Farmer protests have gained momentum even as the Centre hints at some amendments to certain sections to farm bills
They feed us, are responsible for 18 per cent of India's GDP while 60 per cent of our population is engaged in their sector. Our farmers are our pride and the backbone of our economy. The agricultural sector is also the only one that managed to beat the ongoing pandemic even as the nation's GDP shrank by 23.9 per cent in April-June 2020. The least that our farmers deserve is to be heard and that too with respect.
The farmer protests in India is raging on as they continue to speak out against the recently passed farm bills. Hundreds of farmers from Haryana and Punjab camp at the Delhi's Singhu border. At the heart of the agitation is the plausible removal of minimum support price (MSP). While the Central government has denied this, the farming community is convinced that the government is planning to phase out and eventually remove MSP. In the last couple of years, the Central government had restricted states' power to give bonus over MSP, Niti Aayog opined the need for "reorientation of price policy" for farmers, among other signals. The latest bills allow farmers to sell outside the Agriculture Produce Market Committee (APMC) regulated markets. The farmers fear the complete removal of the MSP protection that has safeguarded their interests since the Green Revolution of 1960s. The farmers' biggest fear is to be short changed arm-twisted by corporates and with civil courts being disallowed to entertain the suits related to disputes, they fear that justice too will elude them.
Are the new farm bills all wrong? Perhaps not. The new laws promise of better security for the farmers but come across as pro-corporate and anti-farmer. There was also no attempt at first communicating with the target groups and factoring in their apprehensions. As in the case of many other recent laws, bulldozing legislation through Parliament due to the lack of an effective Opposition has resulted in massive protests. This time, however, the government may have no recourse at hand except heed the demands of irate farmers.
The Centre is now in intense talks with around 40 representatives of farm organisations. While a dissipation of the furore is not in sight, news reports suggest that the government is willing to amend three important sections of the farm bills, which could amount to a virtual rollback. If this is done, this will be a major victory for farmers at a time when protests against legislations have barely yielded anything. In the last four years, protests have emanated over demonetisation, National Register of Citizens (NRC), and Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) among others. But none have been able to move the central leadership to amend its decisions. That the farmers are able to achieve that in a peaceful, amenable manner that has won the hearts of the nation, is laudable.
As the videos doing the rounds show, today's farmer does not fit into the "poor, illiterate" mould that some would like to believe. They can be educated, well-spoken, smartly dressed with the ability to communicate their grievances with elan. While nuisances like Kangana Ranaut (who should learn to keep her gob shut; thank you, Diljit Dosanjh, for doing the needful) maliciously shame an elderly woman farmer accusing her of also being part of the anti-CAA protests in Shaheen Bagh and being available for Rs 100, the farmers have only shown resilience and class. Their protests may be serious but peaceful too accompanied by the generosity of feeding those very same cops who brandished their lathis at them. Refusing food at government meetings and sitting down to their own langar, camping inside tractors, listening to speeches and sloganeering — the farmers' 'Satyagraha' is Gandhian in every way. The government can ignore their demands at their own peril.
The writer is an author and media entrepreneur. Views expressed are personal