The Supreme Court has opened a window, narrow though it may be, for the farmers’ unions and the government to negotiate a consensus on the contentious farm laws. The court, while hearing petitions seeking the removal of farmers sitting on protest in Delhi borders on Thursday, upheld the right of the farmers to protest and came with an innovation to end the impasse: It has proposed setting up an “independent and impartial committee” to hear both sides. While Solicitor General Tushar Mehta refused to assure the court that the government would keep the laws in abeyance until it ruled on them, Attorney General KK Venugopal said he would discuss the subject with the government. This is an opportunity for both parties to step back from their maximalist positions and discover a middle ground that addresses the concerns of farmers and meets the government’s case for agriculture reforms.
On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing a kisan meet in Madhya Pradesh, said he was ready “with folded hands” to discuss every issue with farmers. He spoke of the measures the government has done to ease the burden of farmers — cash transfers to their bank, access to Kisan Credit Cards and so on — besides reiterating that minimum support price for farm produce will continue. But along with this outreach comes a disturbing refrain: Questioning the nationalist credentials of the protestors. Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar Thursday suggested a sinister design to the rail track protestors: Hindering the delivery of supplies to soldiers in Ladakh and said that “the ideology of these people, who are misleading the farmers by hiding behind curtains, was not with the country even during the war of ’62. Today, these people are again speaking the language of ’62.” Government and BJP functionaries need to stop infantilising the protestors. You can’t celebrate the wisdom of the farmer and, in the same breath, say they are being “misled” by darker forces out to break the nation. The apex court’s suggestion may create a space relatively insulated from such self-serving — and self-defeating — rhetoric.
Like politics, policy-making also involves negotiation. In the case of farm laws, the government ignored the early signs of dissent and discomfort among the intended beneficiaries of the reforms — the BJP even allowed a long-standing ally, the Shiromani Akali Dal, to quit the Union Cabinet and NDA on the issue. The Supreme Court has now given the government an opportunity to discuss and clarify its intentions with other stakeholders; it must not let ego or narrow political interests shut this window. The farmers, too, need to factor in that repeal-or-nothing-else isn’t the most effective way to address their apprehensions.
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