Why farmer protests can become a diplomatic nightmare for India

I am standing in the middle of Auckland’s Queen Street, just a stone’s throw away from the Sky Tower, New Zealand’s iconic landmark.

Underneath it, about 1500-2000 people have gathered. They are carrying slogans such as ‘No Farmers No Food’, ‘Repeal Farm Laws’, and ‘I Stand With Farmers’. It’s my first coverage of a political protest outside India having seen and covered many from Anna Hazare Movement to ‘Justice for Nirbhaya’.

Hundreds of cars of all makes BMWs, Mercs, Toyotas line up the Queen street with just one slogan stuck on them – “NoFarmerNoFood”. The pitch of sloganeering by young protestors just keeps rising as the day passes, even as New Zealanders stop to ask what the issue is all about.

Elderly farmers from India’s farm belts who migrated to the island nation in the 70s and 80s and are now growers of oranges, apples and Kiwi fruit explain the issue to them detailing how MSP for wheat and rice brought Green Revolution to India.

Across the Tasman Sea in Melbourne, outside the Melbourne Cricket Ground, hundreds of Indians lineup with similar placards. Many are descendants of farmers from Punjab.

The territory of Woolgoolga about 5 hours from Sydney, has one of the richest pockets of blueberry and banana plantations. The town is home to fourth and fifth generation Punjabi farm owners, descendants of those who migrated in the 1830s to Australia as farm labour.

Another agri-success story is that of Grewal Farms which has over 3,000 acres under cultivation for wheat production and over 400 acres for just almond production in Australia.

Naturally, anything that touches farm laws in India, echoes across the farmlands across US, Canada and Australia, with many farmers and their close relatives still owning tracts of land back home.

Similarly, in California, one of the largest growers of mandarins and oranges is a small city of Yuba near Sacramento, where farms are owned by Punjabi speaking farmers from India.

Back to the protests on the Queen street in Auckland. It’s said that when a person leaves his or mother land he or she becomes more patriotic than ever.

Nothing is more evident than the shrill voices of young protestors holding the Tricolor, many from other states such as Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Kerala.

Local newspapers carry the stories of protests online and in newspapers the next day both in Australia and NZ. The same issue erupts on the streets of London.

Why the issue has the potential to impact diplomatic ties with some countries in the West is because of an overwhelmingly local Indian populace against it.

Vast swathes of Indian communities in the West have local mayors, councillors, MPs, and even Cabinet Ministers of Indian origin. Politicians of Indian origin will be unlikely to go against the wishes of their local voters.

Since last four two months, on most Sundays, Indian embassies and consulate offices are seeing protests outside their offices.

Any small issue of human rights violation in India and it is likely to reverberate, especially now with Democrats in power in the US.

Indian agriculture needs reforms

Truth be told, Punjab and Haryana need to shift from the rice and wheat cycle to other profitable crops such as oilseeds and pulses.

India is already self sufficient in rice and wheat and a large part of MSP procured crop just rots in FCI godowns. Besides, paddy consumes huge amounts of freshwater, which depleting water tables can ill afford.

But touching the system built over last five decades without political consultations was bound too have had ramifications.

Can the reform increase the prices of rice and wheat for you as a consumer? It’s hard to tell.

But corporates always look at only one motive – profit. It’s highly likely that the farm produce could be procured at a high price in one cycle and dropped dead in another.

Private monopolies in food in absence of any regulation is not a good idea in any country with no social security.

No need to dig up a dead ghost

In his latest press conference Congress leader Rahul Gandhi did touch upon a fact cursorily that if the farmers issue was not handled well, it could well go out of hand.

Already a section of a social media troll army with some ignorant Indian media anchors are trying to paint the dead ghost of Khalistan on the wall.

Does the idea of separatism still exist amongst the Sikh community? Not even 0.1% emote to the belief of a separate homeland. The idea is done and dusted in the books of history.

Most Gurudwara overseas rely on the volunteer-ship of the Punjabi youth which is well informed and born after the 1980s.

But the irony is that an economic policy issue can easily be hijacked by nefarious elements.

Post Covid, India needs massive investments in its quest for far reaching reforms and creating employment for its youth.

It’s a very fine line that Indian government along with the farmers have to tread now.

Ideally, the new laws could be kept on a shelf and both parties could go back afresh to a drawing board.

If mishandled, the erroneous prediction of social media trolls might end up as true, which the current political dispensation can ill afford, at a time when Pakistan and China have joined hands as a dual front enemy.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.



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