Farmers, framers and fundamentals of the conflict

Government talks with the farmers have failed to make any headway till now. As per the newspaper reports, the farmers unions are still demanding repeal of the three new agriculture laws while the Centre has been struggling to get them to listen. The latest suggestion on part of the Government being that the unions constitute their own informal group and come up with a list of demands/expectations, on the basis of sensible talks can take place.

 

The farmers have also been asked/advised to make a proposal which could be discussed. They have refused to abide; and at the same time refused to accept the proposal of the government to end the protest, if the latter guarantees MSP (Minimum Support Price).

 

It is a classic ‘conflict’ situation; and it is imperative to make an inquiry into the probable reason for its persistence, from the ‘dispute resolution angle’. I would like to make three points:

 

Who are Parties to the Conflict?

The farmers and government have been trying to resolve the matter through a mechanism that looks closer to mediation. Talks are taking place through a 4-member committee set up by the Supreme Court. However, consider this data: More than 500 farmer unions of the country support the agitation, 42 of them come for the meetings, wherein only 7 speak. How to be sure that these seven, who do speak up, represent the interest of all the farmers; and that the government would not end up settling the apprehensions of new faces in each subsequent dialogue meeting?

 

In general, one of the main complication with negotiation arises in case the protesting party does not have any identified leader. In the absence of this crucial conduit, the government might just end up engaging in ‘pacifying’ lectures with new faces, claiming to speak on behalf of the farmers every now and then.

 

The government needs to first ascertain whom they are negotiating with and what is their agenda. These representatives should not only be explicitly known but consistent from both sides. And to this end, the suggestion (to farmers) on part of the government to come up with a determinate committee and a proposal, looks logical.

 

What is the Intention of Parties?

It is also important to distinguish between a willingness to participate in negotiations and a willingness to actually accept the negotiated settlement. People are often willing to give negotiation a try on the chance that it may ultimately offer them a good deal. Still, they are unlikely to accept the final compromise, unless the negotiated agreement is better than their best alternative—which in this case seems to get the government repeal all three laws.

 

Within this, it is required to be honestly established if the mediator (panel) is truly neutral. Affiliation of panel members to political parties might indicate a compromise on neutrality, and consequently a biased dialogue. The news of the farmers’ body requesting the SC to reconstitute the panel may be a pointer towards that need for impartiality, and to a sincere intention to settle.

 

How can this resolve?

If one applies dispute resolution principles to the conflict at hand, one of the following results may ensue from the negotiations:

 

Situation a) Both parties may just decide to ignore the gravity of the matter and keep going their separate ways. This would reflect that neither of them were actually serious to resolve the conflict in the first place. And moreover, a nagging feature of conflict is that ignorance, indifference or avoidance does not make it go away.

 

Situation b) One party may create an unfavorably suffocating situation for the other and hence coerce the other to buckle down to the others’ demand. This ‘zero sum game situation’ would result in a clear winner and a loser, making it probable for the conflict to raise its ugly head yet again in future.

 

Situation c) A party may just decide to do the other a favour—farmers by ending the agitation or the government by repealing the laws. This accommodation on either part seems unlikely, but is nonetheless a [miraculous] solution.

 

Situation d) Both parties may decide to budge from their positions a bit in an attempt to reach some compromise. This would be a lose-lose situation because both would be giving up something in the process. This would be much better than the current ‘deadlock-stalemate’ scenario where both are getting ‘zero’ returns.

 

Situation e) Identified and undisputed representatives of both parties meet with a clear agenda to talk with an open mind, each of them consequently understands each others underlying interests and are able to create a win-win for themselves through collaboration. Seems bleak, but achievable if tried properly.

 

Presently, situation ‘d’ appears most likely, but even that is reachable only once parties representatives are clearly identified and remain constant, and the mediator panel is neutral.

Government talks with the farmers have failed to make any headway till now. As per the newspaper reports, the farmers unions are still demanding repeal of the three new agriculture laws while the Centre has been struggling to get them to listen. The latest suggestion on part of the Government being that the unions constitute their own informal group and come up with a list of demands/expectations, on the basis of sensible talks can take place.

 

The farmers have also been asked/advised to make a proposal which could be discussed. They have refused to abide; and at the same time refused to accept the proposal of the government to end the protest, if the latter guarantees MSP (Minimum Support Price).

 

It is a classic ‘conflict’ situation; and it is imperative to make an inquiry into the probable reason for its persistence, from the ‘dispute resolution angle’. I would like to make three points:

 

Who are Parties to the Conflict?

The farmers and government have been trying to resolve the matter through a mechanism that looks closer to mediation. Talks are taking place through a 4-member committee set up by the Supreme Court. However, consider this data: More than 500 farmer unions of the country support the agitation, 42 of them come for the meetings, wherein only 7 speak. How to be sure that these seven, who do speak up, represent the interest of all the farmers; and that the government would not end up settling the apprehensions of new faces in each subsequent dialogue meeting?

 

In general, one of the main complication with negotiation arises in case the protesting party does not have any identified leader. In the absence of this crucial conduit, the government might just end up engaging in ‘pacifying’ lectures with new faces, claiming to speak on behalf of the farmers every now and then.

 

The government needs to first ascertain whom they are negotiating with and what is their agenda. These representatives should not only be explicitly known but consistent from both sides. And to this end, the suggestion (to farmers) on part of the government to come up with a determinate committee and a proposal, looks logical.

 

What is the Intention of Parties?

It is also important to distinguish between a willingness to participate in negotiations and a willingness to actually accept the negotiated settlement. People are often willing to give negotiation a try on the chance that it may ultimately offer them a good deal. Still, they are unlikely to accept the final compromise, unless the negotiated agreement is better than their best alternative—which in this case seems to get the government repeal all three laws.

 

Within this, it is required to be honestly established if the mediator (panel) is truly neutral. Affiliation of panel members to political parties might indicate a compromise on neutrality, and consequently a biased dialogue. The news of the farmers’ body requesting the SC to reconstitute the panel may be a pointer towards that need for impartiality, and to a sincere intention to settle.

 

How can this resolve?

If one applies dispute resolution principles to the conflict at hand, one of the following results may ensue from the negotiations:

 

Situation a) Both parties may just decide to ignore the gravity of the matter and keep going their separate ways. This would reflect that neither of them were actually serious to resolve the conflict in the first place. And moreover, a nagging feature of conflict is that ignorance, indifference or avoidance does not make it go away.

 

Situation b) One party may create an unfavorably suffocating situation for the other and hence coerce the other to buckle down to the others’ demand. This ‘zero sum game situation’ would result in a clear winner and a loser, making it probable for the conflict to raise its ugly head yet again in future.

 

Situation c) A party may just decide to do the other a favour—farmers by ending the agitation or the government by repealing the laws. This accommodation on either part seems unlikely, but is nonetheless a [miraculous] solution.

 

Situation d) Both parties may decide to budge from their positions a bit in an attempt to reach some compromise. This would be a lose-lose situation because both would be giving up something in the process. This would be much better than the current ‘deadlock-stalemate’ scenario where both are getting ‘zero’ returns.

 

Situation e) Identified and undisputed representatives of both parties meet with a clear agenda to talk with an open mind, each of them consequently understands each others underlying interests and are able to create a win-win for themselves through collaboration. Seems bleak, but achievable if tried properly.

 

Presently, situation ‘d’ appears most likely, but even that is reachable only once parties representatives are clearly identified and remain constant, and the mediator panel is neutral.

 

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