Delhi violence turns agri woes into law and order issue; distracts from real grievances of farmers

This isn't the first time in recent history that a citizen-initiated movement has had to face a credibility crisis after a bout of violence. The anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in February 2020 faced a similar predicament when riots broke out in Delhi

FP Staff January 29, 2021 06:09:34 IST
Delhi violence turns agri woes into law and order issue; distracts from real grievances of farmers

Representational image. AP

On Tuesday, the Republic Day tractor parade, which was meant to highlight the demands of the farmer unions, devolved into chaos on the streets of Delhi. Tens of thousands of protesters broke through barriers, fought with police, overturned vehicles and hoisted a religious flag from the ramparts of the Red Fort=.

This isn't the first time in recent history that a citizen-initiated movement has had to face a credibility crisis after a bout of violence. The anti-Citizenship Amendment Act protests in February 2020 faced a similar predicament when riots broke out in Delhi.

Now, the farmers' movement seems to have reached a similar crossroads. The rioting on the 72nd Republic Day has dented the credibility of the two-month movement on three fronts: Prominent faces of the farmers' movement including Yogendra Yadav, Rakesh Tikait and Darshan Pal face legal action with the Delhi Police holding them responsible for allegedly inciting the protesters.

Secondly, fault lines have emerged among over 40 farmer bodies that had united for the cause of opposing three laws that farmers feared would pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the mercy of big corporations.

Thirdly, the credibility of the movement which had enjoyed support of BJP's political opponents and citizens at large may take a hit.

Meanwhile, small farmers, whose grievances against the three legislations have yet to be addressed, will be caught in the crossfire between Centre, law enforcement and the forces that had come to represent the farmers' movement.

Farmer leaders face legal action

The Delhi Police has already registered 33 FIRs, including charges under stringent sedition and UAPA acts, with nine of them being transferred to the Crime Branch.

Alleging a pre-meditated conspiracy behind Tuesday's events, the Delhi Police has also roped in the Special Cell to investigate the "conspiracy" and "criminal designs".

"A preliminary assessment suggests there was a pre-conceived and well coordinated plan to break the agreement reached between Delhi Police and the leaders of farmers organisations, to indulge in violent confrontation with the security forces, to breach the sanctity of iconic and historical structures and monuments and to create an international embarrassment for the government on the occasion of the Republic Day," the police said in a statement.

"The role and conduct of organisations and individuals based in India as well as those out of the country is being probed. Investigation is in progress and further details will be communicated in due course," it added.

The police has also issued lookout circulars against 44 people including prominent farmer leaders.

It also asked the farmer leaders to submit their response within three days, explaining why legal action should not be taken against them as they did not follow conditions set for the parade. PTI quoted sources to report that around nine 'crack teams' have also been formed to locate all the culprits, even as there was no official confirmation from the police yet.

Police have named 37 farmer leaders including Rakesh Tikait, Yogendra Yadav and Medha Patkar, in the FIR that mentioned charges of attempt to murder, rioting and criminal conspiracy.

Other farmer leaders who have been listed in the FIR are Darshan Pal, Gurnam Singh Chanduni, Kulwant Singh Sandhu, Satnam Singh Pannu, Joginder Singh Ugraha, Surjeet Singh Phool, Jagjeet Singh Dalewal, Balbir Singh Rajewal and Harinder Singh Lakhoval.

Delhi Police has registered a sedition case in connection with the violence at Red Fort during a tractor parade by farmers on Republic Day, officials said on Thursday.

In a separate but related development from Uttar Pradesh, the state police has already started efforts to get the protest sites vacated in aftermath of Tuesday's event.

Police at the Ghazipur border has asked the farmers to end their protest and vacate the road by tonight. But the farmers have refused to budge, with farmer leader Rakesh Tikait declaring that he is "ready to face bullets" if needed, NDTV reported.

Protesters from another site in UP's Baghpat, which was underway since 19 December, were allegedly dispersed by force after the Republic Day events.

Agitation suffers loss of credibility after violence

The damage to the movement is not only in the form of the flurry of legal action impending the leadership of the farmers. The credibility of the movement has also taken a severe hit as protesting farmers appeared to be losing the support of their own.

As per a report in PTI, a panchayats of at least 15 villages in Haryana’s Rewari district asked farmers camping at Delhi-Jaipur National Highway in protest against the three Central farm laws to vacate the road within 24 hours and with good effect.

Following the villagers'' ultimatum, police said, farmers staying put near the Masani barrage cut in Rewari on the Jaipur-Delhi highway since 3 January, vacated the site by Wednesday evening.

“The protesters have vacated the Masani cut protest site and some of them have moved to Tikri, while some have gone to Jai Singhpura Khera village (in Rajasthan on Haryana-Rajasthan border). Many others have returned home,” Rewari''s Superintendent of Police, Abhishek Jorwal told PTI over the phone.

He said protesting farmers, laying siege near several toll plazas on highways in the state for the past several weeks, too vacated their protest sites by the evening. The development came within hours of 15 villages of Rewari holding a panchayat on Wednesday and condemning the farmers’ acts on the Republic Day terming them as “most unfortunate” and a “shameful show” of violence.

Venting out his outrage over Tuesday's events, Masani village sarpanch, Lala Ram, said, "Such an onslaught at Red Fort on Republic Day is strongly condemnable.” “It was most unfortunate, it was a shameful show of violence,” the sarpanch said, referring to a news video footage of a tractor-borne man driving his vehicle after an individual policeman running for his life.

Furthermore, some agriculture experts also opined that position of protesting farmer unions has weakened after the violence and that the time is ripe for the government to strike the best deal and end the two month-long agitation.

"The violence on a national day has sent out a bad name to the country worldwide. Today, farmers are facing credibility crisis. Therefore, it is the best time to strike a deal," Indian Council of Food and Agriculture Chairman MJ Khan told PTI.

So far, about 40 protesting farmers' unions were negotiating with the government on a point of strength and the government was giving in more to their demands, he said."But today, the government may agree less and find a solution. That solution is to concede to their demand on minimum support price (MSP) and not repeal of the laws," he noted.

Khan further said implementation of MSP for 23-odd crops will have zero impact on the exchequer. There will be little implication on the trade to the tune of Rs 80,000-Rs 90,000 crore, which can be recovered from consumers. After Tuesday's violence during the tractor parade, farmers will negotiate from the point of weakness and therefore, this is a better time for the government to take the talks further and end the current impasse, he added.

Khan also said the government cannot afford to send the protesting farmers back with empty hands after 60 days of protest. It has to give more than what it has already agreed to. Agri-expert Vijay Sardana claimed the protesting farmers' unions have "vested interest with hidden agenda to protest against the ruling party".

After Tuesday's violence in Delhi, the government should rethink how to engage with the protesting farmers' bodies, which have no proper base. The government should not go by their face value.

"The way forward is very clear. The government should give a clear message that there won't be further talks and they can come before the Supreme Court-appointed panel and submit their suggestions," he said, adding that the new agri-laws are not only for wheat and rice-growing states.

Agri-economist and former member of erstwhile government's think-tank Planning Commission, Abhijit Sen said so far the protesting farmer unions were united. But after the Tuesday's incident, he said "the extent of sympathy that the farmers unions had, may actually go down quite exponentially". "Both sides are playing to the gallery. They are really not doing serious talk," he said.

Cracks in farmers unity

At least three farmer bodies have so far withdrawn support from the umbrella movement that saw over 40 such organisations unite. The Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan was among the first farmers organisation to pull support from the movement. Later,  Bhartiya Kisan Union (Bhanu) and the Bhartiya Kisan Union (Lok Shakti) had withdrawn from the ongoing agitation following the violence at Red Fort.

Announcing the decision to end the protest, BKU (Bhanu) president Thakur Bhanu Pratap Singh told reporters he was deeply pained by whatever happened during the tractor parade in Delhi on Republic Day.

Several BKU (Bhanu) members have left the protest site to return home, while some are still present at the Chilla border along with the faction chief, who was talking to media persons this evening.

BKU (Lok Shakti) members, camping at some distance at Dalit Prerna Sthal in Noida since 2 December also decided to call off their protest on Thursday.

Thousands of farmers have been protesting at Delhi's borders with Haryana and Uttar Pradesh demanding rollback of the Farmers'' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020.

On Wednesday, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha had also called off its planned march to the Parliament on Budget Day after receiving flak for Tuesday's violence.

Small farmers to take hit if agitation fizzles

There is often the misconception that only rich farmers were protesting against the three laws as they held direct control over the government related markets, locally known as the mandis. But various ground reports indicate that nothing can be farther from the truth.

Firstpost spoke to farmers from various districts of Maharashtra, who had gathered in Mumbai to protest against the farm laws. The protesters largely comprised of farmers who have one or less than an acre of land, and Adivasi farmers who cultivate on forest land.

Santu Devram Tumbde from the Ambas village in Nashik district said, "The mandi system is flawed because farmers don't receive the correct rate for their produce, but it is an insurance that we cannot do without. It helps to regulate the prices and provides small and marginal farmers an opportunity to earn a sustainable income."

Tumbde's remarks were echoed by Sandeep Laxi Gadag from the Dhapchari village in Palghar district's Dahanu. Gadag's main worry, however, is that the strengthening of the contract farming system under the new law will have an adverse effect on small and marginal farmers.

Gadag has barely an acre of land to his name, and feared that businesses might try to manipulate small and marginal farmers like him to give their land on rent.

"By taking many such small patches of land on lease or rent, they will be in control of a large piece of land. This is worrying, because if the crop fails or doesn't do as well as expected, they might pay us less rent for the land or refuse to pay the amount at all. They might even spoil our land by using excessive pesticide just to boost production."

An older report in The Leaflet quoted RS Ghuman, professor of Economics at the Chandigarh based Centre for Research in Rural and Industrial Development, who echoed similar sentiments. He said that if these laws were implemented, the small and marginal farmers would be losers on all counts-for marketing their produce and as contract farmers.

He says there is every likelihood that they may not get the contracted price on trivial grounds put forward by big private companies on quality issues even if there is no issue on this count. Farmers have very weak bargaining power against big companies, he said.

Now, with the farmer agitation on the backfoot, there are already reports in media indicating that the Centre will now get the leverage it hadn't commanded thus far in negotiating with farmers.

The Print quoted 'top government sources' as saying, "It’s too early to take any policy decision related to the farm law. But today’s incident will force us to rethink our earlier stand." The report also quoted a Union minister, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, to report that Centre might also harden its stance and offer less ground than it was willing to cede earlier.

“The government is unlikely to make fresh offers for talks or make any new offer,” they said, while another BJP source added that the the incident was “unprecedented” and “will change the course of the protest".

If the movement fizzles out because of the 26 January violence, the smaller farmers will lose representation, bargaining power and momentum necessary to get their voices heard.

With inputs from PTI

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