THE rumblings from the countryside have reached the city. Have the seeds of confrontation been sown? The local officials, with their act of blocking the way of protesting farmers, might have given the latter an additional excuse and maybe the impetus to build up an effective campaign.
The farmers, who complain of having been hit hard by an ‘anti-agriculture’ government, had been threatening to set off from various districts of Punjab for a rally in Islamabad.
That was something the government was not ready to allow and the district administrations were asked to stop the protests early.
There was violence in Vehari in southern Punjab as well as in Pakpattan, nearer to the power centre of Lahore. Batons were wielded and the protesters were tear-gassed for their crime of pressing for their basic right to hold a rally in the capital — a luxury which it seems cannot be allowed to ‘just anyone’.
Police arrested many protesters and registered cases against them. By Monday afternoon, the local officials in Sahiwal were still holding talks with the representatives of the Pakistan Kissan Ittehad.
Whereas the reluctance of the administration to allow the farmers’ passage had been made abundantly clear, by now apparently there was little relief that the local-level government functionaries could offer to them. The demands related to policies which required intervention from higher levels, both in the province and at the centre.
The protesting farmers oppose the import of agricultural produce from India. They are asking for a revision in the official wheat price, and want a minimum price for potato as well as subsidy for rice growers.
Add to this the call for the removal of GST on farm inputs and we have a clearer idea of just how deep and varied the grievances of the farmers are. This is not just about one issue or a few issues.
This is a complaint against the general indifference towards, even wilful neglect of, a Pakistan that exists away from the limelight, and which is sought to be kept at a distance from Islamabad.
Just as political parties — even those in the opposition — and the media fail to lend a sympathetic enough ear to the farmers, the government, too, is bent on smothering the voices of protesters.
But unfortunately for the government, as it applies force and erects hurdles, the protesting chants only get louder.
Published in Dawn March 10th , 2015