In a democracy, people have the right to protest peacefully. Which is why for several months the authorities have permitted thousands of protestors (who in the media are identified as farmers) close to the national capital. Had this been the People’s Republic of China or the current dispensation in Myanmar, such individuals would have been the butt of police batons and bullets. In India, they have been given a patient hearing, that too at the level of senior members of the Council of Ministers such as Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal and Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar. For some reason, those apparently leading the agitation to roll back the three farm laws passed last year have refused to consider any compromise. What they seek, and have from the beginning, is to make the Narendra Damodardas Modi government roll back the three farm laws forthwith. The consequence of such a move would be a crippling of the reform process, and this would have disastrous consequences for the future trajectory of the economy. In a country where 60% are below the age of 30, it is important to create jobs. Even in agriculture, several young people are no longer content to work in the fields. They wish to migrate to the cities and find work there. Should they fail to secure productive and honest occupation for themselves, the chances of at least some of them coming onto the streets and indulging in acts that inconvenience other citizens would sharply rise. There are countries that would like to see India remain a much smaller economy than its potential mandates, and these include Pakistan and the People’s Republic of China, both of whom are locked into an alliance that is through their military structures working to make their wishes become reality. Farmers are patriotic and have done much to ensure progress in India. Those who may inadvertently be calling for actions that may damage the prospects of reforms essential to growth need to understand the ramifications of what they are insistent be done. Conciliation and compromise are the stuff of democracy, and Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi has indicated several times that he is ready to examine and implement changes in the laws that were passed. Among these could be the handing over of discretion to the states as to whether they will follow the new system or stick to the old. Those states that do not want change should not stand in the way of those that do. India is too big and varied a country to have a single model imposed on all the states, especially in matters as critical to the welfare of the public as agricultural markets.
The leaders of the agitation that has lingered on for months at the doors of Delhi have sought to impose “Road Roko” and “Rail Roko” on the entire country. Are they aware of the consequences of such actions, not only to the rest of the country but to farmers themselves? Stoppage of transportation across the country will cause horrendous losses for farmers, consumers of farm produce and citizens in general. Such actions would harm farmers more than most, for it would make access to markets more difficult and lead to losses in storage and sales of farm produce. If only to ensure that farmers do not pay a price for such tactics, they need to be avoided. Peaceful protest does not mean efforts at choking activity across the country. It should not even mean the blocking of roads that have been built out of taxpayer funds and which are now being denied to taxpayers by the stoppage of traffic. Small wonder that public sympathy for the protests is on the ebb. Indeed, the question is being asked as to when the authorities will act to ensure that normality gets restored. That such action has not been forthcoming is evidence that the Modi government is not intolerant, but tolerant to those who seek to not only oppose it but to inflict a humiliation on it. This is by forcing the government to roll back the three farm laws. Should this be conceded to, next will be other agitations to roll back other laws. There will be chaos. If a government having a parliamentary majority is not given the right to pass laws, who has that right? Surely not a group of protestors. Not to mention the fact that every such law, each such action, is subject to examination by the courts and to possible stay or changes. In the case of the farm laws, the Supreme Court has already stayed their implementation while an expert committee goes into their feasibility. This should be an acceptable compromise. Carrying on the farmers’ agitation in a manner that may harm the interests of farmers as well as those sections who have jobs that youths now engaged in agriculture may seek to migrate to is not expected of those who have worked so hard to make India self-sufficient in food grains. The time has come to evaluate and to act in a manner that meets the interests of the people of India and ensures faster growth and prosperity.