Farm protests: Hooligans destroying mobile towers are denting India's image and harming farmers' cause

These incidents are taking place at a time when Indian recession-hit economy is struggling to turn around and looking for foreign investments. The violence and vandalism make a mockery of India’s effort to showcase itself as a 'land of opportunity' and undermine efforts to be a part of global supply chains.

Sreemoy Talukdar December 29, 2020 17:15:13 IST
Farm protests: Hooligans destroying mobile towers are denting India's image and harming farmers' cause

File image from the ongoing farmers' protests on Delhi borders . PTI

It is interesting that Captain Amarinder Singh is issuing "stern warning" to vandals in Punjab who are destructing mobile towers in the state, threatening employees of Jio and burning fiber cables. It is tragic because had the Punjab chief minister acted decisively and sooner, instead of showing leniency and allowing agitators to develop an impression that the state government is tacitly backing their actions, things may not have come to such a pass.

As it happens, thousands of Jio mobile towers in the state have been destructed, power cut off and at least in one case the generator physically taken away and deposited at a local gurdwara — discomfiting students dependent on online education, inconveniencing general public, putting at risk patients, health and emergency workers amid a pandemic and projecting India’s image as a state that is incapable of providing even a basic level of governance and ensuring protection of private properties.

Earlier this month, workers of a iPhone manufacturing facility in Kolar, Karnataka, went on a rampage and destroyed equipment and machinery, forcing Wistron Corp — the Taiwan-based manufacturing partner of Apple Inc — to suffer damages worth several crores.

These incidents are taking place at a time when Indian recession-hit economy is struggling to turn around and looking for foreign investments. The violence and vandalism against properties and business establishments make a mockery of India’s effort to showcase itself as a ‘land of opportunity’ and undermine efforts to be a part of global supply chains. It dents India’s image before the world and portrays the nation as a land of anarchy and inept governance.

Tower and Infrastructure Providers Association (TAIPA), a registered body of telecom infrastructure providers, had sought the Punjab government’s intervention last week to stop the damage of crucial infrastructure. Captain Amarinder Singh, instead of immediately initiating disciplinary action against the law-breakers, "urged the farmers not to take the law in their hands by forcibly shutting down telecom connectivity or manhandling employees/technicians of telecom service providers” while adding that he had been “standing with farmers in their fight against the ‘black farm laws’, and would continue to do so," according to India Today.

By Monday, at least 1,600 towers were vandalised in Punjab according to TAIPA, while the state’s official figures put the figure at 1,561. Of these, 146 had been impacted since Monday while disruption of power supply to 32 towers led to the disconnection of services of 114 more. Reports of vandalism have come from Mansa, Barnala, Ferozepur and Moga with mobile towers of Jio Infocomm being targeted, according to a report in The Indian Express.

Amarinder now says that he will “not let Punjab be plunged into anarchy at any cost and nobody can be allowed to take law into their hands,” but according to reports, state police have so far not acted against the miscreants who have damaged the towers. Even FIRs have not been registered in most cases. Besides, Jio employees are being harassed, fiber cables are being burnt and snapped in several parts of the state. The ire of those protesting against the Centre’s new farm laws is being targeted at Jio and Adani Group under the notion that these companies would be the “beneficiaries” of the new law. Fact remains that neither the Reliance nor Adani group are into the business of procuring foodgrain from farmers.

But even if they were, these vandalism of properties and establishments, disruption of services and harassment of employees are unacceptable. This vandalism comes from a sense of misplaced entitlement that being “farmers” give agitators the moral right to destruct public and private properties. It sends a wrong message. The state cannot be partial in administering law and order.

The farm laws were passed by the Parliament and enacted into laws through due democratic process. The Narendra Modi government has repeatedly invited the agitating farmers for talks, commenced outreach initiatives to clear misconceptions at different levels. The prime minister has made several speeches and issued repeated assurances that MSP mechanism won’t be discontinued, while APMCs will remain and even be upgraded — the two basic demands of agitating farmers. The Centre has again invited 40 protesting farm unions for another round of talks on December 30 while making it clear that the much-needed reforms — that have gained support of a majority of farmers across India will not be rolled back.

It is possible that some farmers still have misconceptions, fears and apprehensions and it is the duty of the government to sit down with them and walk the extra mile to allay their fears. The wanton destruction of properties and disruption of services, however, indicate that the agitators are less interested in solutions and more interested in using violence as a veto to overturn long-overdue reforms passed through due diligence that have gained widespread support in farming communities.

The grammar of anarchy cannot be allowed to reign supreme. Destruction of a single telecom tower affects not one service provider but multiple — since these are shared infrastructure. The hooliganism on display is counterproductive not just for India, but also the protestors since they are rapidly losing public sympathy.

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