Talks, chaos and violence: Where is the farmer agitation headed now?

The protesters vandalised police barricades in New Delhi on Tuesday

The largescale violence that erupted in New Delhi on Republic Day has given a new twist to the farmers’ protest that had hit the headlines in the past few months. Lately, though the farmer unions have expressed their determination to continue with their protests while seeking to dissociate themselves from violence, many supporters of the agitation would now find it difficult to take a high moral ground. The Tuesday incidents are also likely to help the government harden its stand on the three farm laws.

Right from the beginning, the Central government has been careful in not using coercive methods as most of the agitating farmer unions are from Punjab, a sensitive state. The likely role of extremists exploiting the situation had been on government’s mind and that’s the reason why it held several rounds of talks and kept the leaders engaged despite its reluctance to repeal the laws. The talks went on and on and there was hardly a single point where the two sides could agree.

Now that the violence has taken place, the government could rethink its strategy. It is likely to be less accommodative in the next round of talks as the farmer unions will find themselves being closely questioned over the manner in which their rally spun out of control.

On January 20, in a climbdown of sorts from its earlier stand, the Centre had proposed to suspend the three new farm laws for up to 18 months until the standoff is resolved. The farmer unions had, however, rejected the offer and said they won’t accept anything other than total repeal.

Now the violence has almost ended the sanctity of peaceful protest.

According to a few BJP leaders, the violence had showed that farmer leaders had no control over their followers and that they were acting as “puppets” of opposition parties. The leaders claim that the government trusted the assurance given by farmers that the tractor rally would be on specified routes, trolleys would not be taken out and that they would be unarmed. Now that the protesters have violated all promises they made to the government, there is no reason for the government to be lenient next time.

The Delhi Police too had showed utmost restraint even as they were beaten up and thrashed in many spots. The videos of policemen being attacked by lathi and sword-wielding protestors have given an opportunity for the government to argue that it had maintained utmost restraint.

Now, as per reports, many among the Bhartiya Kisan Union feel that hoisting of Sikh community flags at the Red Fort was against the spirit of the protest movement and it would bring the farmers down from the high moral ground they had held vis-a-vis the government.

The violence has also raised questions on the leadership in charge of the protest at the Ghazipur border. A feeling has grown that the All India Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (AIKMS) and other groups who are protesting on the flyover have a mind of their own even though they had accepted Rakesh Tikait of Bhartiya Kisan Union as their leader during negotiations.

In the coming days, the farmer leaders would also find it difficult to keep the flock together as many would shrug off the responsibility of the violent agitation.

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