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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 1, New Delhi, December 19, 2020

By not conceding farmers’ demand Modi is determined to crush their movement | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 19 December 2020

by Arun Srivastava

Narendra Modi’s intentions ought to be not thrown to the winds. His words that he sincerely intends to serve and help the farmers should be believed. He uttered these words in Kuchch of Gujarat while on a tour to talk to the farmers of the state who include a motely group of Sikh farmers too. But it is his approach to the farmers’ agitation and his attitude towards them that makes one not to believe him.

It was his intention that motivated him to fly to Gujarat, instead of inviting the farmers striking in Delhi, for discussing the farm laws and reforms with them. Nevertheless a perfect articulate he never speaks his mind. He believes in dictating rather than listening to the diverse views and opinions.

It is really intriguing that Modi who has been accusing the opposition of misleading the farmers has not bothered to explain why the farmers do not believe him, what he says or tries to do away with the element of distrust that exists between him and the farmers. It is purely the case of loss of trust in him and his government that the farmers want MSP written into law; they want it should be legalised and are not ready to believe his words that it was a permanent feature. They are not willing to believe that Modi has no intention of doing away with MSP for crops.

The most unfortunate aspect of his personality and functioning have been he never behaves like the prime minister, the leader of democratic India. He abhors the idea of conceding the mistakes. Blaming the opposition to conceal his failures and ill intentions have been his old style. Since he does not want to do away with the MSP, then why he is reluctant to give it a legal shape. Government argues the MSP regime has always operated as an executive programme rather than under a legal mandate. So why are farmers asking for it to be written into law now? The reason is simple; the new laws don’t mention MSP.

If doing away with MSP was never the intention of any of the new laws then why Modi and his ministerial colleagues are making it a prestige issue and why a vilification campaign has been launched against the farmers, especially by his cabinet colleagues and senior BJP leaders. By resorting to this vilification and insinuation campaign whose interest they intend to serve.

The Modi government has been acting at the behest of the corporate sector endorsed by the observation of the former Ficci president and Vice-Chairman of Bharti Enterprises Rajan Bharti Mittal. He categorically promised all help to the government in its fight against the farmers when he said, "Clearly, you can see when you do the tough reforms like the farm bills, please don’t step back. The industry will back you up."

Strange enough Modi has expressed bewilderment over the protests. Is it that he does not know the reasons for the farmers’ resorting to protest? His expression of naivete is a mechanism to encourage his people to vilify the farmers and their agitation. His usual rhetoric is, he fails to understand why the farmers were resorting to this movement as the laws will liberate them poverty and provide them a prosperous future. Obviously why should a farmer refuse to accept the laws which promise him a bright future? There is some major wrong which is why the farmers are not willing to digest the offer. As the leader of the country it is the prime duty to of Modi to sit with the farmers and sort out the discrepancies.

But why this is not happening. On the contrary Modi has launched an insinuation campaign against the Congress and other parties of misleading them. Does he really believe that farmers are gullible and naïve? He accuses that previous Congress government did not implement the laws and carry out agricultural reforms. The reason is simple like him, the UPA governments were not in hurry and preferred to wait for some more time to give a human touch and face to the reforms and did not intend to create a parallel market which would ruin farmers. But Modi created a parallel market to serve the vested interest of his corporate friends. It is really ridiculous that he was defending a law which would make APMC mandis obsolete, even if they do not state so explicitly.

It is a very tricky situation. If a farmer sells his produce outside a mandi to any corporate in any part of India he will not have to pay the tax. Momentarily the farmer will feel happy as some is saved. But this would turn the mandis dysfunctional. The farmers will have no other alternate but to follow the dictates of the corporate. If corporates drive out the mandi system who will buy all of this surplus?. If the bulk of the surplus cannot be sold prices will crash as supply would overwhelm demand. This will deprive farmers of whatever negotiating power they have. A closer look at the government proposal and the laws will make it clear that its entire concept is flawed and wrong.

The fixation of MSP is done by the government and no aadhati or the middleman, also known as vicholi is involved in making deals or negotiating prices with farmers. BJP has been creating confusion. These people work on commissions for the job rendered to farmers. In 2006, Bihar abolished mandis claiming it would improve the lot of the state’s farmers. Today Bihari farmers are in wretched condition. Will Modi or his BJP leaders have an answer as why aren’t farmers in Bihar better off?

According to data, only 6 per cent of the farmers in India are fully covered by the MSP, and 84 per cent are located in the states of Punjab and Haryana. It is a widely known fact that farmers of Punjab and Haryana are the most well off people. The farmers of the two states are vanguards of the movement for the simple reason that they firmly believe that from a sellers’ market they are now being pushed into the buyers’ market. And it would obviously be left to the discretion of the Central government to decide on the quantum of procurement on the declared MSP.

Taking agriculture out of the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act will legitimise, the private players’ procurement of foodgrain at prices lower than the fixed MSP. In other words, nearly 86 per cent of farmers, who are small and marginal, would be left at the mercy of the corporates, with reduced collective bargaining capacity.

It is beyond comprehension how a prime minister could fool his own people for serving the interest of a few of his corporate friends. The Central government’s argument is that these Acts are intended to empower the farmers and ensure doubling of their incomes. Farmers’ organisations are critical of these laws as they believe that they will lead to the privatisation of agriculture, reduce agriculture to a subsidiary activity, make way for removing the protective cover of government-led procurement, MSP, Agriculture Produce Market Committee and other safety nets.

The farmers’ agitation is unique in many ways. One, it is a coming together of 31 ideologically competing organisations. The farmers are pragmatic persons and know it well that the free market does not have the solutions to improve the well-being of people living on the margins. The assumption that the market shall protect and multiply farmers’ income is misleading. The new farm laws have direct implications for the livelihood and survival of the people engaged in or dependent on agriculture, food security of the poor and food sovereignty of the country.

An analysis of the agitation would make it explicit that the a class conflict between the organised and unorganised people is taking shape. The poor and the people living marginally above the poverty line have become aware of the difference between their lifestyle and living conditions and those belonging to higher income group. With the increasing level of awareness, the aspiration of the farmers to lead better quality life is becoming stronger day by day. While the rich and corporate sector have been masquerading the public money, the children of the poor are even denied of better education and health care.

Why should people believe the BJP leaders and the ministers of Modi government? From the beginning they have claiming that the laws have been framed for the betterment of the farmers. It was only yesterday the blue eyed boy of Modi, the food minister Piyush Goyal confessed publically that the new farm laws were pro-corporate rather than pro-farmer when he said that the bills had been enacted to encourage trade in food.

“The government’s agenda is out in the open now. This is the first time the government has admitted that these laws are for trade and commerce,” Bharatiya Kisan Union president Balbir Singh Rajewal told reporters at the Singhu border.

Some people find virtue in government beginning negotiations with the farmers within days of their protests. But they are mistaken. Modi government was resorting to this tactics for creating confusion and sending a wrong message across the country about the farmers. It intends to tell its supporters and urban middle class that while it has been sincere in meeting their demands, the farmers have been hell bent on creating mess at the instigation of anti-national forces and congress.

An insight into the government approach to the agitation will make it clear that there is utter lack of sincerity. If Modi would have been really serious to resolve the impasse he should have personally taken the initiative and also entrusted senior ministers with the task to find a solution instead of deputing junior ministers who have no vision.

It is a matter of serious concern that nearly 20 farmers lost their lives on the pavements of Delhi while participating in the agitation. But these deaths of ”anna data” has miserably failed to move our prime minister, who is known to possess high level of emotion and respect for human lives. It was in the wake of these deaths Congress leader Rahul Gandhi sought to know; "How many more sacrifices will the farmers have to make to get the agri laws repealed?" Passive attitude of Modi simply endorsed the Congress accusation; "They (government) are still standing with their ’money providers’ not with ’annadaatas’ (food providers). The country wants to know — ’Is Rajdharma (constitutional responsibility) bigger or Rajhat’ (stubbornness)?"

The intelligence report underlines that in spite of police repression and vilification campaign the farmers’ movement has grown enormously. More farmers are heading towards Delhi from other parts of the country. BJP leaders in Harayana and Rajasthan has been quitting the party in mass. This should serve as the awakening call to Modi. He must realise the gravity of situation. Instead of diverting the attention of nation by blaming anti-BJP forces Modi must do some introspection and concede the demands of the farmers.

It is significant to note that the agitation is acquiring a much bigger dimension. Even International Human Rights Day event was organised by the Bharatiya Kisan Union-Ekta (Ugrahan) and saw their members hold up posters of people who the Right wing describes as “urban Naxals”. At least two senior IPS officers have resigned in protest. Several retired bureaucrats and veterans from Punjab have already expressed solidarity with the farmers, on Friday they had Constitutional Conduct — a collective of former civil servants — pick up the cudgels for them.

In a statement, Constitutional Conduct said: “The protests have spread across many states. In our capacity as former civil servants who stand up for constitutional freedoms, we would like to emphasise our support for the democratic and constitutional right of peaceful protest being exercised by farmers and others. It is time that the ruling dispensation listens carefully to the demands being made and demonstrates its respect for democratic traditions, procedures and practices by engaging in dialogue inside and outside Parliament.”

While Modi has been accusing the opposition of misleading the farmers his ministerial colleague, on the 17th day of the agitation, Piyush Goyal alleged that the movement has been "infiltrated by Leftist and Maoist elements" demanding the release of those put behind bars for "anti-national activities." His statement is precursor to cracking down by the police and para military forces on the farmers. The grounds are being prepared for finishing the agitation.

Meanwhile, the Congress on Saturday warned the Modi government against branding every person opposing it a “Maoist” and an “anti-national”, and urged it to accede to the demands of the protesting farmers. The party’s comments came a day after minister Narendra Singh Tomar and Pijush Goyal said some “anti-social elements” and naxals have entered into the movement.

"We now realise that the so-called farmer agitation hardly remains a farmers’ agitation. It has almost got infiltrated by Leftist and Maoist elements, a flavour of which we saw over the last two days when there were extraneous demands to release people who have been put behind bars for anti-national (and) who have been put behind bars for illegal activities," Goyal, the Minister for Railways, Commerce and Industry and Food and Consumers Affairs, said at FICCI’s annual meeting.

"I would urge all well-meaning business leaders and all well-meaning intellectuals who are involved with Ficci, who are on this webcast, to talk about the benefits of these farm laws, to understand the law. Should you have any apprehension, please talk to us," Goyal said.

Any reform is carried out for the benefit and betterment of the people, but when the farmers are unwilling to accept the new enacted laws, then why the government is hell bent on forcing them to accept these laws. Thousands of farmers from states including Punjab and Haryana have been protesting against these legislations for 17 days now, demanding their repeal. They fear that these laws will prompt the government to stop making direct crop purchases at minimum state-set prices, called minimum support price (MSP). This stand of the government makes Modi’s stand and intentions suspect in their eyes.

It is quite interesting to watch that even the economic wing of the RSS on Sunday highlighted flaws in the three new farm laws and sought a legally guaranteed minimum support price, a demand at the core of the farmers’ agitation. Swadeshi Jagran Manch even agreed that the new laws would allow big companies to “exploit” farmers.

It explained that the new laws would cause the agricultural produce market committees (APMCs) to lose significance, forcing the farmers to sell outside the old mandi system and making them vulnerable to exploitation by corporate bodies. The APMC Act ensures that farmers get a minimum support price (MSP) at the mandis (wholesale markets). The agitating farmers have expressed the same fears as the Manch about the new laws’ implication for the mandi system, and demanded a law that guarantees an MSP.

The government is so scared of the anger raging amongst the farmers and through out the country that it has decided to do away with the winter session of the parliament. It is for Modi to reply for how long he would evade the issue of meeting the demands of farmers. In Kuchch he made it clear once again laws would not be scrapped which is the principal demand of the farmers. Obviously it implied that the Modi government is determined to crush the farmers’ agitation.

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