The ongoing Farmers Protest makes for an interesting study in the mobisation of democracies.
Notice this: in the past three days a mere five groupings from Punjab were able to scuttle the desire of all others to withdraw the agitation. The success of this invidious five rests on a set of interesting factors.
Currently the farmers agitation has gone out of the hands of the farmer leaders. The sort of talk that Yogendra Yadav and company do about insisting on repeal, is difficult to ignore unless any leader wishes to be seen as a turncoat, a Modi supporter.
No one would wish to be seen thus.
All the people on the ground, especially the young who are on leave from schools, universities and colleges, are extremely enthused with going to Delhi and telling Modi that they don’t fear him or his government.
This builds upon a lasting Punjabi fantasy of not being scared of anyone. Add to this the fact that many of the Jat farmers have access to, the facility of, extreme coercive powers in their locality. They have used this facility to the fullest and pushed all the poor farmers and landless labourers to come to Delhi. The Narendra Modi government has its work cut out in ensuring that the poor and landless in Punjab are not scared of their well off jat neighbours.
The political parties of Punjab became irrelevant the day the farmers began their march towards Delhi. The Shiromani Akali Dal tried to ignore the march to Delhi but was forced by the inability of the Captain Amarinder Singh government to stop the march to change its stance.
Once the marching farmers set up camp on the borders of Delhi, the task before the BKU leaders was to ensure that no mayhem happens. In this they have succeeded. That shows that they do have a lot of moral legitimacy among farmers. The Ugrahan group tried to inject a bit of naxalism in the movement when they held those protests at Singhu border with pictures of urban naxals. But the activists of the Ugrahan group were quickly disciplined. Charuni of Haryana moved forth to ally with the Indian National Congress to make a bid to overthrow the Khattar government. He too was quickly disciplined by the general leaders of the BKU. At least Charuni group does not want mayhem. Not so with the Ugrahan people. They would not desist from initiating mayhem.
I would say that till now the most sensible thing that the farm leaders have been able to do at the moment is to ensure that the Ugrahan group, is not able to come forward openly to create mayhem even though the majority of people on the ground are admirers of the Ugrahan group. Be warned, the mood to create mayhem is already being supported by the Ugrahan group and it is creating harmonies among the youth. Even the SFJ guys are getting a little more support for their idiotic beliefs and calls for action.
My reading is that given the present circumstances, the Punjabis are going to insist on rallying into Delhi on the 26th. The Rajasthan jats and gujjars as also the UP jats may be forced to join in, if only to ensure that they too continue to be seen as militant enough.
Already we have seen that in the past three days just five groupings out of some 50, were able to force all others to desist from initiating peace talks with the government.
Whether the rally is called off, or it remains peaceful would depend on the wisdom of the various BKU factions from Punjab. On their ability to convince everyone that the agitation has gone on for long enough. One thing, though seems quite certain today. That after the rally most of the farmers would be desirous of going back home. Since the Modi government has already said that it is not going to repeal the laws, it would be interesting to see what strategy the likes of Ugrahan would use to convince the farmers to continue their protest. Would they try to create mayhem to further their cause?
By the way, this isn’t the first time that farmers have behaved in this unique obdurate way in democratic countries. France sees such protests every few years even though the protests don’t yield any benefits for farmers. Of course such protests would be unthinkable in non-democratic countries like Cuba, China and Russia, from where many of the farm leaders and those who try to position themselves as ideologues for farmers, take their inspiration.
Rajiv Lochan is an acclaimed scholar, historian, author and columnist