Withdrawal of farms Laws: Who will be held responsible for death of 700 farmers?

Dr Santosh Kumar Mohapatra*

Critics think, since May 2014, Narendra Modi rode to power, he grew arrogant, insensitive, phlegmatic and recalcitrant to others’ problems and feelings and catered to the interests of the rich, corporates as they will help him to retain power. Many laws were enacted bypassing debate, discussion in parliament and government could suppress, hammer dissent blatantly. But it failed abysmally to annihilate the farmers’ agitation against draconian, pro-corporate farm laws.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his government had to eat humble pie when agitated farmers forced Prime Minister to withdraw three contentious farm laws brought in as Ordinances in June 2020, though he is yet to admit that enacting three farm laws was a grievous blunder.

In a televised address to the nation on Guru Nanak Jayanti, on November 19, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that his government would repeal the three farm laws passed by Parliament in September 2020, which has led to massive protests by farmers in several states. He also informed that the procedure to roll back the laws would take place during the winter session of Parliament, which begins next week.

Projecting his government as the well-wisher of farmers for electoral benefits, and to revive the image scarred by farmers’ anger, he exhausted ten minutes in extolling his government’s claimed achievements and moved on to praising the three controversial farms laws brought in by his government.

In order to defend draconian acts, he said, his government failed to make farmers understand the benefits of the new laws and as such, and this impelled to roll them back. If so, there are many laws enacted, decisions taken arbitrarily- like increasing excise tax on petroleum products and rise of gas prices, corporate tax deduction, privatisation of essential services, the decimation of the public sector through disinvestment and outright sale, monetisation of public infrastructural assets, horrendous demonetisation, flawed and poorly planned GST -were opposed vociferously by major sections of society. But the government has not reversed those decisions.

What is outrageous is that government is yet to accept moral responsibility for putting farmers into hazardous and perilous struggle for more than a year. Farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh and other states have been campaigning at Delhi’s borders since November 2020 in protest against the three legislations, the 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. The protests have continued for over a year as deliberations between the government and farmers unions failed.

Most Indian farmers currently sell the majority of their produce at government-controlled wholesale markets or mandis at assured floor prices (also known as minimum support price or MSP). But the government argued that it was time to make farming profitable for even small farmers and the new laws were going to achieve that. One of the biggest changes was that farmers were allowed to sell their produce at a market price directly to private players – agricultural businesses, supermarket chains and online grocers.

But farmers were convinced that the contentious reforms will loosen rules around the sale, pricing and storage of farm produce – rules that have protected India’s farmers from an unfettered free market for decades. India’s stern laws around the sale of agricultural produce and high subsidies had protected farmers from market forces for decades and there was no need to change that. The new laws will allow private buyers to hoard food like rice, wheat and pulses for future sales, which only government-authorised agents could do earlier.

The reforms, on paper only, gave farmers the option of selling outside of this so-called “mandi system”. But in reality, the laws would weaken the farmers and allow private players to dictate prices and control their fate. The MSP was keeping many farmers going and without it, many of them will struggle to survive. It is just like the way big fish eat small fish, big businesses will eat up small farmers.

The agitated farmers cannot forget the campaign of vilification, denigration and calumniation, made against farmers in media to weaken their struggle. At every stage of the agitations, the BJP-led government attempted to badger the farmers’ movement, the grisliest episode being the way agitating farmers were mowed down in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh, by a convoy of cars allegedly involving son of Ajay Mishra, Minister of State of Home affairs.

More than 700 dissenting farmers perished during the agitations. Several were booked under punitive laws. The government used its police machinery to upset the movement. The Singhu and Tikri borders of Delhi, where the farmers had been staging demonstrations, were practically turned into open prisons.

BJP leaders and their supporters were openly calling these farmers Khalistanis and Pakistani terrorists, traitors, goons, miscreants, even prime minister called them ‘andolanjeevi’, while some urged to beat them with sticks, arrest them.

Following the Republic Day march by farmers early this year, the police came down heavily on some of the farmers’ leaders. Yet, the farmers remained unwavering in their tenacity to continue with the demonstrations. India’s farmers have refused to budge. Such was their fortitude, courage that the crackdown on Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait after the Republic Day march at Ghazipur border of Delhi gave a fresh lease of life to protests, taking the demonstrations across poll-bound Uttar Pradesh.

While the farmers’ body Samyukt Kisan Morcha welcomed the repeal of the three contentious farm laws, it told that it will be a historic victory only of the one-year-long farmers’ struggle in India when the announcement of the Prime Minister takes effect through due parliamentary procedures. However, Samyukta Kisan Morcha also reminded the Prime Minister that the agitation of farmers is not just for the repeal of the three black laws, but also for a statutory guarantee of remunerative prices for all agricultural produce and for all farmers. This important demand of farmers is still pending. So also, is the withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill.

Various political parties and leaders except BJP have expressed elation on the victory of farmers. While Rahul Gandhi described it as the victory of farmers’, ‘satyagraha’ over Centre’s arrogance. Congress leader P Chidambaram took a dig at the government, saying that the move was not inspired by a change of heart but impelled by “fear of elections”. Left parties also hailed the repeal of farm laws as a victory of people’s struggle and demanded that PM should apologise.

Hailing the Centre’s announcement to repeal farm laws as a victory of farmers, SAD supremo Parkash Singh Badal dubbed it as “a defining moment in history and warned the government that it should not enact such “insensitive and cruel laws” again. “It was for the first time in the history of democratic governments that brazen and cruel laws were made without even taking the stakeholders on board,” he asserted.

Similarly, the Shiv Sena and the NCP, which share power in Maharashtra, said the government had to finally bow down before the agitating farmers. West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee tweeted: “My heartfelt congratulations to every single farmer who fought relentlessly and were not fazed by the cruelty with which the BJP treated you. Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the future generations will always remember the farmers who had laid down their lives for the cause.

However, having constantly supported the three contentious agricultural laws, Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar issued a guarded response on the announcement of their withdrawal, saying the “decision has been taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi”.

Karnataka Chief Minister Basavaraj Bommai said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s decision to repeal the three contentious farms laws showed his sensitivity. Rejecting the claim that the government bowed to the year-long protest, Bommai said that the three laws were part of the liberalisation and globalisation process started in 1991-92 and were in line with the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s agreement with the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

He accused that the UPA government had signed an agreement with the WTO. Agriculture Reforms and the Agriculture Marketing Reforms were also part of it. According to him, the draft bill was pending during the UPA government and a decision was taken after bringing certain changes and taking a consensus of all the states to give proper returns to the farmers.

If it was part of liberalisation process, why did the government tell that those acts are beneficial to farmers? Actually, Union ministers even some intellectuals , celebrities have been steadfastly insisting that the laws were good for farmers and there was no question of taking them back.

A sovereign government should not sacrifice the interest of its citizens because of any international laws or while resorting to liberalisation process. Bommai’s statement reveals that the government has lost its economic sovereignty. If the government can repeal such act, why it did not do the same a year ago when farmers vociferously opposed farm laws.

Praising Narendra Modi, Amit Shah said PM Modi has shown remarkable statesmanship. But the question is that any statesman will never tolerate the death of farmers or human beings while defending their rights. Had the government been so much worried for farmers, it would have withdrawn this acts much before which led to the immense suffering of farmers even the death of 700 farmers. Who will be held responsible for the death of 700 farmers?

Question creeps in mind : when the government does not listen to pungent criticism, opposition to its many decisions, why did it listen to farmers? It is out of love for farmers or fear of losing future electoral battles. This shows how politicians fear the impending loss of power or electoral defeat rather than dissent expressed in a democratic way.

The abysmal performance in by-election had forced the Modi government to reduce excise taxes on petrol, diesel to woo voters. Now, in view of the forthcoming election in UP, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Modi government was forced to repeal this act to win the goodwill of farmers as states going to the polls early next year have been at the centre of the farmers’ protests. Experts also believe the upcoming state elections especially in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh – have a huge base of farmers – may have forced the decision.

However, farmers will not be swayed away by this deceptive step. After withdrawing the contentious land ordinances in 2015, this is the second time that the Central government has had to wink on the farmers’ issue ahead of the state polls. In 2015, it was months before the Bihar polls and this time, it was just a few months before polls in some states. The BJP has been getting feedback from the ground that the ongoing farmers’ agitation could damage its electoral prospects in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh. Sensing defeat in the upcoming polls, suddenly PM Modi has epiphany about the reality of the country where farmers cannot be agonised. The party also realised that Ambani, Adani can provide fund for election or help in publicity but cannot ensure victory as people will vote.

When working-class people are celebrating, they must introspect why they are not able to do that thing what farmers could do. They should take a cue from farmers’ agitation and should fight the anti-people, pro-corporate, privatisation policy of the government. It is the determination of farmers to win battle even prepared to sacrifice lives helped them win the battle.

 

 

 

The author is an Odisha-based eminent columnist/economist and social thinker. He can be reached through e-mail at [email protected]

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of Sambad English.

 

 

 

 

 

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