Prolonged protests, particularly agitations that restrict traffic movement on a large scale and for days together, cannot be sustained on emotions alone. They need organisational backup, and more importantly, the state’s willingness to let things be. In the case of Punjab and Haryana, the strong political positioning against the farm legislations has ensured that the protesting farmers are unrelenting on any relaxation in the course of action adopted to register their opposition: rail and road blockade. A BKU leader sums up what’s on the mind of the protester: ‘During the lockdown, goods trains did not move for weeks. Now, just after 10 days (of protests), figures are being generated of losses. This shows the double standards of the Centre.’
Punjab has been presented with an unusual political stage where the main adversaries, the Akalis and the Congress, have both chosen the Modi government as the whipping boy. Their loudest slogans, however, are reserved for each other. In Haryana, the ruling BJP-JJP alliance is being made to strive hard to not be seen as anti-farmer, while the Opposition senses a real opportunity. Lost in the cacophony of the vicious back-and-forth for political one-upmanship is the voice of the protesting farmers, and the cause. That perhaps explains the hardening of their stand, from disrupting movement to upping the ante on demands.
If standing up for the farmer was the sole issue at play, more thought could have been given to a joint political effort, and applying pressure on the Centre to address the apprehensions, enter into negotiations and find a middle ground. Instead, a political slugfest filled with accusatory and unconciliatory overtones is gaining traction, within the states as well as in New Delhi. An attempt by the BJP or Opposition parties only to present a maximalist position on the contentious laws is a confrontationist approach, not one aimed at a negotiated settlement. Let us hope the missive attributed to the Union agriculture secretary is the way forward to talk, listen and if necessary, amend.