This is a special Republic Day, one that uniquely exemplifies the contradictions and the deep fault lines that run through our body politic. Waiting for the pomp and gaiety of the R-Day parade on Rajpath in New Delhi to get over would be tens of thousands of farmers at the borders of the national capital. While the State showcases tanks, missiles and fighter aircraft flying past, the farmers would be waiting to display their distress on tractors — the parade of the protesters. This ought not to have happened. The government, to begin with, should not have taken a maximalist position; and after the government blinked, agreeing to suspend the contentious farm laws for 18 months, the farmers should have relented, asking for a longer moratorium and, meanwhile, getting the state legislatures empowered to deal with the farm laws. After all, agriculture is a state subject. The battle of wits between farmer leaders and government representatives should not be allowed to get transformed into a clash of egos. This ought to be resolved at the earliest.
The contradictions do not end with the two parades. As we celebrate our vaxi-diplomacy offering Covid-19 vaccines to the world, the Republic has not yet inoculated its citizens against the greatest affliction of this nation — poverty — or has attempted to cure and rehabilitate the migrant masses, which walked hundreds of kilometres after having lost their jobs in the cities. Over one crore people still remain jobless in the manufacturing sector and nearly a crore more are yet to get re-employed in the services segment. Yet, the Sensex has conquered Mount 50K, while the economy is contracting at a rate of 7.5 per cent. The disconnect between marketcap and unemployment; tanks and tractors; Rajpath and the national highway could never have been greater than it is today.
On this auspicious day, we need to remind ourselves that agriculture employs about 36 per cent of the country’s labour force and that figure rose to 40 per cent in 2020, while all other sectors declined. This sector and the farmers deserve greater respect.