Justice Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.
A farmers’ agitation is going on presently in parts of India (principally in Punjab and Haryana) against the new farm laws enacted recently by the Indian Parliament. To explain these laws two links are given below.
It is true that farmers have been given a raw deal in India. Often they are paid 10 rupees for a product that sells in retail for 40 or 50 rupees, middlemen pocketing the bulk of the price. A large number of farmers (over 300,000) have committed suicide as they could not repay their loans and were heavily in debt.
The Indian Govt fixes a minimum support price (MSP) for rice, paddy and some other agricultural products at the beginning of every sowing season, to ensure farmers a minimum remunerative price, but often farmers cannot get them.
The Indian Government has enacted three farmers laws this year, allegedly to give farmers a better deal, but many feel these will only create further problems for the farmers as they will do away with the MSP, and will place farmers at the mercy of the corporates.
To protest, a ‘ rail roko ‘ (stop the trains) agitation was started by Punjab farmers (Punjab being a leading agricultural state in India), but later that was given up.
Now the farmers, mainly in Punjab and Haryana, have launched the ‘ Dilli chalo ‘ (March to Delhi) agitation.
Thousands of Punjabi farmers were stopped by the Haryana police at the Punjab-Haryana border (Haryana being a BJP ruled state), but many succeeded in breaking the blockade, and have reached Ambala, Sonepat, Kurukshetra, etc.
While I sympathize with the farmers, I submit the method of agitation they have adopted will achieve nothing, except for some broken heads and destroyed property.
What does ‘Dilli chalo’ really mean? Do the agitators seriously think they will be allowed to surround Parliament or the Prime Minister’s house? It is a cardinal principle of administration not to buckle down under pressure, for this will portray the government as weak, and then more pressures will be applied.
I fear that if this ill-advised agitation is not called off it will only result in large-scale violence, with no benefit achieved for the farmers. I am reminded of Bloody Sunday on 22nd January 1905 in St Petersburg in Russia when a mob led by Father Gapon ( who was later revealed to be a police agent ) was fired upon by Czarist troops, leading to hundreds dead. One is also reminded of Vendemiare on 5th October 1795 in Paris when Napoleon’s ‘whiff of grapeshot’ dispersed a large mob that suffered huge casualties.
The Union Agriculture Minister has called for a meeting with the farmers’ organizations to discuss the issues on December 3, and it would be best for them to call off ( or suspend ) the agitation and hold talks.