The challenge that lies before the farmers’ agitation

Synopsis: The Farmers’ agitation must overcome not only the momentary challenge caused by the Singhu killing but the larger challenge of becoming a robust movement.


Agitations can turn into movements due to the rigidness of rulers. But even as agitations transform into movements, they run many risks. For instance, the lynching and murder that took place at the Singhu border is symptomatic of what agitations must try to avoid.

The killing of a Dalit protester allegedly by a group of Nihang Sikhs or the Lakhimpur Kheri incident signifies the nature of complex challenges such mass mobilisations need to address.

What are the risks involved when an agitation transforms into a movement?

All agitations, when they extend temporally or in terms of social bases, begin to reflect the larger society. Internal dynamics of participating communities get interchanged into the functioning of the movement.

This also means a movement will become home to prejudices and wrongs that inhabit society in general. In other words, the movement and its participants begin to look almost like the larger social system.

How can long-drawn agitations and movements-in-the-making ensure that they do not fall into this trap of being abused?

There are at least three pathways that the farmers’ agitation can adopt.

Firstly, Agitations simply cannot afford to be entirely leaderless or so loosely organised that there is no coordination. There must be leadership and it must steer the agitation by balancing the agency of the participants and the demands of coordination to keep anarchy at bay. Leader must be acceptable to all sections and beyond the limited territories of his popularity.

Secondly, an agitation to grow into a movement requires organisation and planning. When an agitation extends into weeks and months, it also requires the building of a cadre that will be ideologically and organisationally trained to retain a degree of influence over the followers.

Thirdly, there is need for a larger vision to relate the agitation to ongoing socio-political processes. For instance, the farmers’ agitation did attempt this by encouraging Jat-Muslim unity in parts of UP. But beyond that, it has remained singularly focused on the three farm laws and matters related to MSP.

Case Study: During the Shetkari Sanghatana movement in Maharashtra, Sharad Joshi made sure that a diverse set of intermediate leaders would gain acceptability, that ordinary farmers were educated on many issues and that the agitation touched upon broader issues like women’s empowerment.

What is the way forward?

First, for an agitation to transform itself into a movement, it needs to aspire to leave behind the prejudices among its adherents rather than allowing them to remain passive participants unwilling to change themselves.

Second, it will have to evolve a broader vision and include larger masses beyond territorial and occupational boundaries.

Source: This post is based on the following articles “The challenge that lies before the farmers’ agitation “published in Indian Express on 27th Oct 2021.

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