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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 9, New Delhi, February 13, 2021

Modi’s manoeuvres in Rajya Sabha fail to assuage the feelings of the farmers | Arun Srivastava

Friday 12 February 2021

by Arun Srivastava

With the farmers’ movement which so far has been focussed on repealing of the three black laws, acquiring the new dynamics of protest for the restoration of the democracy and protection of the human rights, a nervous prime minister Narendra Modi has personally launched a vitriolic campaign against the campaign and tried to blame the agitators of nursing ill will against him.

So far Modi has been behaving like a person unconcerned of the movement and the plight of the protesters. His minions were entrusted with the task to talk to the farmers. But farmers’ leaders exposing his design and contradicting his political machinations through their own political initiatives, Modi appears to be losing the grip on the situation. Farmers have started replying to Modi in his own political language and this has made the situation really tough for him. So far Modi nursed the wrong perception of farmers’ leaders being naïve and they were gullible.

But the assertion of the farmer leader Rakesh Tikait is explicit; “business over hunger will not be allowed in the country. There will not be any business over hunger in the country. If hunger goes up, the price of crops will be decided accordingly. Those who wish to do business over hunger will be driven out of the country." Even a political leader will find it tough to make a statement of this nature.

Tikait further slammed the attempts to divide the ongoing movement of farmers on caste and religious lines. “This movement was first portrayed as Punjab’s issue, then Sikhs” then Jats, so on and so forth. The farmers of the country are united. There is no small farmer or big farmer. The movement belongs to all farmers,” he said.

While trying to project his image of being the saviour of the farmers he quoted comment of the former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh, which has been purely out of context, he even described the farmer protesters as andolan jivi, professional protesters, in his address on the floor of Rajya Sabha. He said these "parasites feast on every agitation". To this remark Rakesh Tikait retorted, “Yes, this time it is the farmers’ community which has emerged and people are also supporting the farmers”. But more than this the main question that arises is; how will Modi describe the deaths of more than 200 farmers and suicide committed by nearly 24 farmers at the borders. Does Modi think that the farmers who sacrificed their lives were professional; andolan jivi? It is really shame that Modi was casting aspersion on the farmers those sacrificed their lives.

At one level the agitation and the death of the farmers also underlines the fact that for the first time in the Independent India the farmers were exploring the political relevance to the problems faced by them. Modi said “do not spread confusion”. He was politically correct. But this at the same time raises question who is creating confusion? Confusion being created is manifest in Modi’s speech. He said; MSP was there, it is still in vogue and it would continue to be. If the MSP is a fact, what prevents him in providing it a legal character? Why is he stubborn on not to legalise it? The fact is the farmers have been demanding giving it a legal character as they were not getting the MSP.

Modi made three observations in Rajya Sabha. The first, he quoted Dr Manmohan Singh’s statement to justify his action and second, he is not aware of the basic reason why the farmers are agitating. The most important remark of Modi was to invite the farmers to resume the dialogue. How could Modi say that he is not aware of the reasons what propelled the agitation. His name sake agriculture minister Narendra Tomar has held 11 rounds of meeting and all the points according to him were discussed with the farmers. Obviously no one can believe that Tomar would not have briefed him of the outcome of the meeting.

IN response to his remark the farmer leader Shiv Kumar Kakka, who is a senior member of the Samkyukta Kisan Morcha which is spearheading the ongoing stir, has already said they are ready for the next round of talks and the government should tell them the date and time of the meeting. Now the ball in the court of Modi. He should fix the date and instead of deputising his juniors, should sit with the farmers. Kakka has said; "We have never refused to hold talks with the government. Whenever it has called us for dialogue, we held discussions with Union ministers. We are ready for talks with them (government)". In the last round of talks, the government had even offered to suspend the laws for 12-18 months, but the farmer unions rejected it.

Modi read out a quote by former PM Manmohan Singh and said, "Manmohan ji is here, I’d read out his quote. Those taking a U-Turn (farm laws) will perhaps agree with him. "There are other rigidities because of marketing regime set up in 1930s which prevent our farmers from selling their produce where they get highest rate of return......It is our intention to remove all those handicaps which come in the way of India realising its vast potential at one large common market".

No doubt Dr Singh had favoured a reform. But he did not act in haste. His government did not bring the bill. He was waiting for the correct opportunity. But Modi enacted the law. What is worse the three laws cannot be described as a step towards reforms. These were meant to deprive the farmers and turn them paupers. Dr Singh certainly did not intend to turn then paupers and beggars and allow the big corporate houses to grab their lands.

Modi should have also narrated how the UPA government withdrew its ordinance on MSP. The UPA’s ordinance, provided for a fair and remunerative price (FRP) of sugarcane to be determined by the Centre. If any state government declared a price above the FRP, sugar mills weren’t obliged to pay it. The states could, at best, foot the price difference to growers from their own coffers.

“Sharad Pawar-ji was the (Agriculture) minister and the FRP ordinance also came when Parliament wasn’t in session,” according to the RLD vice-president. “On the first day of the new session (on November 19), we brought 25,000-30,000 farmers (from western UP) to New Delhi. Even BJP leaders, including (LK) Advani-ji, were invited at our rally. “Within 3-4 hours of the farmers sitting at Jantar Mantar, the government announced replacing the ordinance with a Bill that effectively undid the law.”

Drawing parallels between the farm laws and the FRP ordinance, which sought to impose a Centre-determined uniform sugarcane pricing model similar to the current bypassing of state government agricultural market regulations, the RLD leader claimed that the country had a real “mazboot sarkar (strong government)” then: “It was mazboot because it was responsive. This government is ignorant, not mazboot. They are blissfully unaware of what the undercurrent is and living in a cocoon.”

Observation of Modi in Rajya Sabha simply strengthens the belief that he has turned defensive. He is scared of the farmers’ agitation acquiring a political dimension and dynamics. This has simply been enforced by three tweets from foreign celebrities. Since pop singer Rihanna, Greta Thunberg, American lawyer Meenakshi Harris (niece of Kamala Harris), Oscar-winning actor Susan Sarandon and others tweeted to draw the world’s attention towards farmers’ more than two months long agitation.

None had expected that in one stroke the farmers’ issue would be internationalised. It has acquired such a proportion that the entire government has been put into action to salvage the situation. The desperation even got reflected in the remarks of Modi; “new FDI (Foreign Destructive Ideology) has emerged in the country and we need to be more aware to save the country from such ideology". He suddenly came to realise the importance of Sikh community and the farmers who till a couple of days back were being accused of being propped by Khalistanis.

Modi stressed; "This is a community that has done so much for the nation. The country takes pride in the contribution of Sikhs, but some people are trying to defame them. The words and blessings of the Guru Sahibs are precious. The language used by some for them will not benefit the country". It is a known fact that his own party men and even ministers have launched insinuation campaign against Sikh farmers. He would have acted like an statesman by calling the names of his party men and openly castigating them in the house. It would have sent a strong message.

ONE IMPORTANT development that took place on Sunday ought to be brought into focus. This was for the first time two Shankaracharyas said the Centre should not have taken a “one-sided” decision on the new farm laws without discussions with the farmers, one of them adding that the NDA government’s habitual unilateralism was a “bad sign for democracy”.

Shankaracharyas, heads of the four monasteries established by Adi Shankaracharya, are among the most venerated of Hindu monks and the two pontiffs’ remarks are particularly significant since they rarely comment on political subjects.

“The government took a one-sided decision on every issue, including the (2016) demonetisation and the farm laws. It’s a bad sign for democracy,” observed Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati, pontiff of two of the four monasteries — Sharada Peeth in Dwarka, Gujarat, and Jyotir Peeth in Badrinath, Uttarakhand. He held; “The people of the country in general, and the farmers in particular, should have been taken into confidence before such a crucial decision (on enacting the new farm laws) was taken.”

Swami Nishchalanand Saraswati of Govardhan Peeth, Puri, said: “The government shouldn’t have taken a one-sided decision on the farm laws. The farmers should have been taken into confidence.” The two pontiffs are in Allahabad to attend the annual Magh Mela at the confluence of the Ganga and the Yamuna. Nishchalanand, who was addressing a congregation at his ashram in the Mela area, also suggested that the farmers understand the new farm laws thoroughly before making them an issue. “We hope they will understand the laws. It’s not good to hold a dharna for so long without food and water,” he said.

“However, the law should have been formulated while keeping in view cow protection, agriculture and the trades linked to it. Since all trade in our country is linked to agriculture one way or another, it would have been better to take the opinion of the stakeholders (farmers) while passing the law.”

Modi ought to realise that perpetrating repression and opting for oppressive measures, as is being planned by the Delhi police obviously at the instruction of the high ups, is not going to mitigate the crisis. The Central government and the BJP leaders must look at the ground level, the tremendous response the movement was getting even in Yogi’s UP. The government should refrain from testing the perseverance of the people. Letting loose reign of terror would certainly prove counter productive. Delhi police or the NIA may arrest some persons torture them in lock up and eventually may kill them. But they must get ready to face the consequences.

The BJP leaders, even Narendra Modi feels that since the people of India have given then thumping majority they can bulldoze the opposition. But they also must read the writings on the wall. The people are turning against the BJP. The party is losing support at the ground level in states of MP. Maharshtra, Haryana, Rajasthan and even in UP. The khap panchayats which had supported Modi and the BJP in 2019 have turned against them.

The reason for Mahapanchayats being held one by one in several districts of Uttar Pradesh was explained by Tikait; “Farmers are in trouble that is why they have come out of their houses to join the movement in huge numbers.” He said “Don’t complain if the fathers of those in armed forces will be seen sitting at the protest sites with the photos of their sons. Either the government withdraws all the three laws and brings in new MSP law or we will start Yatras across India. A non-political movement will be held across the country”.

While the government and its ministers have been blaming the farmers for not keen to resume dialogue, in a significant development Tikait informed that the farmers have given a deadline till 2nd October to the government. Tikait said the farmers are ready for talks but that should be “unconditional”. He said; “They (government) don’t have any love for the country but corporates. They are not concerned about farmers but their crops”.

The farmers nurse the feeling that the government is not really interested to scrap the laws. It is absolutely clear from the attitude of the government and its ministers. More than two months after the agitation began, it is increasingly clear that the government is bent on both maligning the agitation and, more generally, delegitimising the idea of protest and popular agency. They also cite the government literally barricading itself and its seat of power as a proof of their preparation to crack down on the farmers.

What is worse the BJP and its government are desperately trying to raise the issue of nationalism for giving the agitation a bad name. Coining the word FDI (Foreign Destructive Ideology) is the part of the strategy. Even some of the senior BJP leaders are opposed to this machination. They cite the alienation of the BJP leaders and cadres in Haryana and Rajasthan. A situation like social boycott of the BJP leaders are sharp surfacing in these two states.

The BJP leaders spend their time sitting at their homes. They do not dare to come out of their homes. A Haryana minister says it is a waiting game. “We are watching who will be the first to move out of home.” As anger mounts owing to the January 26 violence, party leaders are wary of leaving home. The central leadership has asked them to launch village contact programme. But the leaders are scared of coming out of their homes. In a worse situation is its partner JJP and Deputy CM Dushyant Chautala, whose political relevance draws on great-grandfather Devi Lal Chautala’s legacy as one of India’s tallest farmer leaders.

Shockingly the Punjab BJP has not been able to find candidates for two-thirds of the seats for municipal elections. Punjab BJP leaders are nervously watching the “pakka dharnas” outside homes of more than 30 of them — unceasing for four months, continuing day and night, drawing people from up to 40 km away, organised by farm unions, under tents that can hold 200 people. The banners at the sites demand that the “black” farm laws be repealed, ask why farmers are being called terrorists, and exhort: ‘Aao saare Dilli chaliye (Let’s all go to Delhi)’.

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