The violence and deaths of eight people in the Sikh-dominated, Khalistan-influenced Lakhimpur Kheri of Uttar Pradesh make for an avoidable tragedy. While a return to the status quo that fleeced taxpayers to feed rich farmers is unacceptable, the act of mowing down people by a vehicle in the convoy of Union Minister of State for Home Affairs and BJP MP Ajay Kumar Mishra was as reprehensible as the sheer brutality with which some farmers lynched a few members of the ruling party. This escalation could have been avoided if the Supreme Court had not delayed the implementation of the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act in a typical bureaucratic fashion of referring the reforms to a committee. It is strange that the highest court of the country was moved by the calls of a minuscule and pampered fraction of the farming population. If the MSP-fed fat cultivators had not been entertained, they could hardly have revolted against the country’s judiciary. Activism so far in India has targeted only the executive, at best the legislature, and there was no reason to believe that the rabble-rousers would heckle the third pillar of India’s democracy for this issue. Maybe the cloud has a silver lining, as the Lakhimpur Kheri incident has ruled out possibilities of reconciliation between the state and the agitators. The Supreme Court will do well to order a release of the committee’s report which, insiders say, has found nothing wrong in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s attempt to free agriculture from the vice-like grip of brokers, controlled markets and restricted geography. It is hoped that the judges, already peeved at the unnecessary demonstrations that are taking place despite the stay on the laws, will now look favourably at the have-nots in the vocation of cultivation outside the rent-seekers of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh.
The urge for political consensus is specious here as regimes led by the INC had sought similar changes in the rules and regulations that bind farmers. Several economists specialising in agriculture had demanded the same changes. More importantly, the amendments came about through routine parliamentary processes and not by an ordinance. If the opposition that is seeking photo opportunities in Lakhimpur Kheri now could not vote out the bills, tough luck! Referring the bills to a committee at the level of legislation would, in effect, be as much of a bureaucratic ruse to drag feet over the matter as it was when the judiciary took that route, only to keep sitting on the report for no expressed reason since March this year when it was submitted. In principle, no political party is arguing that Indian farming must always stay dependent on subsidies, procurement and support pricing and, therefore, the grievance against the treasury benches that they rushed through it must be a ruse.
Unfortunately, the Uttar Pradesh government has partially given in, much as it did not have options other than ordering an investigation into the incident in Lakhimpur Kheri, announcing compensation for the victims of the violence and assuring Rakesh Tikait-led farmers that the guilty will be punished. The next state election is approaching and the Yogi Adityanath government is expectedly wary of looking rigid in that part of the state where the BJP had performed remarkably in 2017. But politics could have taken a different direction. The brash behaviour by a few in the convoy of Union Minister Mishra has revived a dying movement, which is a sad commentary on his political foresight.