When the farmers’ protests outside Delhi have entered the seventh week, there is no perceptible progress in resolving the issues that have brought them out on the streets. They have been protesting in the open since November 26, and with the winter getting colder and with the rain pouring down, as it did yesterday, the stand-off is increasingly testing the strength of their bodies and minds. As many as 50 farmers have died, including some who have committed suicide. They have displayed a strong resolve, bravery and patience in the face of the hardships and the continuing rejection by the government of their demand for the scrapping of the three farm laws. Though many of the protesting farmers are from Punjab, Haryana and nearby north Indian states, they have the support of farmers in other parts of the country too. They also have widespread popular support.
It is unfortunate that the government has adopted a negative and even hostile policy to the protests. It seems to be intent on undermining the farmers’ movement and ending the strike rather than on resolving the issues raised by them. A series of talks have been held between the All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee and the government without any substantial results. The government is trying to make much of its conceding of two minor demands made by the farmers concerning electricity tariffs and stubble burning. At the same time, it has, again and again, declared that it will not agree to the farmers’ major demands or make any concessions on them. It is also trying to split the farmers and their organisations and vilifying them with charges that they have been misguided by the opposition and infiltrated by anti-nationals like Khalistanis. It may have also thought of tiring the farmers out by making them continue the protest for a long period and prolonging the negotiations over several rounds.
A new round of talks is to be held on Monday and it should be approached with a positive frame of mind. If governments are unresponsive to protest movements for a long period, the protesters tend to get frustrated and this often leads to violence. Many telecom towers have been destroyed in Punjab. The farmers have warned that they would step up their protest if there is no agreement in the coming round of talks. They have announced plans to move towards Delhi from different sides and hold a tractor march on January 6. The plans also include shutting down highways and blocking malls and petrol pumps in select areas and holding a parallel Republic Day march in Delhi on January 26. Hopefully, an agreement will not be delayed