A Government at war with farmers has forfeited the right to govern: Former Law Minister

Nothing stopped the Govt from convincing farmers that the Bills would benefit them. But rushing through the legislation without taking farmers into confidence has robbed the laws of their legitimacy

PTI Photo
PTI Photo
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Ashwani Kumar

Bulldozing the widely opposed farm bills in both Houses of Parliament, in a brazen assertion of brute majoritarianism without a meaningful debate, will remain a watershed event in the perversion of parliamentary processes. Ramming through the Bills without debate and amidst pandemonium robs the enacted laws of their democratic and moral legitimacy.

The haste and manner in which questionable legislation has been rushed through the legislative process exposes the dysfunctionality of Parliament and intolerance to dissent by the ruling dispensation.

Insensitivity to the perspective of the agitating farmers on an issue relating to their survival and subsistence can lay the foundation of permanent alienation of the farming community and loss of faith in democratic protest as an instrument of grievance redressal. In a sensitive border state of Punjab, dissatisfaction of farmers can endanger peace and internal security.

In choosing to ignore such grave implications, and bludgeoning protests against the new law, the Central Government has not been true to the first principles of responsive and accountable governance. A Government at war with its farmers has forfeited its mandate.

Clearly, any law in a functioning democracy that does not enjoy the uncoerced allegiance of the community and is imposed by a Government indifferent to wounded societal sensitivities can have no claim to acceptance and obedience of the people. Mahatma Gandhi’s leadership of the freedom movement was anchored in this unquestionable philosophical premise. Tragically, it has fallen upon our heroic and venerated farming community to remind the present ruling dispensation of the lessons learnt under the colonial rule.

We know that the efficacy of laws depend upon their being just and to be perceived as such. With a mass upsurge against the new farm Laws visible on the streets even in these difficult times of Coronavirus show that this is not the perception of that segment of our society in whose benefit and interest the disputed laws were purportedly sought to be enacted.

A reported statement of the Chief Minister of Punjab that the laws bulldozed in Parliament would be challenged in Court raise the larger question about the functioning of our federal polity. That a Chief Minister in office finds himself compelled to take legal recourse against an unresponsive Central Government on a sensitive issue does not augur well for the future of our federal system.

The intensity of the farmers’ opposition in Punjab, to the laws in question is a worrying development. Alienation of the dominant community in a border state that has borne for long the brunt of terrorism and insurgency orchestrated by Pakistan could destabilize peace in the state and adversely impact national security.

Assuming that there is a case in favour of the enacted bills as far as the interest of farmers is concerned, what prevented the Government in convincing all stakeholders including the opposing state governments of the merits of the Law? Surely anyone with even a minimal understanding of India’s political realities would concede that no party even appearing to be opposed to farmers’ interests can hope to be in power.

At the heart of the opposition to the laws variously described as “draconian” and a “death warrant” for the farmers, is the perceived dilution of the security of the MSP linked with the survival, subsistence and economic security of the farming community especially in states like Punjab and Haryana where the Mandi system and the MSP regime now seen as threatened have served their purpose. Even if public perception against the law is misconceived, it is the Government’s obligation to correct the misconception as a necessary condition for acceptance of the law. This has not been done. Instead, we see a self-righteous government persisting in a fallacy without even a minimal effort at a fuller discussion of a contested and divisive law.

A Government at war with the farmers of the nation that account for the vast majority of our people has forfeited its claim to govern. This is indeed a ‘disfigured and disfiguring’ moment for the Government.

(The author is a former Union Law Minister and former Member of the Rajya Sabha. Views expressed are personal)

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