As India debates the repeal of three controversial farm laws and critical negotiations for this are scheduled to take place today on January 4, it needs to be asserted that in democracy when a government take a decision to repeal unpopular laws, its true respect and honor among people are likely to increase, not decrease.
However this is true only up to a stage. The government, astute as it is, should realize that the question of timing is very important in public perception. And the time limit for a decision on repeal of unpopular laws is almost over in the present context. There should be no further delay on the part of the government in accepting the demand for repeal of three controversial farm laws.
In mass movements, initially there is hope from a positive response from the government , and hence goodwill exists. As one farmer representative told a government representative, a minister, at an early state of the negotiations—You agree to repeal the laws and we will garland you and carry you all over in garlands. This was a light-hearted way of expressing the goodwill that existed at an early stage despite the fact that many protestors had already endured water cannon and tear gas.
As time passed, there was a stalemate and in addition there was some insulting propaganda against the farmers’ movement by ruling party leaders or by those motivated by them. Despite this, till the end of the last year hope had still survived, as there was partial agreement in the last round of discussions, even though the bigger and more contentious issues were left on the table for the next round.
The government, in its own interests as well as the interests of the farmers and the larger interests of the nation, should seize this opportunity and clinch a deal today by agreeing to repeal the three controversial farm laws.
If this opportunity is lost, then there is bigger trouble ahead as then there is likely to be a hardening of attitudes. And after some time, sooner rather than later, the opportunity that still exists for the government to take the moral high ground by conceding the main demand, ending on a note of increased respect for the government nationally and internationally, will be lost.
So the politically astute government should not delay any further the main demand of the farmers’ movement for repealing the three farm laws.
We have already seen the extent to which these laws have been opposed by farmers and their organizations, we have seen the much wider support they have received, we have seen how one eminent expert after another has criticized the laws ad expressed approval of repeal. Now let us look at what a senior expert who actually supported the three laws initially has to say now. When the representative of a leading newspaper contacted this former top government adviser ( now leading a retired life) recently, even this expert said that in view of the mass opposition he would now like to tell the government to immediately withdraw the laws!
So this is the extent to which even those who supported the laws initially have revised their opinion following the mass opposition. The government should see the writing on the wall and announce its decision to repeal the laws immediately.
This can pave the way for a happy, cheerful ending of the farmers’ movement in the new year and the reputation of the government for democratic, peaceful resolution of the prolonged stand-off will be enhanced greatly.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include When the Two Streams Met ( freedom movement of India) , Azadi Ke Deewanon Ki Daastaan and Protecting Earth for Children.