While Delhi has seen innumerable attacks from invaders, it has been under siege only a few times. Delhi was too big and not fortified and the enemy was intercepted by the rulers of Delhi much before they came near the city. If the invader won, he just sauntered in and helped himself to whatever he wanted and returned to where he came from or close to stay back to became the emperor, which happened quite often.
The “The Siege of Delhi” refers to the siege was laid by the East India Company to take over Delhi from the warriors of what came to be known as the first war of independence, in 1857. The independence warriors from various parts of the country reached Delhi and managed to throw out the East India Company and its soldiers. But the Company regrouped, got reinforcements and laid siege to the city of Delhi after a few months. The warriors were not well lead and their titular leader the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was reluctantly pulled in to offer support.
These days a siege of a different kind has been laid around Delhi. The ‘farmers’ siege of Delhi’. Such is the state of Delhi that it has been besieged by its own citizens! The reason is a “farman” or rather 3 of them issued by the “hakim” which allows free trade and therefore is supposed to help the farmer make money. But the farmers do not think so. They believe that the “farmans” have far reaching and a negative impact on their business. They want the “farmans” to be withdrawn first and then the proposed changes to agriculture policy should first be discussed with all stake holders before an announcement is made. Farmers need to be supported to transient from a totally controlled business environment, where both the input costs as well as output prices are controlled, to a more open market driven environment. There are logistics and infrastructure issues too that need to be sorted out for farmers to be able to take advantage of the open farm policies.
Like a good army, the farmers have chosen the time of their siege well. They are relatively free from farm duties, have made sure that they have enough food for a long haul, make-shift place to stay in what could be the peak of the winter. By and large they have been disciplined but firm and assertive.
As a child of the seventies and having grown up in the politically conscious, if not volatile, city of Allahabad, I am very fascinated by agitations. I do not relate to the indignation of people who do not see a difference between ‘agitationists’ and ‘arsonist’. Fact is that there is a huge difference. The former is committed to an idea and focuses to draw attention of the public and the leadership to an contentious issue. The later want to disrupt, even destroy, and draw attention to themselves. The line is thin but then the line between the good and evil has always been thin. Agitationists are assertive but disciplined while arsonists are indisciplined and aggressive.
Big changes happen as a result of war or through agitations. War of course has a much higher cost of life than agitations and is best kept as the last resort. Relatively speaking, agitations are participative and gentler. Our freedom struggle is a great example of change through agitation. An agitation works around a new or old idea which feeds on the energy of the agitation to grow bigger and create an impact. It gets the required attention of all stake-holders and, at some point, triggers a problem-solving response or even negotiations. These may sometimes lead to an all together new idea that may be largely acceptable to all or at least most stake-holders. To my mind this form of protest is an important part of the democratic process and needs to be looked at upon, respectfully, as a tool of change.
Coming back to the farmers’ siege of Delhi, let us not forget that during the pandemic, many of the grains given out through the PDS was grown by these farmers. Growing our food within our country is a strategic need and we need to ensure that farming remains a viable activity in the country. It is as important as buying guns for our soldiers and more important than making mobile phones within the country. Let us address the farmers’ issues else who knows – they may take a liking to Delhi and stay put here. Who will, then, grow our wheat and paddy?
Sanjeev Malhotra – Sanjeev now resides in the NCR of Delhi. Having spent his childhood and early years in Allahabad – he is an expert at drawing parallels between cultures of the two cities and the degradation of it. Sanjeev co-authored a thriller ‘Conspiracy of Silence’ loosely based on the Batla House encounter.