of people’s movement, the leaders and supporters of the BJP government have been accusing the agitating farmers of broadly three things :

a. they are being misled by Opposition parties;

b. they are harbouring Khalistani elements; and

c. they are uncaring for larger national interests and the long-term benefits of the farm measures.

Moreover, in what looks to be a combination of insensitivity, meanness and jealousy, some blind supporters of the ruling party have also said that the agitating farmers are picnicking and enjoying pizza and dry fruits in the name of agitation.

Now let us examine these charges. Any criticism, allegation or protest in public life is routinely termed as being political or politically motivated. Once, accused of playing politics in a certain matter, Deputy Prime Minister Mr Jagjiwan Ram, retorted by saying that in politics he was supposed to play politics and not sing bhajans (devotional songs). Therefore, to say that the farmers are taking support from, and are being influenced by politicians in their struggle is no charge. Similarly, if the Opposition parties do not use the agitation to further their interests, they are unfit to be in politics.  

The charge of “Khalistani” infiltration is as serious as it is dangerous to national security. It is in keeping with the now familiar line of questioning the patriotism of opponents and accusing them of being traitors. The charge is in bad taste and has no substance in it. The   Khalistani movement which was an outcome of the wrong policies of the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, is long dead. A small fringe of it might still be there in Canada but it is of no consequence. Perhaps contribution to the agitation by prosperous relations of the agitators in Canada has prompted the detractors of the agitation to level this charge. However, even those who have made such charges do not believe these to be true.

Prime Minister Modi perhaps feels hurt over the fact that instead of being grateful for the measures he brought for their good, the farmers are protesting against the three farm measures. But for this, he has himself to blame, and his style of functioning. Nothing would have been lost had he initiated a discussion on the three bills and had worked out a consensus on the much-needed farm sector reforms. To accuse the farmers of not knowing their welfare and ignoring the national interests, therefore, does not carry any weight in a situation where no consensus was arrived at.

It is surprising that the agitating farmers and their friends in political parties should say that the Modi government is pro big business, does not have farmers as its overriding priority and therefore, the measures are not good. It shows that they lack basic understanding of politics. It was never a secret that BJP is a Right-wing party, is supportive of big business, has no record of genuinely supporting farmers or workers agitations. Therefore, the “discovery” by farmers’ leaders that Mr Modi is a friend of Ambani and Adani is really amusing.   

Since there is nothing much in the accusations of the two rival sides, the discourse on the agitation is thankfully not dirty, cynical, or cantankerous. The charges are not personal, nobody’s great- grandfather is being put in the dock and nobody’s grandfather’s faith or mother’s nationality is being questioned.

On a serious note, the farmers’ agitation is above all the narrow lines of class, caste, creed and regionalism which could give its opponents a handle to discredit. It is a genuine non-violent mass movement built around an issue that concerns everybody.

For those of us who do not belong to either side it should be a matter of great satisfaction that there is no hate campaign, no wild allegations, no cynicism, no distortion of historical facts, no self-glorification, and no cheap talk in relation to this agitation. This gives us the hope that the era of nauseating public discourse may be over and perhaps now onwards we will have better political atmosphere in the country.

Let us thank God for small mercies.

(Prof Pradeep Mathur is a veteran journalist, writer and former professor and Course Director at Indian Institute of Mass Communication. He is the Chief Editor of AlignIndia News Portal.)

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