Col. Iqbal Singh
The agitation of farmers in Punjab was initially directed towards repeal of the new national laws pertaining to the agriculture sector collectively referred to as the Farm Bills. Due to inept political handling at the grassroots level, the agitation soon adopted a larger dimension. It is now perceived as a harbinger for monumental socio-economic changes across the country; a manifestation of disgruntlement of the people with the present political dispensation across the board. In a nutshell the agitation had the following manifestations that made it unique:-
- No politician or political party has been welcomed or given any platform during this movement, implying people have lost faith in the current political setup or politicians.
- Because of the above factor, the movement has remained peaceful and is uniting people from all walks of society and from different parts of the country.
- The Khalistan concept engineered by a few due to their vested interests has been rejected. It is a big blow to those who have been aligning with the idea of Khalistan.
- Efforts like use of money power and engineering divisions into religious and caste lines have failed to sabotage this movement.
- While people from all walks of life are supporting or helping monetarily and emotionally, the NRIs have not been allowed to interfere in this indigenous movement. The people of Punjab understand how to deal with its problems.
This agitation has a lot to demonstrate, the foremost being an illustration of the real India. While politicians have been dividing people or society and making them fight through engineered riots to achieve their devious objectives, this agitation shows that people from all walks of life are both united as well as peaceful. It is no longer the battle of Sikhs, but farmers and the national level. It has support from non-farmers and common people across India, who are united against their fight against being bulldozed into accepting policies that, they feel, are against their interests.
There is also a strong perception that these laws were enacted in a hurry, without a debate or consulting the affected parties and that they are meant for the corporate benefit. With regard to the corporate angle, the Adani and Ambani group of companies are being specifically mentioned. There is no evidence that these laws are for these business heads, but unfortunately, the government has failed to nullify this ’perception.’ It is not essential for civil society to dwell on whether this perception is right or wrong; if the government has laid out a policy, it needs to justify the same to the people and win their trust for it. That is what democracy is all about.
The Green Revolution in Punjab
The farmers of Punjab succeeded in the green revolution which was backed by the government by switching over their agriculture practices to cultivation of paddy and wheat in a big way as was required by the government. The same is now being considered a liability. If the government is genuinely interested in supporting the farmers, it must listen to their problems and not impose its own will, which is considered anti-farmers. If the government is honest, it will take to task encouraging elements defaming the farmers by calling them anti-nationals or Khalistanis.
Governance is an art, talent and education. The required talent seems to be missing while dealing with this sensitive issue. At present, the issue is the lack of faith in the government’s enacting of the Farm Bill’s, which is being viewed as a tainted policy filled with an adverse agenda. It is this deadlock that needs to be rectified. Going to MP and explaining the benefits of the Bills there is immaterial when the heat is felt in the northern belt. As the Government has failed to convince the people, it is bound to bear the political brunt, presently in Punjab and with every possibility of a spill over in other parts of India. Even now an honest attempt to win hearts and minds can pay the required dividends.
The agitation also indicates a high degree of awareness among the masses, even the farmers who are considered to be less educated. Non-violence and serving of “Langer” (free community kitchen) has won the hearts of many. The Punjabi and Haryanvi divide created by politicians has been bridged during the course of this agitation, the people of the two states are now not only united but helping each other in furthering their demands. This has been made possible by keeping the politicians away from this agitation.
The observation that this movement may go out of hand like in the 80s seems unlikely, at least for now. That was the political movement, whereas no politician is being allowed to sabotage the present movement. “Khalistan” is a myth created by few people with vested interests. States based on religion have never proved themselves to be successful except Israel for different reasons. A theocracy would anyway be the recipe for a backwards-looking polity, with the wrong sort of people at the helm. Sikhs have embraced India and will continue to work for her success and glory.
The Punjabi community is suffering from a leadership crisis. The people in power have done very little for the benefit of the community. They have remained engrossed in self-serving objectives. If Punjab had good, honest, visionary leadership the people would not nurture high levels of insecurity and distrust that is quite apparent now and is propelling them towards taking matters in their own hands.
No one knows the outcome, but people’s power may be exercised in future as well to tackle the problems. Dynamic leadership is needed to capture the energy of Punjabis and guide them. There is immense potential without beating its culture. It is in building, guiding and nurturing such a leadership that the senior members of the civil society can play a very big role. This agitation itself may show a direction not only in Punjab but to the entire India.