Indian Farmers at a Tricky Furrow

by Iqbal Singh Dhillon

In a democratic set-up, every aggrieved party has a right to launch a peaceful protest activity as a way out for seeking redressal. So have farmers in India and abroad. Farmers’ protest launched in 2021-2022 in India was, however, successful in drawing worldwide attention. Within India, it is the state of Punjab where the farming community is most conspicuously prosperous and proactive.

Punjab farmers particularly those with small holdings do have their genuine grievances. But there are those here, especially those at the forefront, who seem to have adopted farm activism on rather professional lines. There are more than three dozen farmer unions in Punjab alone whereas the number of such bodies in the rest of India taken together does not exceed two dozen.

Modern technology and research in the field of agriculture brought unexpected prosperity, projected as Green Revolution, among farmers of Punjab in the second half of the twentieth century. This upsurge on the economic front has further been supplemented by the contributions put in by the Punjabis settled abroad. The process of fast urbanization has pushed the land prices upwards enormously. This all has produced a generation who does not want to work in the fields, depends upon farm labour and prefers to adopt merry-making, hooliganism and communal fanaticism as absorbing pastimes. This has also led to drug-abuse and gangsterism at a large scale here. Elements from this section together with the unemployed youth come handy to farm union leaders who are always out to launch dharnas, marches, blockades and other forms of agitations on any pretext unmindful of the inconvenience accruing to the general public.

The situation in the context of mutual relations among the farm unions within Punjab presents a dismal picture. During the first farmer protest organized two years back at the borders of Delhi territory, the unions tried hard to forge unity under the umbrella of Samyukt Kisan Morcha (an amalgam of farm-unions) especially with the cooperation of the unions functional in the states outside Punjab. But there were a couple of unions from Punjab who kept aloof apparently to work against the interests of the joint programme clandestinely with an aim of sidetracking and disrupting the agitation. They set up a separate stage, invoked the support of some communal elements and resorted to pranks such as hoisting a particular flag on the front projection of the Red Fort at Delhi. Consequently, the outcome was far from being satisfactory though it was hailed as a victory by the ranks and files. No notification has yet been issued by the Centre regarding the decision to repeal the controversial agrarian Acts.

The same discordant groups projecting themselves as non-political organizations have now launched another agitation unilaterally i.e. without involving other prominent unions of Punjab or those functional in other states. This dubious move has given ample strength to the Govt. both at the Centre and Haryana state level to deal toughly with the farmer agitators from Punjab insisting upon reaching Delhi via the state of Haryana to launch a protest program vis-à-vis their demands. The rest of the unions in the country especially in Punjab, though perturbed over the way they have been sidelined, have offered to support the ongoing agitation in their ways but the outcome is bound to be low as is evident from the fruitless parleys going on between the Govt. representatives and the leaders of the agitation with the Punjab Chief Minister joining as a facilitator. The latest meeting concluded with a proposal to hold out a guarantee to grant MSP (Minimum Support Price) for the crops of maize, cotton, and some variety of pulses over and above MSP already applicable in the case of wheat and rice. The proposal was outrightly rejected by the protesting farmers.

Let us see which way the wind blows if it is not engulfed by the storm of General Elections the announcement for which may take place any time. Strange are the ways and vagaries of farmers’ agitations here !!

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Khalsa Vox or its members.

Iqbal Singh Dhillon

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