Social Ramifications of Farmers’ Agitation

The ongoing farmers’s agitation may or may not succeed in repeal of three central agri marketing laws , but it will have long lasting social and political ramifications says senior journalist Prof Pradeep Mathur in this analysis .

 Whatever be  the motivation, mass movements, agitations and protest rallies aim at  two things – they challenge the established order and seek to break the status quo  . In fact   they exhibit   agitators’ urge, aspirations and  a  desire to either protect or to further their interests. Agitations may or may not succeed in achieving their goal but they do put an imprint on society   and bring about a change in society  . The on-going farmers’ agitation is no exception to this. Since  the standoff between the agitating farmers and the Centre   has  vertically divided public   opinion for or against the agitation   we are not able to appreciate its long term impact  .

 If the J.P. movement of early 1970s changed the elitist character of our political leadership and paved the way for  transfer of power to the middle classes, the Anna Hazare movement of  the 2010s put leadership on the defensive for all that was rotten in the system. The  fact is that neither the JP movement was able to bring about any  semblance of a   sampurna kranti ( total revolution ) nor the Anna Movement was able to end corruption. Therefore, whatever be  the end result  of the farmers’ agitation it will be too much to expect that the post agitation situation will lead to any reforms in our agriculture sector. However, it will bring about a change in the socio –political scenario.

The  aim of agitation leaders has been  to get   what  in their view is  a better deal for themselves and for those whom they claimed to represent. But a  combination of factors such as unexpectedly good response to the agitation, media attention , inapt political handling and insensitivity of the  authorities  dealing  with the situation has  prolonged the agitation and changed its character from non-political to political. Therefore, the agitation, which could have ended with  settlement on some   economic demands of the farmers   ,   will now have a much   larger   impact on   public life.

 The agitation has  no doubt  shifted public discourse from purely emotional issues to real issues of sustenance and empowerment. The emotive slogans based on nationalism, patriotism, and past glory and allegations of suspect loyalty and doubtful  commitment to national integrity reflected in terminology like tudke tudke gang   have certainly taken a back seat. The focus   now  is on the  economics of farm policies and the impact of the three farm laws on  the  simple bread and butter  issue of small and marginal farmers. With this we can  hope that the  prevailing cynicism in our public discourse will end and its quality will improve.

The declining appeal of emotive issues will have considerable impact on the electoral scene especially when four important states and one union territory are going for assembly elections in the coming 100 days or less. The ruling BJP which has been thriving on emotional issues will have to change its strategy to ensure      mass support in the elections. The fact that emotional issues have started losing their appeal   was clearly visible in the  Bihar Assembly elections  in October-November last 

when we witnessed how    young   Tajeshwi Yadav  nearly upstaged mighty  BJP and JDU leaders by raising the issue of employment.  

 More than anything else the agitation has bridged the communal divide by  securing wide support from all castes and communities. In west U.P.  Muslims and Hindus, who engaged in violent communal riots in  the year 2013 , have openly admitted their mistake, expressed regrets and decided to fight as one for repeal of the farm laws. With the momentum gained by the farmers’ agitation the   hate campaign against the minorities has certainly  weakened. This sure will remove the distortion in the political narrative that we have been witnessing of late  and will restore much-desired communal harmony. The bridging of the communal divide will  no doubt have its impact in the assembly elections in four states and a union territory to be held in the coming months.

The large scale participation of village women of all ages has   given strength to the agitation and a new dimension to the campaign for woman empowerment. Campaigning for the empowerment of women what the  feminist movement in India could not  achieve in more than 40 years   the farmers agitation  has  achieved in few months.. One only wishes that from this point our rural society moves to ensure equality of gender   and break all shackles that bind half of our population in chains. 

Similarly the agitation has also revived the process of   much-needed   initiation  of our youth in understanding  genuine political issues  , a highly desirable activity in  any democratic society.  which had stopped  after student unions were banned.

Since IT revolution   and economic liberalization of 1980s and advent of consumerism the Indian middle class has been moving away from the culture   of protest  and  agitation thus denying the workers and marginal farmers the much needed leadership. Single-minded pursuit of careerism and the desire for more  money also gave it a mental attitude to accommodate with what was  unjust ,wrong  and  rotten   in the system. The words like  social consciousness , compassion, equality and social justice  went out of use  in the mad rush of consumerism with the result that the educated urban middle class which led the freedom struggle became indifferent to the aspirations of the masses. 

  A revival of the culture of mass movements will perhaps   be the most significant outcome of the farmers’ agitation and this is what the present establishment fears most . This revival will give a new lease of life to the moribund trade union movement and the genuine  demands of  workers may be raised with much more power to the chagrin of  our corporate which enjoys patronage of the present government.  

The   farmers’ struggle   has received support from many quarters including the urban-based middle class intelligentsia. Let us    hope that it will help this agitation to    bridge the consumerism-created  urban-rural divide and sensitize the  city-based apolitical   sections  of our society   to feel more and  be  humane to their less fortunate country men and women who toil hard in the fields to feed them.   

Pradeep Mathu
Pradeep Mathu

Prof Pradeep Mathur, New Delhi


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