The borders of Delhi opened on Thursday to allow 200-odd protesting farmers to ride out from Singhu into the heart of the national capital, Jantar Mantar. This marks a moment in the year-long farmers’ movement against the farm laws brought in by the Centre. This is the first time since the events of January 26 that the farmers have been allowed into the city. Earlier, in November last year, when farmers from Haryana and Punjab first headed to Delhi to demand that the Centre scrap the laws, they had been pushed back with water cannons and barricades. If in 1988, lakhs of farmers had taken over the lawns of the India Gate to answer Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Mahendra Singh Tikait’s call for protest against the Rajiv Gandhi government at the Centre, in 2020, the BJP-led government was unwilling to brook such displays of defiance.
Nevertheless, at the margins of the city, hundreds and thousands of farmers have continued their protests, through the bitter cold of the north Indian winter, a harsh summer, a raging pandemic and 11 rounds of talks that have not yielded a resolution. After the unfortunate outbreak of violence at Red Fort, the Delhi Police went to work, increasing the distance between the protesting farmers and the Parliament that is the highest forum for debate and discussion of the issues and concerns they have raised. They built barricades, dug trenches and hammered metal spikes onto the roads. Concertina wires came up at the protest sites, and access to drinking water and toilets was cut off. There was no better image of the Centre’s failure to communicate its intention in bringing the farm laws to the intended beneficiaries.
The farm laws bring in long-overdue reform, and will help make farming more remunerative. The anxieties that have gathered around the laws are, to a great deal, a function of the Centre’s inability to consult and communicate. Perhaps it is the calculus of the approaching assembly elections in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh that has led the government into making a concession and allowing the protest into the city. Whatever the motivation, this is a welcome development. The presence of farmers at Jantar Mantar reclaims, in a small way, the capital of an argumentative democracy from being sanitised of figures and voices of dissent.