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Mainstream, VOL LIX No 2, New Delhi, December 26 2020

Modi on the mission to finish the farmers’ agitation | Arun Srivastava

Saturday 26 December 2020

by Arun Srivastava

The much publicised December 25 meeting of the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi with the agitating farmers proved to be a non-event. An impression was created that the exercise undertaken on the birthday of the former prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was a serious attempt to diffuse the impasse. But in reality it simply aggravated the situation and made the farmers harden their attitude. Today’s Modi’s assertion has made them disillusioned and are now sure that he was getting ready to strike a brutal attack against them.

Modi deploying his 54 ministers across the country, in almost all the states, is more the exercise to clear ’misgivings’ on farm laws. It was primarily aimed at testing the ground; how the people would react if the government goes for a lethal attack on the farmers. Modi who had to meet agitating and slogan shouting MPs in the parliament when he had gone to pay floral tribute to Vajpayee, was really in the bad mood. He let out his anger and accused the farmers of playing into the hands of opposition forces and parties.

Modi’s anger against opposition was quite visible. He was highly critical of Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee and also Kerala chief minister Pinyarai and accused them playing with the future of the people of their states. While accusing Mamata o destroying West Bengal, he wondered no protests were visible against her not implementing PM-Kisan scheme. He alleged that her ideology has destroyed the state and that she was doing politics by stopping over 70 lakh farmers of the state from getting benefits of the Centre’s flagship PM-KISAN scheme under which Rs 6,000 is being provided every year. Assembly elections are scheduled to be held in West Bengal in a few months. “If you listen to 15 years old speech of Mamta Ji, then you will know how much this ideology has ruined Bengal,” he said.

He slammed Kerala government for joining farmers protest; “those ruling Kerala for years are joining Punjab farmers for selfies, but not doing anything for mandi system in own state. The groups who are talking about mandis, APMC are the ones who destroyed West Bengal, Kerala. There are no APMCs and mandis in Kerala. So, why are no protests in Kerala? Why don’t they start a movement there? But are only misguiding the farmers of Punjab,” he added.

The anger and frustration that was manifest today in Modi’s speech have much wider implication. First, he has come to realise that his lies were not working, secondly, he has been pushed in a corner where he is finding it difficult to strike back, third is this has denied him the opportunity to accomplish his mission of selling India to serve the interest of his corporate friends and finally the fourth, his idea of Make in India and Atmanirbhar Bharat proving to be non-starter. He nursed the opinion that with Donald Trump pushing his moves, he would dominate over China, as the “factory of the world”. His idea of One Nation, One Market is also stuck endangering his view of India being a consolidated economic unit governed by corporates, a step that undermines India’s federal state structure.

Modi is in a precarious state. He cannot either vomit or swallow the farm bills. The only way out is to brutally ravage the strike. It would boost his image amongst his foreign friends and “locals’ the corporates. He cannot allow consolidation of the farmers’ power and economy. Today’s developments send a clear message that the vilification campaign against the farmers would further intensify. May be the BJP may encourage its village and block level workers to agitate against the leaders and their families. If the sources are to be relied, the RSS is ready with its own insinuation agenda. The fight is going to be bitterest.

It is irony that the economist and academics supporting the farmers have also been lagging behind in evolving the strategy to fight the disinformation of RSS and Modi. Modi claims that he has reached Rs 6000 per year to a farmer. It implies that on an average a farmer gets Rs 16 every day. This amount has in fact not reached to all the farmers. The fund is transferred directly to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries. Interestingly the number of the beneficiaries has been consistently on decline.

Modi’s aides are also accusing the farmers of taking help of the adhatia, the middlemen. The adhatia gives loans in an emergency, without asking them, like the bank, to mortgage their land. For them, it is not simply about the end of a lucrative commission. They are part of a mandi regime that sustains small and middle peasants, pre-computer age munims (accountants) and unskilled labourers. While the government promises to double farmers’ income by opening the agrarian economy to private investors, the fact remains that small and marginal farmers, who make up 85% of the farm sector,will lose out. In the new set they will have little bargaining power and resources to deal with big corporate players.

Rahul Gandhi sought to widen the ambit of his attack on the government on farmer issues alleging "farmers, Dalits and women" are victims of "Modi’s Jumla strike". Yet another Jumla has come and this time from Rajnath Singh, the defence minister saying "Let farm laws be implemented from one year or two. Let’s try this as an experiment, and if found not beneficial for farmers, the government will be ready for all possible amendments.” Bihar revoked the APMC Act in 2006. The protesters said a move to eliminate middlemen in the eastern state of Bihar had failed to draw new investment and its farmers were worse off as they often had to resort to fire sales in the absence of organised wholesale markets. “Some landholders from Bihar now work our farms,” said a farmer. It failed in attracting private sector investment in marketing infrastructure, and creating more efficient markets for better price. Rice in Bihar sells at less than half the Punjab MSP.

Modi has not been sympathetic to the cause of the farmers is clearly evident from his stand that he continued to view the agitation as a conspiracy of the opposition political parties against him. Moreover he would not have dared to delink himself from the economic interest of the Ambanis and Adanis. That was the reason that he repeatedly said ’some people’ were spreading lies and rumours about farmers’ troubles, and dismissed the protests as motivated by political opponents. He said "MSP, etcetera were pushed aside and now what is happening. They are demanding release from jail of those accused of violence... They want highways toll-free. Why have they shifted from farmer’s issues to new demands". He said those with political agenda are not letting farmers engage in dialogue with the government to address their concerns.

The laws enacted by parliament in September are aimed at linking potential bulk buyers, such as WalMart Inc, Reliance Industries Ltd and Adani Enterprises Ltd, directly with farmers, bypassing government-regulated wholesale markets and layers of commission agents. But more than 60 rice, wheat and potato growers from Punjab and Haryana hold that the government was trying to privatise agriculture by eliminating the agents, who are a vital cog of the farm economy and for thousands of farmers, the main line of credit.

Leaders of the farmers’ unions are sure that Modi’s address was purely an attempt to “divide and mislead” farmers. They claimed that they do not allow any political parties to use their stage. “In public speeches, the prime minister said the MSP will remain. Then why is he afraid of giving a legal guarantee for it? Why cannot the government give it in writing,” said senior leader of the Sankyut Kisan Morcha Shiv Kumar Kakka.

He added, “PM Modi made an attempt to divide and mislead the farmers during his address today...in election rallies, he says his government has fixed MSP as per the recommendations of the M S Swaminathan Committee. But in court, they say it was not possible to do so.” All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee secretary Avik Saha asked why the Centre was not giving a legal guarantee on MSP. Saha said the prime minister on Friday only addressed farmers from six states and wondered why he did not address issues of protesting peasants.

A member of Sankyut Kisan Morcha said; “Modi claimed that the three farm laws will benefit farmers, but he did not tell how the new laws will be beneficial for the peasants.You cannot go away by saying that it is good law, you will have to prove how it is good for farmers. There should be arguments based on facts”.

Avtar Singh Mehma, state press secretary, Krantikari Kisan Union (Punjab), decried the government’s claim that some farmers are in support of the three laws as ‘false’ and said “We had targeted political parties like the Congress, the Shiromani Akali Dal and the AAP before we came to Delhi. So how can we be misguided by these political parties”.

Meanwhile, Banerjee on Friday accused PM Modi of trying to mislead the people with half-truth and distorted facts over the non-implementation of PM Kisan Samman Nidhi scheme in the state. She said Modi showed his apparent concern towards the farmers through a televised address, instead of proactively working to resolve their problems. “While he (PM Modi) publicly claimed his intention to help farmers of West Bengal through his PM Kisan Yojana and alleges non cooperation of the state government, the fact is that he is trying to mislead the people with half-truth and distorted facts,” Banerjee said in a statement.

She said that her government has always been ready to cooperate in the interest of the farmers. Maintaining that she has written twice to the Union agriculture minister and has even spoken to him two days ago, Banerjee said, “They are refusing to cooperate and are instead indulging in malicious propaganda for political gains”. The chief minister said that when the state is implementing so many schemes with the central government, the allegation of not cooperating on a scheme that is benefiting farmers seems absurd.

TMC MP Sougata Roy alleged; “BJP is repeatedly saying the farmers of West Bengal are being deprived of cash under this scheme. That is not true. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee had asked the Centre to route the cash benefits through the state government and not directly to the farmers. “The intention of the Modi government is to reap political benefits,” told Roy.

The interaction was part of a massive outreach programme planned by the government at a time when the talks between farmer unions and the Centre have hit a road block impasse over the farm legislations, which has drawn lakhs of farmers from neighbouring states to protest at Delhi’s borders for close to a month now.

“You would have seen that when the agitation started their demand was about MSP guarantee. They had genuine issues because they were farmers. But then those with political ideology took over,” Modi said. “MSP, etcetera were pushed aside and now what is happening. They are demanding release from jail of those accused of violence… They want highways toll-free. Why have they shifted from farmer’s issues to new demands,” he said. He alleged that those with political agenda are not letting farmers go into any dialogue with govt to address their concerns.

Meanwhile Congress, NCP, DMK, PAGD, RJD, SP, CPI(M), CPI, CPI(ML), AIFB and RSP leaders said, “We register our strong protest against baseless allegations being made by PM accusing opposition parties of “repeatedly lying” to farmers about new farm laws and “using them for their politics”. PM’s accusations are a complete travesty of truth. We demand that the present Agri Laws be repealed along with the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2020. Following this, discussions on agrarian reforms must be held by the Central government with the farmers and all stakeholders.”

Rahul Gandhi on Thursday alleged that Narendra Modi would go to any extent to discredit those who oppose his agenda of “transferring India’s wealth” to a few crony capitalists, arguing that agitating farmers were being defamed as they had stood up to oppose the Prime Minister’s plan to hand over agriculture to corporate entities.

Rahul said: “Farmers and labourers have understood that the BJP and Modi have only one objective. Modi works to make money for three-four capitalists. Anybody opposing this will be called a terrorist. Anybody standing against Modi is a terrorist now. If Mohan Bhagwat stands against Modi, he too will be called a terrorist. Even as the entire India opposes a decision, Modi will remain with his capitalist friends.”

Significantly a group of economists who have engaged for long with issues of agricultural policy believe that the farm laws are not in the best interests of the small and marginal farmers of the country, and about which a broad section of farmer organisations have raised very critical objections.

Nevertheless the strained relation between the BJP and the Sikhs has caused much worry among the senior RSS leaders. RSS attaches great importance to a harmonious relationship between Hindus and the Sikhs of Punjab whose home state borders Pakistan. They point out that Sikhs have been back bone of the RSS support base and any mind of their alienation would adversely affect the organisation. Some leaders argue that the BJP and especially Modi and his aifes must avoid the path of confrontation with them. Atal Bihari Vajpayee had struck an alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal keeping this in mind. Now with the Akali Dal dumping the NDA over the farm laws and Sikh farmers at the barricades, the RSS leaders afe quite worried of the political development.

These leaders also point the recitation of the holy Guru Granth Sahib while Modi had gone to Gurudwara for interacting with the authorities. It read; “No matter how many religious texts a man reads, it is all a waste unless he thinks about the welfare of humanity…. And when the end comes, where and how long will he run?”

The agitating farmers are highly critical of the Uttar Pradesh government issuing notice of Rs 50 lakh to protesting farmers in the state. The farm leaders from the Chandausi and Singhpur areas, have been observing protests since November 26. On the first day of the protest, nearly 400 people had gathered at a chowk in Sambhal. Days after notices were sent by the Sub-Divisional Magistrate in UP’s Sambhal asking farm leaders to submit personal bonds of Rs 50 lakh each to prevent them from “inciting” farmers to join the protests against the Centre’s new laws. The leaders said the notice itself is a means to “throttle democratic protest”.

The notices for Rs 50 lakh each were sent to six leaders in Sambhal, mainly office-bearers of Bhartiya Kisan Union (Asli). Similar notices seeking bonds of Rs 5 lakh each were sent to six others. They were issued on December 12 and 13 under section 111 of the CrPC, which authorises the magistrate to send a show-cause notice under a bond.

IN view of the offensive being launched by the Modi government against the agitating farmers it is certain that the situation will deteriorate. The apex court which has already been petitioned by many people must interfere and take the charge of the situation. It would be in the greater interest of the citizens and farmers of the country if the Supreme Court conducts a judicial and constitutional review of the three laws. It cannot wait to let the situation go out of hand. The Centre on Thursday already refused to assure the Supreme Court that it would not implement the three new farm laws till the bench had heard all the parties, setting up an exchange on who was being adamant.

Farmers across the country are agitating in a single voice for the rollback of the recently enacted farm laws. The new laws have the potential to restructure Indian agriculture in areas of production, procurement, marketing, pricing, stocking and land ownership. It should be made abundantly clear that these laws are meant to reform the agrarian scenario. Instead as the farmers allege, these have been enacted to help the corporate friends of Modi. While serious discussions are on in favour and against their possible impact on the livelihood of our farmers no attention is being paid to their effects on the landless and agricultural labourers.

How will the laws affect the employment and livelihood opportunities of the landless families? Out of the three contentious laws, The Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services, 2020 is going to have the most impairing repercussions for the landless labourers. The major element of the law is that it facilitates leasing of land from small farmers (possessing below 1.0 ha of land) and pooling of plots to turn them into large farms and cultivate them with modern machinery and technology. The Niti Aayog has been arguing that since small farms are non-profitable it is necessary to opt for corporate farming. If this is implemented in spirit and with no land reform agenda on the horizon, the law will lead to large-scale landlessness, unemployment and further impoverishment of rural India. As per the 2011 Census, there are 494.9 million (49.49 crore) landless individuals in villages, who are directly or indirectly dependent on cultivation for their livelihoods.

It is really sad that business and trade organisations like ASSOCHAM instead of coming out with a solution are simply provoking the Modi government to crack down on the farmers. While it appealed to the Centre and farmers’ outfits to resolve their issues regarding the new agri-marketing laws, as the protests are affecting the economies of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir.

“A daily loss of Rs 3,000-3,500 crore is resulting in the economies of the region from the value chain and transport disruption because of the protests,” the chamber said in a rough estimate. Its president Niranjan Hiranandani noted, “The size of the combined economies of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and J&K is about Rs 18 lakh crore. With the ongoing farmers’ agitation and blockade of roads, toll plazas and railways, the economic activities have come to a halt

Even the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) had said that the protests have led to a disruption of the supply chain, which will impact the economy in the coming days and may impinge upon the ongoing recovery from the economic contraction in view of Covid-19.

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