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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 51, New Delhi, December 5, 2020

Farmers’ struggle for self-assertion and preserving dignity | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 5 December 2020

by Arun Srivastava

Compulsion to gratify his corporate friends has been so onerous that Narendra Modi dared to trample all the executive norms and constitutional provisions in his pursuit to thrust the newly enacted three agriculture laws on the farmers, who he claims are close to his heart.

His hypocritical claim got exposed in the wake of farmers march to Delhi demanding scrapping of the three laws and restoration of the MSP law. The most interesting aspect of the Modi’s opera was his fierce insistence to the farmers to accept the new laws which he had enacted for their welfare. While Modi continued with his demagogy the agitating farmers shot back, which farmer or farmers’ organisation had requested him to enact these laws.

The farmers leaders also sought to know the real character of the so called reforms brought by him. The farmer leaders asked Modi to name the organisation or the individual who had approached him with the request to bring these laws. These leaders sought to know in what way these laws would reform the Indian agriculture and made it profitable avocation. So far this has a subsistence character.

While Modi was finding tough to come out with a plausible reply and clarify their queries, the agitating farmers assembled at the Delhi-Haryana border for the past four days rejected Amit Shah’s talk offer that had come with the condition that they shift to Delhi’s Burari area where a ground has been designated as a protest site. They described the offer as a trap and “ sweet threat”.

Lack of utter concern and sincerity on the part of Modi to find a resolution to the crisis was clearly evident in his threat issued through his “man ki baat” soliloquy that his government would not relent. Modi even accused the farmers of organising the protest at the behest of some political forces.

Really one feels ashamed at his remark. How could the prime minister of a country ridicule and insult his own people. This is nothing else but the sheer manifestation of frustration and arrogance. He was simple trying to fool the people. His statement coincided with the initiative his home minister has initiated to bring the agitating farmers to the negotiating table. It is completely separate matter that the farmers were sceptical of the offer and felt it was a design to create confusion amongst the farmers and imprison them in Delhi. Strange argument. If he was really interest to break the logjam he could have met the farmers at the Delhi border where they were camping.

Modi and Shah are deliberately trying to create confusion amongst the farmers. It is the part of their ulterior design. Modi not only made clear that he is not going to concede any ground to the farmers, he cautioned the farmers would have to listen to his advice. He will apprise them of the benefits of the three laws. Obviously this makes the offer of dialogue completely redundant. If at all Modi is not willing to listen to the farmers’ voice what the hell has made Amit Shah to come out with the offer. Is not it the part of his design to convey to his middle class urban supporters, “look here are the obstinate farmers who are unwilling to listen to the logic and not interested in agriculture reforms. They have been acting at the behest of the forces inimical to the BJP-RSS”?

Modi said there was a greater need to create more awareness about the farm bills as the opposition has always used farmers as a vote-bank and was now trying to mislead them. As usual he targeted the UPA government, “Previous governments used to make a complicated web of promises and laws that farmers or labourers could never understand. But the BJP-led NDA government has constantly tried to change this situation and has introduced reforms for the welfare of farmers.” He said small and marginal farmers make up around 85 per cent of the agriculturists and will benefit the most from the agriculture reforms ushered in by the government.

If Modi is adamant, the farmers are also unrelenting. They are determined to expose the duality of Modi. “We have decided that we will stay put at the Delhi borders. We will not go to Burari,” said Bharatiya Kisan Union (Dakaunda) president Buta Singh Burjgill. The decision was taken by representatives of at least 30 farmers organisations. The farmer leaders have made it clear; “We do not want any pre-condition. We want a meeting to be held without any condition. We are ready for talks”. The All-India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh and various factions of Bharatiya Kisan Union had given the call for the “Dilli Chalo” march.

Farmers protesting against the Centre’s three farm laws have expressed apprehension that these will pave the way for the dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the "mercy" of big corporates. Really it is intriguing how could Modi government betray the trust of crores of farmers for benefitting his corporate and capitalist friends?

The farmers leaders are also feeling extremely hurt at the vile propaganda launched by the IT cell of the BJP and by some of its spokespersons that the Khalistani leaders have been guiding the agitation. Almost all the BJP leaders have been one incident where a person was seen shouting Khalistani slogan. The farmers leader question why the police is not proceeding against him. Some farmers leaders even challenged the government and BJP functionaries to furnish them with the proof. Some even apprehend he might have been planted by the IT cell. A senior farmer leader said that the 30 odd farmers organisations which have been leading the agitation have made it known at the outset that they will now allow the political leaders to share the dias.

Surprisingly the Haryana chief minister described the agitating farmers as “Khalistani” and alleged that the agitation was “Congress-sponsored”. Nevertheless Punjab chief minister Amarinder Singh retorted; “Haryana chief minister M.L. Khattar should make up his mind first. One moment he says Khalistani elements are involved. The next moment he says Amarinder Singh is behind it. Is Amarinder a Khalistani?”

On Saturday, farmers from BJP-ruled Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh besides Congress-ruled Rajasthan joined the agitation. In Haryana, BJP ally JJP also refuted its chief minister’s statement. The farmer leaders also denied that the new laws will terminate middle men system instead it will give rise to a new culture. They alleged that already the farmers were forced to sell their products at lower price during the last three months.

“Ultimately these so-called reforms will lead to replication of old structures outside mandis. Creating two market spaces with two completely different sets of rules is a recipe for disaster,” said Kavitha Kuruganti of the Alliance for Sustainable & Holistic Agriculture. “Government will not come to know anything about transactions in these new markets. Not knowing will give the excuse not to act. Farmers fear this, rightly so,” she said.

Farmers have long been seen as the heart and soul of India, where agriculture supports around 64 crores people. But farmers have also seen their economic clout diminish over the last three decades. Once accounting for a third of India’s gross domestic product, they now produce only 15% of gross domestic product, which is valued at $2.9 trillion a year.

The farmer leaders charged the Modi government with institutionalising the system of middle man in the agriculture production system. A leader said that there are people in mandis who help the farmers in selling their products. For that they charge some fees. They are not the middle men. But the new laws will create a new class of middle men.

He said that already the middle men have started dictating terms. They claim that the government should only ensure the MSP purchase. They do not subscribe to what Modi says “The reforms will give new freedom to farmers. These reforms will bring more options and opportunities for farmers to sell their produce. Middlemen stand between farmers and their customers; these middlemen take a big chunk of farmers’ income. These reforms have come as a protective shield for farmers.”

"The agricultural reforms in the past few days have opened new doors of possibilities for our farmers," PM Modi said in Mann ki Baat. "The demands that have been made by farmers for years, that every political party, at some point or the other, made the promise to fulfill, those demands have been met," he added.

The farmers say the laws could cause the government to stop buying grain at guaranteed prices and result in their exploitation by corporations that would buy their crops cheaply. A farmer’s representative, said he doubted the government really wanted to hold talks. "We want the farm laws to be scrapped, that’s all". He said more farmers would be joining the protest and blocking national highways in other states as well.

Meanwhile the Congress has accused Modi for coercing the farmers “Our slogan was, ‘Hail the Soldier, Hail the Farmer,’ but today PM Modi’s arrogance made the soldier stand against the farmer. At least three farmers have lost their lives during the march. The leaders alleged that they were hurt due to water cannons and tear gas. One of them Sardar Sing had developed chest problem.

The farmers have been agitating over the past couple of months against the new farm laws and an electricity ordinance that seeks to reduce subsidies and privatise power distribution, besides pushing their longstanding demand for a law guaranteeing a minimum support price (MSP) for their crops.

After the government had tried to stop the farmers reaching Delhi with tear gas, water cannons and barbed wire, a sliver of hope had emerged on Saturday night with home minister Shah offering talks before the scheduled December 3 farmer-government meeting. But the hope faded quickly with the arrival of a letter from home secretary Ajay Bhalla around 11pm on Saturday.

In the letter, received by leaders of the 30 farmer organisations spearheading the agitation in Punjab, Bhalla set conditions for the talks: clear Delhi’s borders and move to Burari.

The Congress on Sunday said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s defence of the new farm laws when lakhs of farmers were protesting on the streets had delivered a lethal blow to the prospects of the proposed negotiations, demonstrating the government’s disinterest in resolving the crisis.

Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala said: “The home minister and the agriculture minister pretend to be interested in a dialogue with the farmers. The Prime Minister in his Mann Ki Baat programme defends the farm laws. If the Prime Minister is standing in favour of these laws despite such widespread protests, what will be the outcome of a dialogue? Who should the farmers expect justice from? What will be the purpose of talks? Modi’s arrogance and obduracy are writ large on his stance.”

Surjewala added: “The truth is that the Modi government intends to serve the capitalists and exploit the farmers. The Prime Minister is unaffected by the anguish and struggle of 62 crore farmers. The government wants to hand over the agriculture trade worth over Rs 20 lakh crore to crony capitalists. The seriousness of the government is reflected in home minister Amit Shah’s attitude — he can’t travel 15km to the Delhi border to talk to the farmers but will fly 1,200km to campaign for municipal elections in Hyderabad.”

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