EVEN as the Centre is reaching out to the protesting farmer unions in a renewed bid to end the stalemate over the farm laws, the blatant use of pressure tactics to weaken or sabotage the agitation has struck a discordant note. The timing of the income tax raids on the premises of several arhtiyas across Punjab makes it easy to put two and two together. Both the state government and farmers’ leaders have alleged that the due process was not followed: the raids were held within days of issuing notices to the suspected defaulters, without waiting for their replies; the local police were not kept in the loop, with the CRPF being deployed to provide security to the I-T officials. It’s apparent that the arhtiyas are being targeted for backing the farmers, with whom they have a time-tested relationship. Some leaders and supporters of the ruling party at the Centre have even said that the commission agents are leading or sponsoring the agitation and that ‘real’ farmers are nowhere in the picture. Such false narratives have only widened the trust deficit between the government and the farmers.
The agitation has also been under threat from the trolls and mischief mongers who are spreading fake news and vilifying the protesters on social media. Equal to the challenge, the farm unions have established an information technology cell to counter negative propaganda. The importance of effective and timely communication is not lost on the farmers. The tech-savvy ones have not only been active on popular cyber platforms but are also keeping tabs on the malicious campaigns being conducted to undermine their cause. In an obvious cyber attack, the social media handle of the farmers’ forum was blocked on Sunday evening. Following widespread outrage over the ‘blackout’, the handle was restored a few hours later. It was a small but significant victory for the protesters.
With the Supreme Court acknowledging the farmers’ right to stage a peaceful protest, the government is well advised to confine itself to the negotiating table. Coercion or vendetta can do untold damage to the credibility of the powers that be and worsen the situation.