As a voracious consumer of Times of India’s news content be it TV, print or digital, I sincerely appreciate the fact that the coverage on the ongoing 51 day Kisan stir has been more than fair and perhaps more than accommodating when it comes to the genuine and legitimate concerns several farmers may have about the three farm laws brought passed by Parliament, which the BJP and its allies tout as the most historic reforms in agriculture , pitching it as a 1991 moment of sorts.
The coverage has been largely mindful to ensure that farmers are not demonized or broadly labeled as “Khalistanis” and has given space to them to air their grievances with a sympathetic view.
The Modi government on its part has conveyed its openness to amend the said legislations and has tried to break bread and common ground in a series of discussions with farmer representatives. This even while many groups have now rejected the latest offer by the Supreme Court, which in its wisdom formed a committee comprising of four eminent personalities, intricately linked to agriculture, to address their issues over these laws while simultaneously staying their implementation . The indication perhaps clear that agitating farmer groups must put dialogue over dharna and engage rather than indefinitely blockade. But after unrelenting attack by some kisan netas and the opposition, on the integrity of the SC constituted panel, one of its members, Bhupinder Mann, national president of BKU, has recused himself even before dialogue could begin. Even while the future of this court mandated committee now hangs in thin balance, it prompts me to ask a few basic questions of the self-appointed custodians of farmers, who have been consistently trying to derail any Samadhan and almost pressing ahead for a Republic Day Ghamasan.
Q1 ) If the charge of bias against the likes of experts like Ashok Gulati, PK Joshi or Mann is legitimate the will the same hold true for “kisan netas” like Yogendra Yadav, Hannan Molah, Rakesh Tikait and others too ? Hannan Mollah was a CPI(M) Member of the Parliament between 1980 and 2009. Yadav is the founder and president of Swaraj Abhiyan. Tikait has contested multiple elections on a ticket from the RLD and lost on all occasions. Baldev Singh Nihalgarh began with CPI’s youth wing, AIYF. CPIM’s All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has been an integral part of the All India Kisan Sangharsh coordination committee (AIKSCC) that is spearheading the agitations and talks. All of them are and continue to be stridently anti-BJP and anti-Modi in their political and ideological agenda. Yet, the Modi government was willing to engage with these elements despite their bias.
Q2) By refusing to approach the SC mandated panel and attacking it have these Kisan groups and netas not shown that they have no faith in the very same Supreme Court which their ideological partners were happy to approach for mediation and conciliation on other political issues? Can commitment to constitutional authorities be conditional based on convenience?
Q3) Haven’t the same lot of newly minted kisan netas, who in their earlier avatars as pure netas, spoken of dialogue and tolerance lacking ever since PM Modi ascended o power in 2014? Today, they are showing the same intransigence and lack of tolerance when they essentially say “my way or highway” by setting a pre-condition of full roll back of the farm laws. What about those farmer groups – 15 main groups and 70 or so organisations across the country are in favour of these laws, including Bhartiya Kisan Sangh or CIFA which boasts of memberships of crores? Only 6% of Indian farmers admittedly benefit from minimum support prices (MSP). What about the 94% who do not? The farmers who grow crops, fruits, vegetables that are not covered by MSP? Or the crores of farmers who are not on the streets protesting the laws?
Q4) Who gains by adopting a maximalist position? That nothing less than the total repeal of the farm laws is good enough? Will this magically help non-MSP benefitting farmers access this market intervention by the Government?
Q5) Will those who liberally label every advocate of reforms process as an agent of Big Business answer if everyone from Dr MS Swaminathan to the various reports – from Standing committee reports on Agriculture to the Bhupinder Hooda led panel report to the manifestos of Congress, AAP in Punjab and DMK , that pushed for these exact same reforms in the exploitative Mandi system or for a private sector push – are they all on the payrolls of Big Business?
It cannot be Hum Kare to Chamatkar (miracle) , Modi kare to Gunahgaar (criminal) . That would be plain double standards. In several reports, farmer groups themselves have been demanding an alternative to the monopolistic Mandi system.
P. Sainath, an Indian journalist and author of the book Everybody Loves a Good Drought who was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay Award, once wrote of the “sins of commission” of Punjab’s Arhtiyas while citing a 2010 study recommended that this “system, in which the payment of the farmers’ produce is made through the commission agents, should be scrapped.” Would he also be called an agent of Big Business?
The fact is that liberalization and reforms have been beneficial for India. From telephones to media to the 1991 economic reforms that unleashed the animal spirits of Indian economy – they have all increased consumer choices, competition, reduced prices and increased prosperity significantly. There is no reason why farmers too should not be allowed to partake of this great success story of Indian reforms. Those who deny farmers this chance 74 years after India ‘s independence are not kisan netas but political opportunists of the worst kind.
Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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