Nearly 40 leaders of unions of farmers have been negotiating with the government regarding important demands of farmers for over 8 weeks. In the course of negotiations the representatives of the government including the Agriculture Minister have expressed their appreciation of the disciplined and peaceful nature of the protest. Others in the national and international media also appreciated this.
The farmer leaders have also expressed their commitment to peaceful methods on several occasions. They have also emphasized the secular nature of their movement, based on the unity of farmers irrespective of their religion and region. This unity has been appreciated time and again.
However it is also a fact that the tractor rally on January 26 which was planned as a peaceful celebration of the unity and strength of farmers could not go entirely on planned lines. There was departure from route, unfurling of a religious flag at the Red Fort by a controversial person and some violent clashes as well, even though the greater part of the rally remained peaceful and followed set norms.
First and foremost, there is complete sympathy for all injured persons whether police personnel or protesters. Secondly, more than one factor are apparently responsible for things going wrong. There were also some genuine cases of farmers losing their way in unfamiliar places. Thirdly, there are more than one version of the events that unfolded at the time of writing this. The media has also presented several versions.
However what appears very clear even at this initial stage is that 40 or so negotiator leaders of farmers, involved in prolonged negotiations with the government, cannot be blamed for any departure from peaceful path. The man who unfurled the religious flag at the Red Fort has been identified as a former very close associate of a BJP leader and film actor who had also met some of the senior-most BJP leaders in the company of the actor-politician or on his behalf. There are other disturbing details coming out in media. Without going into all these details what can clearly be stated that it will be wrong to blame negotiating farmer leaders for any violence.
Secondly it is also entirely wrong to blame those leading activists and farmer leaders who are not in the negotiating team but who are extending support or are a part of the movement, and who are also well-known for their commitment to peace. Media reports have said that government action against such famous leaders and activists as Yogendra Yadav and Medha Patkar is also planned in this particular context. This will be entirely wrong as their commitment to peaceful methods has been well-established not just for years but for decades.
There is an urgent need that the difficult situation should not be complicated further by the government initiating strong actions against those leaders who are committed to peaceful methods . If the government initiates actions against peaceful leaders then it will be sending a very wrong message of victimization of those who are committed to peaceful methods of protest which clearly have a very important positive role in any genuine democracy. As history has shown time and again, repression and suppression of peaceful and disciplined protests amounts to an invitation to violent and uncontrolled protest, and the government should keep this in mind before embarking on undue action against peaceful negotiators and other leaders, as the government too has its own share of responsibility of maintaining peace and conditions of peaceful protest in a democracy.
Bharat Dogra is a journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian Ideas for Our Times) and When the Two Streams Met ( Freedom Movement of India).