If the ‘Bharat Bandh’ call was to indicate the level of public support for the ongoing farmers’ protest, it received a tepid response, nationally. This was despite the backing provided by trade unions and political parties. The response was strong mostly in areas already dominated by a section of farmers with large landholdings in Punjab and Haryana, as well as opposition ruled states such as Rajasthan and Maharashtra. In Uttarakhand, for instance, once people and shopkeepers realised there was going to be no forcible closure, life was back to normal. The exceptions were in towns like Khatima, Bajpur, etc., where there is considerable support for the landowners of Punjab. There was the usual success in blocking roads and train tracks, but that is not indicative of public support.
An important aspect of the protest was that (till much of the day) there were no reports of the kind of violence that was being feared going by the kind of rhetoric spewed out at the protest sites. In fact, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal of Delhi managed to attract far more eyeballs with his dramatic kowtowing before protestors at the border and, then, claiming to have been held under ‘house arrest’ by the Delhi police – political theatre on the back of others’ protest! Anna Hazare would recall how his movement was hijacked for political purposes.
A primary reason for the Bandh not making the desired impact is that people are already exhausted, both, emotionally and physically, because of the ongoing pandemic. Secondly, except for those committed to destabilising the Modi Government, the arguments against the farm laws have not proved convincing enough. Having already experienced anti-CAA protests, they have realised all is not what is sought to be projected. In fact, the kind of nuisance created by the Congress in Dehradun by seeking to intimidate shopkeepers and road users will not have endeared it to people already troubled by the strict Sunday closure.
It is clear that, like the anti-CAA protests, the people – especially those of Delhi, who are under siege – are in for the long haul. At a time when adversaries like India and China are seeking to resolve the border standoff through talks, the protesting farmers should get together with the experts and refine their demands so that their needs are met and the basic objectives of the farm laws remain undisturbed. Unless, of course, the movement has already been hijacked for other purposes!