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Shifting Focus

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The boycott by twenty opposition parties of the President’s address at the start on Friday of the Budget Session of Parliament indicates the level of frustration that exists among them at the inability to stop the BJP’s electoral expansionism. No care was taken of what was described by Trinamool Congress Supremo Mamata Banerjee, only recently, as the ‘dignity’ of a government programme. Indeed, politicians are somewhat taking for granted the freedoms of democracy leading to its fraying considerable at the grassroots level. This was witnessed on Friday, itself, at Delhi’s Singhu border, where violent clashes took place between the farmers’ encroaching on public space and the long suffering inconvenienced locals.

There is no doubt that there will be more heat generated than light on the issue of the farm laws in the parliamentary session. It has already become clear that the protest is increasingly becoming political with objectives quite other than bringing improvements in the agriculture economy. One element made known its objectives with the assault on the Red Fort. It is now the turn of the political parties to slug it out on the streets using the protesting farmers as cannon fodder. The Aam Aadmi Party is in the forefront of this as it is seeking footholds in the traditional territories of others. In West UP, this largely means the Jat heartland that seeks to revive the past glories of Chaudary Charan Singh, but not necessarily under the command of his descendants. So, while ostensibly it is all about farmers’ issues, it has more to do with harvesting any anti-BJP unity that might emerge. As such, the present leadership under the Tikaits needs to look more at who sits beside them than their supposed adversaries in government.

The BJP governments at the Centre and in UP, on their part, have to ensure that police action does not result in providing martyrs for these causes. Despite the shift of focus from Punjab to West UP, where the BJP has a considerable stake, the farmers, too, will want to appear as ‘peaceful protestors’ rather than an anarchic mob. This is why the commander on the ground, Rakesh Tikait, has reiterated his desire to continue talks with the Government. Would he be willing to back down from his hitherto uncompromising stand, or is he just buying time? The growing local resentment among other sections of society does not provide him much leeway, despite the size of the crowds he may attract through his theatrics. He should remain aware that there are many who would like to see the bodies of farmers litter the streets for their ends, even as the blame will fall on him.