By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, January 28. 2021: Republic Day 2021 turned out to be a shocker with the country’s capital vitiated with violence never seen before. Republic Days are in essence festivals of democracy depicting cultural life from different parts of India are a key aspect of colourful Republic Day parades. They’re designed to remind Indians that everyone regardless of faith or identity has a place in the union.

The Constitution was enacted by the Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949, and came into effect on 26 January 1950. On this day we celebrate Republic Day every year as an occasion to rejoice in the rituals of democracy. The constitution itself derives its core values from the country’s inspirational freedom struggle. Principal among these are justice, liberty and equality, along with the promotion of fraternity.

However, for millions of Indians – at home and abroad – who take pride in their constitution and the recognition of their country as the world’s largest democracy, a sense of despondency has already set in. The reason is not very difficult to find out. In democracy, everyone can express democratic dissent without fear of persecution. But one should not cross the limits.

Thousands of protesting farmers entered Delhi with tractors and by afternoon, a section of them chucked pre-decided routes, clashed with police personnel to enter New Delhi and eventually some put up flags on Red Fort even after law-enforcement personnel fired tear-gas shells at the farmers’ rally as the capital witnessed unprecedented violence. One is certainly not condoning the breaches or the flare-ups and definitely not the grievous assaults on policemen.

Nobody followed the terms of the agreement. The farmers took advantage of their large numbers and stormed into the city. Thousands of protesting farmers overwhelmed police and stormed into the Red Fort after breaking barricades and driving tractors through roadblocks. Within the farmers’ group, the leaders could not control their people and expressed helplessness. The failure of the farmers’ leaders to discipline their supporters or whoever was up to dangerous mischief was abysmal. No one can ever condone such violence.

Even among the protesters, there were multiple groups. Even they vandalized property and attacked police personnel. At many places, some protesters used their tractors to run over the police.

A day later on Wednesday, the union leaders continued to distance themselves from those behind Tuesday’s violence and alleged a conspiracy to “torpedo” their peaceful movement. One farmer died on the way to Red Fort, with the police saying it was an accident. Over 300 police personnel were injured in Tuesday’s violence and 22 cases have been registered, Delhi Police said. On February 1, the farmers are planning a march to parliament.

Though farmers were given police permission to hold the rally on the periphery of the city after a court battle, they were supposed to enter the city only after the ending of Republic Day parade around 11.30 am. But the Kisan Mazdoor Sangharsh Committee refused to stick to the route. By 8 am, thousands entered the national capital on foot.

Violence broke out at central Delhi’s ITO, where the police headquarters is located. A farmer died there as a tractor on way to the Old City overturned according to officials. The Samyukt Kisan Morcha – umbrella body coordinating the farmer protests, called off the “Kisan Republic Day Parade” on Tuesday evening asking participants to return to the protest sites outside Delhi borders. The group also said anti-social elements had “infiltrated the otherwise peaceful movement”.

This event clearly underscores the problems faced by millions of agricultural labourers, farmers, traders — the entire primary sector that is the foundation of India’s economy. President Ram Nath Kovind in his republic day address underscored the importance of farmers saying that that government remains singularly devoted to their welfare. Economic reforms continue apace and supplemented by long-pending reforms in areas of labour and agriculture through legislation. The President made it clear that path to reform at initial stages may cause misapprehensions.

Farmers and their supporters are still apprehensive about three interrelated laws designed to alter the character of markets for agricultural produce with implications to benefit the interests of big business at the expense of small and marginal cultivators. The laws were hurriedly drawn up and pushed through parliament with undue haste and without proper debate about their implications on both livelihoods and states’ rights over agricultural activities which are precariously balanced with the remit of the Central government in the constitution.

Farmers fear the new laws will deprive them of guaranteed minimum earnings and leave them open to exploitation by big business. Eleven rounds of talks have been held between the farmers and the government but there been no breakthrough. The farmers have turned down the centre’s last offer to put the laws on hold for 18 months while a special committee conducts negotiations. : Agriculture minister Narendra Tomar made it clear that the laws can be put on “hold” for a while, but eventually they are not going anywhere.

The root of these three laws date back to Ordinances brought in last summer as part of measures to boost a flagging economy amid a countrywide lockdown to curb the novel coronavirus disease pandemic. Ironically, agriculture was one sector that remained rolling and delivered the goods, including growth.

The Narendra Modi government appears to have hurriedly brought these laws without discussing nuances of the proposed laws that can potentially alter the basics of Indian farming. It virtually steamrolled opposition within and outside; and there were no proper voting in Rajya Sabha.

The Modi government must have a deep introspection and come out with a comprehensive suite of enforceable rights, planned support and budgetary programmes to enable farmers to collectively move ahead instead of the present one-way corridor that threatens to scuttle the little framework of support that Indian farmers have through the system of mandis, support price and laws to govern essential commodities.

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