By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Prime Minister Narendra Modi corrects his mistake by just shedding his arrogance and announcing repeal of the three controversial farm laws he got passed in the Parliament of India in the midst of COVID-19 crisis when the whole country was struggling to save lives of the people. His government treated the situation as an opportunity to push ‘agriculture market reform’ in the country which was mischievously labeled as ‘agriculture reforms’, but the basic purpose of the laws was to bring corporate sector to farms, which triggered widespread stiff resistance of the farmers despite lockdowns and containment measures. Farmers rushed to New Delhi on November 26, 2020 to protest which marked the beginning of their agitation. Modi’s announcement of repeal has come just before the first anniversary of the historic farmers’ agitation in the country, which solves a problem that he had created himself.
His announcement of repealing the three farm laws on the occasion of Guruparva (Celebrations for the Guru) has special religious and political connotations. It serves two constituencies for Modi, first the Hindus and the second the Sikhs in general and Uttar Pradesh and Punjab is particular, the states which are going to polls within few months. The BJP is running a very high stake in the former, and a very high aspiration in the later. Any loss to the BJP now in these states will ultimately dampen his own prospect of regaining his power in New Delhi in the 2024 Lok Sabha Elections for which he needs to prepare himself from now onwards.
Whatever may be the reason of his announcement, whether some good sense descended over him by the grace of the Guru or the fear of the political loss has mellowed his arrogance down to this level, the political path onward for Modi and his party would certainly become less rocky ahead. Farmers of the country are restive against not only on account of the three controversial farm laws but also for their shattered hopes of doubling their income by 2022 that was promised by Modi in 2016.
Prime Minister Modi was perhaps aware that he could not deliver his promise of doubling farmers’ income by 2022. First, because the expert committee he put his trust on worked typically on bureaucratic way and took too much time to suggest ways and means for doubling farmers income. It finally submitted 14 bulky volumes in September 2018 which was too lengthy to be implemented is so little a time left with the government. When Modi began his second term in mid-2019, his promise started haunting him, because much needed “agriculture reform” was overdue, and which was the only hope left to the country to feed its ever increasing population that would become the largest in the world only within few years from now ie by 2027.
However, “agriculture reform” is time consuming and needs much more efforts and resources that the government was not ready to do. Rather, Modi adopted the short cut route of reforming “agri-market” in the false hope that it would increase the income of the farmers through increased market price, while forgetting its ramifications to the very livelihood of the farmers and the food security for the common people. It was perhaps under this false hope “agri-market” reforms were visualized in mid-2020 and the three contentious farm laws – Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020, and Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 were enacted by the first week of September 2020 – in a bid to bring corporate to farm.
Immediately after the enactment of the aforesaid laws, farmers of Punjab started their protest labeling the laws anti-farmers. The political impact of this is felt by Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) that has considerable vote bank among the farmers, and subsequently it broke its alliance with the BJP. Framers organizations gave call for “Dilli Chalo” on November 26 to protest the laws and demand their repeal. Large number of farmers from Punjab, Haryana, and Western Uttar Pradesh came to Delhi and they were stopped at three of its borders where they started their sit-in protests.
Eleven rounds of talks between the Union Government and the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), a joint front of farmers’ organisations’ failed between October 14, 2020 and January 22, 2021, and talks stopped thereafter. Both the parties remained adamant on their stands, SKM on their demand to repeal the three laws, and the Government not to accept that. Supreme Court of India, in the meantime in January had stayed the implementation of the laws and appointed a committee to examine the issue, which the SKM boycotted because it included members who were known supporters of the “agri-market” reforms. Modi government had even offered to stay the laws for 18 months, but SKM never agreed at less than their demand for scrapping the laws. Despite hardship suffered in the hands of the government, vagaries of weather, arrests, and cases of seditions, farmers’ agitations continued that costs about 600 lives. Barring the incidents on Republic Day 2021, the agitations remained peaceful, and all efforts of maligning the farmers even labeling them terrorists could not deter the agitators. Agitating farmers have been able to get support from every corner of the world, and across India, from almost all non-BJP political parties in the country, from entire workforce, trade unions, and associations.
In the last one year farmers agitation has spread across the country, though the government propaganda insisted on their being only in Punjab, Haryana, and part of Western Uttar Pradesh. Though the farmers’ agitation is apolitical, the farmers leaders have lately started campaigning against the BJP and Modi who got the anti-farmers laws enacted. The adverse impacts were seen in the five Assemblies’ elections of 2021, and it is being felt now on the eve of the assembly elections of five states including Uttar Pradesh and Punjab due early next year.
Farmers have earlier called for even several all India general strikes, and had threatened to even stronger protests on the first anniversary of the agitation on November 26. Only a week before the anniversary PM has announced repeal of the three laws with an apology to the nation and a call to farmers to end their agitation. Many have welcomed, but many termed the apology fake. Though SKM has welcomed the announcement it has said the protest would continue since farmers need compensation for the loss they have incurred in terms of life and property. PM was silent on these, they alleged.
What next for Modi and his government? They must now plan for much needed “agriculture reform” in the country in the real sense of the term putting the farmers at the centre of the plan along with the food security for the people. It should stop hoodwinking the people by really planning for pro-corporate “agri-market” reform while labeling it “agriculture reform” for “benefit of the farmers” as the Prime Minister has claimed while announcing the repeal. Farmers and agriculture of this country need much more than mere repeal of these new laws, since it cannot solve the long outstanding problems. You create a problem and you solve it at a great cost – not at all a big deal. (IPA Service)