By Krishna Jha
Democracy in our country has become something like Hegelian dialectics: It is there and it is not there. Interpretations keep changing, with only one constant factor and that is erosion. When the farm laws were imposed it was in the name of development. Wiping away the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations, the new laws were forced on the farmers all over the country.
These new laws are the negation of democracy and denial of rights. Constitution has defined the fundamental rights and asserting them when there is violation cannot be a reason for punishment. But there are plenty of incidents when those who assert their constitutional rights like right to speak, their attitude is attacked as detrimental to the concept of development. It is intolerance to any opposition.
The innumerable cases slapped against the farmers were the follow up of the same undemocratic handling. Added to all this were the extreme methods applied to crush the movement itself. They tried to coerce the farmers to submit. But every such attempt ended in fiasco. The thirteen -month long dharna was a training ground for the farmers and the youth, as well as many other sections that were also in the movement apart from agrarian people. It was their commitment to the cause that enabled them to swim through the bone chilling winter and the cold shower from the water cannons, the blaze of Delhi summer and corona epidemic. Together they all went through the ordeal, with babies and old women and men. They lost their comrades, in hundreds. Yet they did not leave their post. Food was coming from villages, no one bothered about the source or the destination. No one remembered the caste or creed of the deliverer.
Immediately after the understanding was arrived at between the government and the SMK, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha organised in Kairana on December 12 its first Maha Panchayat and announced that if the government did not mend its communal policy, there is every possibility of its being voted out. SKM spokesperson announced, “We are not here to tell whom to vote for. We are here to remind the government about the promises made and then to keep them.” They did not mince words as they spoke to thousands of kisans gathered there to listen to them. Speaking about the minimum support price, it was stressed that the biggest success of the Dharna was that the minimum support price (MSP) had become a household theme everywhere.
It is a fact that nobody has any inkling what made the prime minister withdraw the laws that he had imposed on the farmers in a ruthless undemocratic way. First as ordinances since there was lockdown and no Parliament session. Later, when Parliament became operative, the bills were tabled and without any debate were passed as laws.
The farmers refused to accept them and there were demonstrations all over the country which culminated into a dharna. But for the entire year, prime minister refused to even see the farmers. Mostly the dialogues remained one sided, the government side remained stubborn and withdrawn. Now, without any consultation in Parliament, the three laws have been withdrawn. The dharna continued since there were other demands like MSP that had not been met.
In fact the step in favour of MSP, fixing the amount for minimum support price, arrests the falling down of prices the corporate houses offer.
In the process, it has been conceded that a committee would be set up to ensure minimum support prices (MSP) for all farmers along with other assurances, none of which were part of the laws that were passed and then repealed.
In fact, MSP has been a step that protects the farmers against corporate exploitation. It is the initiative of the government when it intervenes to stabilize prices to provide remunerative prices to farmers.
Currently, it is no more than a public procurement programme to meet the requirements of the National Food Security Act (NFSA). As against the official announcement of MSP for 23 crops, only two, rice and wheat are procured as these are distributed in NFSA. For other crops, MSP is almost absent or at times comes only on ad hoc basis.
The current demand for a legal guarantee for MSP has to be seen in the larger context of the situation of farmers. In 2014 and 2015, farmers have gone through the agony of declining commodity prices. Demonetisation and hurried rollout of GST almost destroyed the agrarian sector and while trying to stage a comeback, they suffered hugely. It was not only the rural economy, primarily the non-farm sector, but entire agriculture.
Every opening was slowly ebbing in darkness as the economy itself faced a slowdown in 2016-17 followed by pandemic which caused a steep decline. Majority of farmers were pushed into a situation that was dangerously precarious. Rural wages severely went down in real terms since 2014. In addition there was shrinking employment opportunities. Crisis was worsening in real terms. Input prices were much beyond affordable limits. Imperatives for the agrarian sector like diesel, electricity and fertilisers were touching the skies. (IPA Service)