Sticking to his stand that the new farm laws are in the farmers’ interest, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has appealed to protesters to end their agitation and give agriculture reforms a chance. Replying to the Motion of Thanks on the President’s address in the Rajya Sabha, the PM slammed attempts to defame the protesting farmers, particularly Sikhs, and stated that India is ‘very proud’ of the community’s contribution. He also tried to address a major concern of the farmers by asserting that the time-tested MSP regime would continue. The PM’s outreach comes at a time when the agitation, which began at Delhi’s borders in November-end, is regaining momentum after the January 26 disturbances and making international headlines. The government’s strategy to queer the pitch for the protesters by suspending the Internet, installing concrete barriers and concertina wires, and embedding nails into roads seems to have backfired, inviting the ire of global celebrities.
The PM’s conciliatory approach is aimed at blunting criticism of his government over the ‘unilateral’ passage of the farm laws as well as the alleged mishandling of the consequent agitation. But what has struck a discordant note is his insinuation that protesters, in general, are being misled by the new ‘FDI (foreign destructive ideology)’. He has warned the country against the ‘andolan jivi’, the elements who are ready to jump into any protest, be it of the farmers, lawyers or students. Smelling a conspiracy behind every demonstration is uncalled for, particularly in the case of the farmers’ stir that has gained traction in India and abroad.
The PM needs to go beyond mere assurances and engage directly with farmers on the ground. It rankles that he has been conspicuous by his absence from various rounds of talks between the government and the farm bodies. Though the government has offered to put the laws on hold for 18 months, it has remained non-committal on the key demand of legalising MSP. The onus is on the PM to bridge the trust deficit.