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Can’t take people for granted

The BJP-led govt can ill afford to ride roughshod over the farmers

Can’t take people for granted

Up in arms: If the farm laws are beneficial, why are they being opposed? AFP

Julio Ribeiro

I begin my column this week with an apology. The distinguished member of the CCG (Constitutional Conduct Group), Gopalakrishnan Sankaran, from whose book The Dangerous Yes Men I had quoted, pointed out that he was not a retired IAS officer, but a former member of the Indian Customs Service whose last appointment was with the Customs, Excise and Gold Control Appellate Tribunal as its president.

Mr Sankaran also corrected my impression that his book was already published. It has not! His forthcoming book covers a wide variety of topics of which ‘Yes men are dangerous’ is just one. Sorry, Mr Sankaran. My hurry to send my weekly column to The Tribune in time made me forget the columnist’s responsibility to check facts before putting pen to paper. I assure you it will not happen again. A mistake should not be repeated!

A serving IPS officer from my own state of Maharashtra phoned to upbraid me for painting him and his colleagues with one same brush. I was happy he did not like to be called a ‘Yes Man’. If all other serving officers detest the epithet, I think I have rendered yeoman service to the community. I asked my interlocutor his name and designation, which he readily volunteered. I had not heard about him and was forced to make inquiries with junior retired officers.

A retired IAS officer from Punjab, Rajan Kashyap, Chief Secretary of that state for a short while, wrote to support my findings. He was a secretary to the government during my sojourn in Punjab in the eighties. I remember him as a respected official of the state’s Lawn Tennis Association. Since the Governor, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, was a keen tennis player, Rajan was one IAS officer, among others, whose acquaintance I was happy to make. My writing for The Tribune has helped me get back in touch with the best in the administrative and the police service of Punjab.

The Jat Sikh farmers of Punjab are in the news, along with their fraternity in neighbouring Haryana. The BJP-led government has tripped badly in not taking the farmers’ leaders and representatives into confidence before announcing the new farm laws. In fact, the government should have called them even earlier for drafting the laws. If the laws were going to benefit the farmers, as the government avers and many independent observers also feel, what was the problem in putting all cards on the table before finalising the draft laws?

It is the duty of any government to inform the stakeholders and the people at large of any good laws they intend to introduce. No government in a democracy can take the people for granted. In the case of the farm laws, a very important segment of society, one which grows food to be put on our tables, is involved. Every country in the world is dependent on farmers for the basic necessity of food. And our government licks its chops like a Cheshire Cat even before tasting the milk! This is sheer arrogance!

The credibility of the government is not of a calibre to boast of. It has done many good deeds like direct bank transfers and building homes and toilets for the rural poor. But it also has introduced in undue haste legislation like the CAA, which was primarily meant to save Hindu Bangladeshis from deportation, but later, rather slyly, was used to disturb the Muslims by talking of linking the CAA with an NRC to be drawn up in all other parts of India beyond Assam!

Such sleight of hand may have brought joy to extremist supporters of the party, but it creates an atmosphere of suspicion and doubt about other legislations like the farm laws that are being interpreted as repayment of favours to big business houses like Ambanis and Adanis. Such doubts are further compounded, even confirmed, by the government’s action of preventing protesters from meeting the authorities for talks. If peaceful protests against what they feel will go against their interests are not allowed, then we have a full-blown crisis on hand and that crisis can only be dubbed as one created by the ruling party itself.

The Akalis, who were part of the NDA, smelt the danger in time. They withdrew their support even before the vote in the Rajya Sabha, after supporting their big brother in the Lok Sabha! It will not be easy for the BJP to avoid loss of face now and it will be forced to climb down a peg or two, even though it has not done so in the past when faced by difficult situations!

The farmers of Punjab have attracted a lot of sympathy even from their compatriots abroad in the UK, Canada and Australia. Some government supporters have foolishly and tactlessly alleged that Khalistanis have played a hand in the protests! These same farmers, though, came prepared to spend long days and nights on the roads outside the capital. They refused any government help for shelter or food. In fact, Haryana policemen were entertained to meals by the protesting farmers. The policemen unreservedly left their water cannons and fortifications on the road to join the langar! It reminded me of a photograph I saw in the newspapers of the early forties of English and German soldiers greeting each other after emerging from their trenches on the Maginot line on Christmas Day at the height of the World War hostilities.

Farmers, after all, have a status of their own since they are the ones we rely on to ensure that we are fed. The BJP can ill afford to ride roughshod over them. It will have to shed the arrogance that now defines many of its actions. The farmers will see to that!

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