The farm protests are an expression of the democratic will of an important segment of India’s citizens — even though their method of disruption is unwarranted and has caused inconvenience to other citizens. The strength of the movement, primarily in Punjab, comes from real or perceived apprehensions about the recent farm laws. By sustaining their protest for weeks, mobilising large numbers of people, calling a Bharat bandh, farm unions have made their point and forced the government to the negotiating table. They have also got the Centre — which, as this newspaper has argued, made a mistake in not engaging in enough prior consultations — to make important concessions. These include a written reassurance on continuation of minimum support prices, enabling state governments to register and impose a cess on new markets, and an amendment to the law to ensure appeals to a civil court.
Yet, there is a deadlock. And it must be said that this is due to a position of maximalism adopted by farm leaders. The all-or-nothing approach — reflected in the demand for an outright repeal of laws and unwillingness to settle for anything less — is not a mature way to approach political negotiations. Even as the voice of farmers is important, so is the fact that the government had the mandate to push its legislative agenda and Parliament has passed the laws. It would be far more productive for the agitating forces to negotiate in a more constructive manner, extract concessions on safety nets, but also recognise the current political reality of the government’s determination to stay the course. Moderation is key to a solution.