Farmers Protests and Government Response
With the tabling of 3 agri legislations in the Parliament the farmers protests broke out in different parts of the country with Punjab being the epicentre, closely followed by Haryana. While Parliament debated its merits by the treasury benches, farmers lobbies and the opposition parties got a shot in the arm when Akali Minister in Modi Government, Mrs Harsimrat Badal announced quitting the Cabinet and later the NDA itself. After the Government initiated dialogues with the farmers, in all five so far, three of which were hosted by me, joined by the Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and Agriculture Minister, NS Tomar. The other two were hosted by the Railway Minister Shri Piyush Goyall and Agriculture Minister Shri Narenda Singh. Tomar, last week at Vigyan Bhawan and the other one by the Secretary of Agriculture, Sanjay Agarwal at Krishi Bhawan. But in all these meetings while farmers were sticking to withdrawal of acts as bargaining chip, the government response was restricted to educating farmers on the benefits of the Acts. Both sides largely stuck to their grounds. While experts, industry and FPOs are in support of the legislations, the farmers lobbies are up against the same, especially in the Green Revolution area of Punjab, Haryana and Western UP.
After a slow and largely Punjab centric protests the same is now moving to Delhi with wider participation by other states. The Government stand till late evening yesterday has been of holding on to its conviction that these Acts are good and as long as its seen as Punjab centric there is hardly any political cost to it. Some of the important farmers bodies that this author has been speaking are convinced about the Acts but are unwilling to publicly announce their stands for the same.
Now with the call of “Chalo Dilli” the agitation is likely to be intensified. The largest farmers organisation, BKU, which was little indecisive for months, has also got into action with Rakesh Tikait starting Foot-march from Muzaffar Nagar today. The leaders of All India Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, VM Singh and Raju Shetty who were initially leading the agitation in other states were in isolation due to becoming Corona Positive, but have now recovered from Covid and getting into action. The worries of the Government are likely to increase. It will therefore be good that Goverment gets into fresh round of dialogue with more flexibility to settle the issue. From farmers side there are two main demands, MSP to be made part of Acts 2. Trade should buy at MSP. The possible way outs are:-
1. Government may agree to enforce MSP on trade as well. This could make a cost of approximately Rs. 25,000 crores to trade on today’s estimated price difference. But Government has nothing to loose.
2. About continuation of MSP the Government seems clear on this and has made its stand clear repeatedly but farmers are seeking to make the same a part of Legislations. Mid way could be found by both sides to agree to a written statement or issue an Executive Order. Here again Government has nothing to loose. This will give much needed confidence to farmers, who viewed these bills with suspicion from the beginning in absence of dialogue with them.
The government difficulty however is who should it talk to as different organisations are not on a single platform. The Punjab based 30 odd organisations led by S Rajewal, the Haryana group led by Gurnam Singh, the BKU led by Rakesh Tikait, All India Farmers Alliance led by Dr. Rajaram Tripathi and AIKSS, a body claiming 250 organisations led by VM Singh, all agitating independently with different set of demands and no coordination among them.
Views expressed here are those of Dr. MJ Khan, Chairman of Indian Chamber of Food and Agriculture and Founder of All India Farmers Alliance