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Sunday, January 17, 2021

Debating Farmers’ Bills: What does it mean politically?

Three key agriculture Bills, affirmed by the Lok Sabha, are confronting resolute resistance from inside the decision alliance with senior minister Harsmirat Kaur Badal resigning from his post and farmers hitting the road. After the passing, outside Parliament, there have been agitations on the streets. In this process, the ruling party has managed to annoy its oldest allies, SAD (Akali Dal).

However, PM Narendra Modi termed the passage of the farm bills as a “watershed moment in the history of Indian agriculture” which will ensure a complete transformation of the agriculture sector as well as empower crores of farmers. The Opposition, however, is worried about the political risks or implications this would bring. So, what do the Farmers’ Bills mean politically and what are the two sides debating on?

Even as protests are being organised over recently approved farm bills across the country, a group of 32 ex-bureaucrats has issued a statement supporting the Centre’s move and criticised the vested interests for inciting and misguiding the farmers. In a written statement, the former IAS officers said, “The government of India has introduced a definite game-changer in the life of the Indian farmer through the far-sighted legislations. Major impediments that retarded the seamless growth of the farming fraternity of India are given the go-by through the passage of these monumental acts”. “The bills create a fair and free ecosystem for the farmers. It also ignites in the farmers a sense of entrepreneurial freedom without the risk of trader exploitation,” the statement said. The support from retired civil servants came at a time when numerous political parties including the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD), Congress, DMK, Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), and Trinamool Congress, among others, are vehemently protesting the bills. “Despite categorical assurance from the Union Agriculture Minister that the minimum support price (MSP) mechanism shall remain as before, it is objectionable to incite the farmers and create disaffection in their minds by wrongly suggesting that their interests are being bartered in favor of multinational concerns,” the statement by former IAS officers said. “The farmers have nothing to lose if India is developed as one market and private parties purchase their products,” the bureaucrats added. Criticising those opposing the recently passed farm bills, they said, “our group condemns the surreptitious practices of vested interest for misleading and misguiding the farmers and discrediting the well-intentioned national initiatives.”

 

Support pours in

Union Minister for Housing & Urban Affairs (I/C); Civil Aviation (I/C); & MoS Commerce & Industry Hardeep Singh Puri writes, “The landmark farm bills passed on September 20 will create an ecosystem where farmers and traders enjoy the freedom of choice of sale and purchase of farming produce to facilitate remunerative prices to farmers through competitive alternative trading channels. This will promote barrier-free inter-state and intra-state trade and commerce of farming produce outside the physical premises of markets notified under state agricultural produce marketing legislation. In this way, they will facilitate farmers with more buyers for their produce at their doorsteps.” He adds, “The farm bills also lay the ground of a legal framework for fair and transparent farming agreements between farmers and sponsors. This framework will facilitate greater certainty in quality and price, adoption of quality and grading standards, linkage of farming agreements with insurance and credit instruments to transfer the risk of market unpredictability from the farmer to the sponsor, and also enable the farmer to access modern technology and better inputs.”

“These farm bills will bring transformative changes in our agricultural sector and reduce wastage, increase efficiency, unlock value for our farmers and increase farmers’ incomes,” opines the minister. “At the same time, traders and other stakeholders will get the opportunity to get access to better products and develop additional services that can be useful to local farmers, like seed/soil testing facilities and cold storages. We must not allow falsehood and political opportunism to overshadow the key measures and mechanisms enunciated through this landmark reform, which finally puts our farmers first,” he adds speaking for the bills.

 

Protest across country

There are parties who are against the bill completely like Congress. Arguing that the bills are “blatantly crafted to fill the pockets of capitalist cronies of the BJP,” Amarinder Singh, Congress Chief Minister of Punjab points to the “manner in which they have been forced through the Parliament…they did not talk to the farmers’ representatives, they did not talk to my government which represents the most important state in India’s food security chain, even though agriculture is constitutionally mandated to be a state subject, and they did not bother to hear out the Opposition in Parliament. The only reason for these sly, undemocratic and anti-federal actions on the part of the central government, as far I can see, is that these bills hide more than they reveal. They give the poor small and marginal farmers of India no assurance of protection of their interests, their livelihoods, and their future. They make no mention whatsoever of the Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime…”

The Congress’ youth wing in Punjab even went to the extent of burning a tractor to show their disagreement for the bills. “Today’s protest was symbolic and we take responsibility,” tweeted Brinder Dhillon, president of Punjab Youth Congress. “We have to make noises and make the right kind of noises… We are not in the government. We can only fight on the streets. We are street fighters,” he told NDTV. “This was the only way we could have made the deaf and dumb government hear,” he said, justifying the burning of the tractor.
Punjab Youth Congress also live-streamed the protest at India Gate on its official Facebook page. Punjab Youth Congress workers had allegedly tried to set a tractor on fire in Haryana’s Ambala on September 20 after the passage of the bills.

Experts are of the opinion that Modi has thrown away old furniture and has gambled big. He’s asking rural India to trust him again and we hope it doesn’t yield disastrous results.

 

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