It is saddening to see so much resistance to the Narendra Modi government’s move to introduce reforms in agriculture and emancipate the farmer from the clutches of vested interests. The silver lining is that the powers that be are not in a mood to bow to the opposition to the new farm laws.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s oldest allies, the Akalis, have parted ways; a number of political and thought leaders are up in arms against the new farm laws; and in various parts of the country farmers are agitating against the new, liberalized regime of trading and storing of agricultural produce.
A few weeks earlier, Union minister Harsimrat Badal had quit the cabinet, protesting against the government decision to bring three liberalizing ordinances which later were cleared by Parliament. The proposed ordinances intended to undo some of the most regressive socialist era laws, free the farmer from hoarding regulations, and give him the choice to sell to the buyers who pay him the best price.
The new laws have the potential of revolutionizing agriculture and dramatically increasing the incomes of farmers. In no way the three new laws could be construed as anti-farmer. These are enabling provisions, not debilitating measures. Resistance to them is politics pure and simple; indeed it is dirty politics.
The three ordinances were the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement; and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020.
Harsimrat Badal tweeted later, “I have resigned from Union Cabinet in protest against anti-farmer ordinances and legislation. Proud to stand with farmers as their daughter & sister.”
But the ordinances, as we mentioned earlier, were not anti-farmer; protests against them are, rooted in politics and stupidity. In fact, her party, Shiromani Akali Dal, had been supporting the ordinances till a month before her resignation; its position changed 180 degrees when a stir, organized by doctrinaire and ill-informed activists, gathered momentum.
“Farm Bills clearing Lok Sabha is a historic moment for the farmers in the country and the agricultural sector. These Bills, in true sense, will eliminate bottlenecks and middlemen,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted in Hindi. He also rightly said in a tweet, “A lot of people are trying to mislead the farmers. I want to assure my brothers that MSP and government purchase will continue. These bills, in true sense, are meant to empower the farmers.”
Bharatiya Janata Party president J.P. Nadda also resolutely defended the new laws. “First, peasants were in slavery. Prime Minister Modi gave a call to liberate farmers. This Bill gives them the freedom to choose whether the farmer sells his crop in mandi or sells it in any corner of the country,” said Nadda.
Political rhetoric apart, the BJP chief’s statement is not without merit. The extant laws practically tie down agriculturists to the mandis and the rich middlemen running them.
Nadda also raised an important point: “The Congress party had said in its manifesto that we will bring the farmers out from APMC, the Essential Commodities Act has rusted, we will change it. Modiji has shown the way today by doing it.”
The opponents of the proposed agricultural rules are also being economical with the truth when they say that the minimum support price (MSP) is being done away with. The Modi government has flatly denied this charge. Further, no decision has been taken to end MSPs; there is not even a move in that direction.
But the Opposition propaganda continues. For instance, senior Congress leader and former finance minister P. Chidambaram wrote in The Indian Express (September 27) that “what the Modi government has done is to weaken the safety net (of MSP) and dilute public procurement. Farmers are protesting on the streets because they fear that the MSP will be done away with. State governments are worried that Public Procurement and PDS will be jeopardized. Once the three pillars of food security are undermined, the food security system that is being created under the National Food Security Act, 2013, will collapse.”
Further, Chidambaram wrote, “The Modi government’s laws do not create thousands of alternative markets. Instead, they will allow contract farming and open the door for the entry of corporates and, eventually, cartels.”
But Mr. Chidambaram, didn’t you too wanted to do the same thing? Economic Survey 2012-13, for example, said, “In order to bring about reforms in the [organized marketing] sector, a model Agricultural Produce Marketing (Development and Regulation) (APMC) Act was prepared in 2003. Though the process of market reforms has been initiated by different state governments through amendments in the present APMC Act on the lines of Model Act, many of the states are yet to adopt the Model Act uniformly. It is therefore necessary to complete the process of market reforms early in order to provide farmers an alternative competitive marketing channel for transaction of their agricultural produce at remunerative prices. Development of an agricultural marketing infrastructure is the foremost requirement for the growth of a comprehensive and integrated agricultural marketing system in the country.”
The Modi government has done which none of its predecessors could do, though the experts advising them wanted to liberalize the farm sector.
In a nutshell, the entire resistance to the new farm laws is politically motivated and ideologically inspired. Thankfully, the government has not buckled under pressure from the opponents of the Bills and the agitating farmers in different parts of the country.