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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Protesting farmers joining politics is in line with democracy’s tradition of rebels turning stakeholders. But it’s fraught too

🔴 It remains to be seen whether the entry of a new player opens up the field, or only ends up underscoring the limits of political choice.

By: Editorial |
Updated: December 28, 2021 10:10:07 am
The farmers’ movement that finally led to the Centre repealing the three farm laws had already demonstrated the power of the people’s will to make an unresponsive government listen.

Anew political player is born in Punjab, and as the old year moves into the new, it is good news. To be sure, the Samyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM), led by Balbir Singh Rajewal, is not yet a full-fledged party. It is also true that while it contains 22 of the farm unions that were part of the Samyukt Kisan Morcha which successfully led the year-long agitation against the Centre’s farm laws, many of the large unions have held back from taking the political plunge. There are unresolved questions, ranging from the symbol the new morcha will fight on, to whether or not, and on what terms, it will join hands with a political party. And yet, the SSM is a welcome addition to the political-electoral fray. Because it sends out a message that is much larger than its agenda, and more heartening than a manifesto: That despite all its imperfections, India’s democracy still provides the space in which the agitator can become the player. That even though it may not always seem that way, the lines that divide rebels from stakeholders remain porous and permeable — politics can, and does, pass through them.

The farmers’ movement that finally led to the Centre repealing the three farm laws had already demonstrated the power of the people’s will to make an unresponsive government listen. It showed up the government’s attempts to paint all protest as anarchic. Through it all, the movement turned away politicians and parties from its stage. Now, having won a famous victory, the decision by the 22 unions to embrace that which the movement had so far disdained attests to the undimmed promise of electoral politics for all those who aspire to bring enduring change. While civil society has its distinctive role and space, “politics” cannot be a bad word in a democracy that remakes and revitalises itself through the political, or always has the possibility to do so.

Of course, for the farmers’ movement, still basking in its success, taking the political plunge in Punjab’s crowded fray will also pose a challenge. The AAP made the bipolar contest into a three-cornered one, the SSM’s entry could give it another shape, but there is no assurance of success. Failure could jeopardise the movement’s hard-won gains in spotlighting the concerns of the farmer. The upcoming assembly elections will take place amid a rampant cynicism and deepening distrust of mainstream politics and players. From a plateaued agriculture to declining industry, from joblessness to the drug menace, there are many gathering crises, and few answers. It remains to be seen whether the entry of a new player opens up the field, or only ends up underscoring the limits of political choice.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 28, 2021 under the title ‘The new seed’.

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