As per media reports, protesting farmers damaged 1600 towers in Punjab affecting telecom services in the state. In many cases the power cables of these towers have been cut leaving telecom operators scrambling to provide services to customers in Punjab.
The farmers protesting against the three farm laws enacted by the Modi government have specifically targeted the assets of Reliance Industries and the Adani Group whom they perceive to be the biggest beneficiaries of the new framework.
They need to understand that damaging Jio would also impact the telecom services of the company whose SIM they are using as the telecom industry uses a shared infrastructure model.
Under pressure from industry associations, Punjab Chief Minister who has been backing the demand of farmers for repealing the laws, has appealed to them to refrain from causing inconvenience to the public and exercise restraint. However, no FIRs has yet been filed and any arrests made as per reports.
The farmer protests which has been non-violent till now have taken a violent turn with frustration creeping in as government is firm on its stand.
Peaceful protests are the hallmark of any democracy. They are a tool used to effectively voice concerns and disapproval of any policy or action of the government.
Courts on many occasions have reiterated that the right to protest is a fundamental right. However, this right is not absolute as it comes with duties. It is the fundamental duty of every person to safeguard public/private property and to avoid violence during the protests. There is no place for vandalism in a democratic society.
India has a rich history of protests. As a result of many peaceful and non-violent (ahimsa) protests by our freedom fighters led by Mahatma Gandhi, India attained freedom in 1947. Not a single bullet was fired, such is the power of peaceful protest.
Apart from crippling the state telecom infrastructure and thus impacting communications in the state, such vandalism has far reaching consequences.
First of all, it gives a bad name to the farmer protests. Farmers have gained sympathy from a certain section of people for these protests as they showed exemplary restraint. These acts have the potential of weakening their already narrow support base comprising farmers from primarily Punjab and Haryana. Without public support the farmers will not be able to exert pressure on the government to agree to their demands.
Second, it gives a bad name to the state of Punjab. Industrialists will think twice before committing any new investments to the state. Agriculture contributes only 25 percent to the state’s economic output, 75 percent is manufacturing and services. The violence shows a breakdown of law and order in the state which is not good for investment climate as well as inward migration.
Third, it hurts India’s image and comes at a time when we are trying to take advantage of changes in the global supply chain dynamics in the aftermath of the pandemic. The Modi government has announced a slew of policies, programs and incentives to woo companies moving out of China.
This incident coupled with the hooliganism at the Apple factory at Kolar sends a wrong message to global entrepreneurs who wish to be part of India’s growth story. It shows that the Indian state is incapable of safeguarding private property.
The farmers should understand that using violence as a pressure tactic to get the three acts repealed may not work but backfire. It risks alienating the government leading to a hardening of stance, and breakdown of all channels of negotiations.
The government has cleared the air on the two biggest apprehensions of the farmers - discontinuance of the APMC and MSP system. It is willing to provide a written assurance to farmers on MSP while it has committed that APMCs will not be disbanded but rather upgraded to meet competition. The laws provide flexibility to farmers and gives them choice.
One hopes better sense prevails among the protesting farmers and some headway is made in the talks.Disclosure: Reliance Industries Ltd. is the sole beneficiary of Independent Media Trust which controls Network18 Media & Investments Ltd.