As the impasse over farmers protest continue, the government has been shifting its goal post. Initiall,y the centre tried to malign the protests dismissing them as opposition sponsored and middlemen led. The government has been further aspersive when it alleged even the intrusion of the khalistanis. But all this did not deter the farmers who are used to work in the tough terrain. Like the long walk of migrant labour during the lock down, the pictures of farmers including women and the old unrelenting in a biting cold caught the imagination of the world.
Hundred British MPs, Canadian Prime Minister, American law makers expressed concern making it difficult for the government to crack down on the protestors. International media like the economist decried centres intransigence to farmers protest. Government had no option to employ the ‘anti-national’ theory as it did in dealing with the anti CAA protests due to the heroic role played by the Punjabi’s in defending India.
The ruling party propaganda team floated unverified and unclaimed information that the government consulted over 93 lakh farmers. The servile media publicised the information as the Whatsapp University continues to spread disinformation. Yet the nation did not turn hostile to the farmers.
The peasant protest spread to other parts of the country with varying degree of intensity. Political support continues to pour in.
Even the Supreme Court expressed disappointment over the government handling of farm laws and farm protests. The apex court found fault with the government for enacting laws without wider consultation. The centre refused to heed to the advice of the apex court to put these laws on hold to facilitate fresh consultations. While the farmers insist on repeal of the laws lock, stock and barrel, the centre is ready for only cosmetic amendments.
Interestingly, the Supreme Court is also not willing to examine the constitutionality of these laws. The legislative competence of Parliament to enact laws related to agriculture which is in the state list is always under question. Using the entry food stuffs that fall under concurrent list, the centre shrewdly passed the farm laws in a pandemic situation. As both sides remain committed to their positions, the apex court suggested setting up of a committee to hold talks while staying the implementation of the laws. The apex court referring to its action on the Maratha quota drew a distinction between staying the laws and staying the executive action on the laws.
But, ultimately the issue has to be settled in the spirit of democracy. Courts alone cannot find solutions to the conflict between the rulers and the ruled in a democratic society. Even if the courts uphold the centre’s right to legislate, the farm laws need to be repealed as they go against the interest of the farmers.
By Prof K Nageshwar