“My grandfather used to say that once in your life you need a doctor, a lawyer, a policeman, and a preacher. But every day, three times a day, you need a farmer.” ~Brenda Schoepp
Farmers are the apogee of the Nishkam Karma philosophy mentioned in the Bhagawad Gita in a discourse between Arjun & Lord Krishna: “Do your duty without expecting the fruits of your labour”. “A 1991 moment for agriculture” is what the renowned farm economist Dr. Ashok Gulati said at the inception of much-awaited reforms in our agrarian economy. These bills (now acts) seek to democratise farmer’s produce by giving him more options to sell, cushion his interests through contract farming & proliferate his income.
The farmers of the states (Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh) are primarily protesting because the government procurement infrastructure has been consolidated in this region since the inception of Green Revolution. Farmers have perceived the dismantling of APMC’s (agricultural produce market committee) monopoly as a precursor to their closure & eventually the end of MSP (minimum support price) procurement mechanism.
Government’s one-way communication hasn’t been of any convenience to alleviate their issue. States, which are already aggrieved due to inadequate tax devolution and recurring delays in GST dues, could also lose a major chunk of their revenue.
The outcome of Bihar doing away with its APMC system in 2006 is hidden from no one. Arguments against APMC mandis are well established but simply shifting from APMC to non-APMC areas, without a regulatory framework, the new law is unlikely to ensure better price realisation for farmers.
Antithetically, it might even lead to dwindling of APMC infrastructure if sufficient revenue for its sustenance and development isn’t generated.
“Delhi Chalo” is the consequence of doling out government policies, some essentially beneficial for long term gains, in haste without an effective approval by the citizenry. Execution determines efficacy, be it of GST, CAA and this time around the farm bills.
“If any class of economic agents of our country has been denied the constitutional right of freedom of trade, it is farmers.” ~Venkaiah Naidu
“APMCs have been a leaking & creaking shelter over farmers heads. However removing this shelter instead of repairing it, is going to expose them” ~Yogendra Yadav
This bill will surely transform India’s agricultural landscape by attracting private investment. Government’s maxim of “maximum governance and minimum government” is undoubtedly a good move to give impetus to our economy by opening it, but its execution is what lies at the core of any policy. What has given rise to farmer’s perturbation is that the corporates might legally outwit them and put liability clause on them due to the absence of level playing field.
There have been recommendations that the government should promote FPOs (Farmer produce organisation). This fear is genuine since private companies work on profit margins and deploy methods (sometimes unscrupulous ones) to get maximum raw material at minimum prices.
Deluding ourselves by expecting “Gandhian” attitude (Commerce with morality) from business houses in a highly competitive world would show poor knowledge on our part about the on-ground reality. When the politicians themselves are tempted by money and power and end up defecting despite all the amendments under the Anti-Defection Law, how do they expect that a businessman won’t exploit the loopholes and put the farmer again at the receiving end?
RBI recent report of an Internal Working Group (IWG), which has nothing to say on the farming issue, has made a recommendation that business houses should be allowed to be owners & controllers of banks. This has engendered alarming thoughts in the minds of economists, calling a spade a spade i.e. “authoritarian cronyism”. Such trends have been on the cards since long now & have aggravated concerns vis-à-vis corporatisation of Indian economy by allocating benefits to a few well-settled companies & not giving opportunity for “creative destruction”.
Economic reforms in India have often seen the face of coalition governments & that is why covertly legislated. On the contrary, these farm laws were railroaded by a regime which has an overwhelming majority in the parliament.
The government did try to allay farmer’s fears, but the hasty passage of these “historic” bills: first through ordinance route and then through a voice note in Rajya Sabha (rather than recommending it to a joint parliamentary committee) without little debate inside or outside the law-making body did little to pacify them. And the fact that these bills were enacted in the time of Covid-19 – the reason given for not allowing farmers to gather – only augmented farmer’s distrust.
“There is a sense that if the government can get away with promulgating such significant legislation without adequate consultation with farmers, it will sound the death knell of farmers as a political force.”~Pratap Bhanu Mehta
Rajya Sabha is the house for greater deliberations as members aren’t compelled to act according to political exigencies. Bicameralism reinforces federalism as indirectly elected members make a clarion call for their states. Desolated view of it, when historic bills are being passed, is dismal. The hubris in turning it’s back on to consensus-building measures in the state & trampling over federalism is an insidious problem.
“Why can’t we believe that fast-tracking does not mean bypassing procedures?” ~Anil Swarup
Liberalisation without consultation is like forcing people to be free. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was called “thinker of paradoxes”. He said: “Man is born free, but everywhere in chains” and on the other hand, “Man should be forced to be free”.
The government may have a bona fide intent to emancipate farmers from the mercy of markets, middlemen and money lenders but its governance and indifference towards farmer’s concerns indicate different signals.
Many non-farmers refute the farmer’s claims as “misguided” and their protests as “politically motivated”.
Parties are bound to raise their political mileage in such situations and if we think pragmatically, every party is an opportunist. Every party discerns ways in which it can win the public trust, especially when the executive’s communication skills are not able to do so and the gulf is widening between the people and the government.
However, if these movements would have been merely an attempt to defame the government or misled by the opposition, then they won’t have witnessed enormous support pan-India.
Deep down all are aware, that farm laws are not an ‘end’ in itself but ‘means’ to give more freedom to, the pride of our country, farmers & their concern should be heard. But if the targeted beneficiaries are only apprehensive about the consequences of this act then what good are these acts? Before rolling out the bills, we should try to take the stakeholders on board. Let’s for one instance think that farmers are nothing but misguided, then also doesn’t it fall on the part of the government to engage with them, relieves their fears and channelises them in the right direction?
“For an idea to fructify & sustain in a democracy like ours, it has to be politically acceptable, socially desirable, technologically feasible, financially viable, administratively doable, judicially tenable & emotionally relatable.” ~Anil Swarup
Accommodating everyone’s interest in a vast and diverse democracy like ours is indeed onerous and exhausting. But when the call comes from masses shouldn’t an attempt be made to address their concerns & search for solutions at the very least?
Over the last few years, protests (every citizen’s constitutional right under Article 19(2) ) are seen as a sign of “Anti-national” movements or “malcontent without cause.”
At this pace, we won’t be able to evolve into a “mature democracy”, rather be contained in the walls of an “electoral democracy”. Nationalism refers to the unity of cultures and loyalty towards the constitution (not towards a political party).
We may disagree or agree with them but choosing to “boycott” everyone (many times even without listening to their cause) who oppose your point of view, subverting the holy book (constitution) by snatching their fundamental rights and polarising protests by giving them a communal angle will unequivocally take our nation to the worst of its times.
It’s abominable to know that today, the assassinator of our father of the nation is celebrated by many and our farmers, the cornerstone of food security, who toil day and night to fill our stomach have to surmount water cannons, tear gas, media-bashing & people’s abuse, to talk with their representatives.
Police is an instrument in the state’s armoury to maintain order when the crowd goes riotous and resort to violence to make their voice heard.
But when the protest is on Gandhian lines, recourse to tear gas (Hong Kong police used it against pro-democracy protestors), water cannons (in the chilling cold), digging trenches, taking protestors in preventive custody and seeking permission from the government to convert stadiums into makeshift jails doesn’t augur well for a state which is proud of its democratic credentials at global platforms.
“In other circumstances, one would think this is how we are fighting an enemy invasion. In new India, this is how we are fighting our own farmers.” ~Shashi Tharoor
Damaging public property (digging trenches), disrupting economic activity (blocking roads), deploying police forces (in states where they are already burdened with investigating heinous crimes), firing tons of water (when many farmers are hit every year by the paucity of water) is certainly not the way, in my opinion, to handle protestors who are marching towards the capital. This is one of the major reason why we have not been able to overcome our colonial past even after 73 years of independence.
We can’t afford to stifle our own when we already are in a quandary due to the “two-front threat” at our borders. We have to come up with more enabling guidelines for a peaceful congregation of citizens. By quashing attempts to peaceful protests (even when the pandemic wasn’t there), we, in the long run, give fuel to fire rather than minimising it. Circumventing dialogue and desisting from making reconciliation efforts is further going to cement their fears rather than assuage them. We also significantly raised the chances of Covid-19 (an apolitical virus) infection by not hearing them in the first place.
The government of the day should resort to pro-active consultation rather than doing damage control after the agitation. It should tap the massive political capital at its disposal to constructively engage with the concerned and ensure “Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikaas & Sabka Vishwaas” to the fullest.