Farmers’ Agitation Is Modi Govt’s Biggest Test

Forget the Covid pandemic; forget the economic downturn; forget election debacles or political crises. The biggest test that the Modi regime, soon to turn seven years old, has been subjected to during its ongoing tenure is the deafening protests by farmers against the changes that the Indian government has sought to bring about in the way farmers are able to grow, market, and price their produce.

In the last three months, protests by farmers have reached a crescendo. On January 26, which was India’s 72nd Republic Day, a group of angry farmers deviated from their designated protest route, tried to storm the historic Red Fort, and clashed with police. As that was happening, a few kilometres away, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was presiding over the official Republic Day celebrations on Delhi’s Rajpath.

At least 70 farmers have died during the raging protests against three laws that the government has passed. And, the protests, which began in the northern state of Punjab, have now spread across the country. What makes the controversial farm laws and the protests against them such a big trial for Modi and his government? For an answer, let us first recapitulate the new laws and their impact.

The three new farm laws change decades-old policies regarding procurement and storage of farm produce. One law permits the setting up of mandis (or trading places) that are de-regulated from government control—that is, where farmers can sell directly to all traders at prices they negotiate rather than to only government licensed traders; another law permits farmers to enter into contract farming through deals with corporate entities and to grow whatever crops they decide to under contract; and the third allows traders to stock produce with less restrictions than at present.

The government’s rationale for these changes is ostensibly this: they will enable farmers to sell at whatever prices they want and to anyone they want to; and to be able to enter into contracts that could assure them regular and steady streams of income. From the ongoing protests, which have been escalating, it is quite evident that the farmer community has not bought this logic.

Farmers and their supporters feel that especially the smaller farmers whose incomes are meagre will be hit by the new measures. First, their produce volumes are too small for them to be able to negotiate prices with traders who aren’t regulated—thereby they would likely be exploited. Second, although the government has assured that the mandi system will not be dismantled, farmers fear that the new “unregulated” mandis will consequently do exactly that, and that small and medium farmers will suffer. Lastly, contract farming, they fear is a way of giving the corporate sector easy access to the farm sector.

Nearly 60% of 1.3 billion Indians depend either directly or indirectly on agriculture, which accounts for 18% of the GDP. But the farm sector is severely skewed. Almost 70% of Indian farmers own land that is less than 2 hectares (20,000 sq. m) in area. And as much as a quarter of Indian farmers subsist below the poverty line. Moreover, because of lack of alternative employment opportunities millions of Indians depend on the farm sector without really contributing to productivity.

Against that background, reforms in the agriculture sector are overdue. But changing the system of pricing and procurement of crops without other structural changes in the sector cannot be a solution. In fact, it could lead to further suffering for millions of Indian farmers. The farmers’ protests are a sign of how acute the problem is. And, for the Modi government, it is the most critical test that it faces in its tenure thus far. In 2016, Prime Minister Modi announced a sudden decision to demonetise large currency bills. Ostensibly, it was with the intent of limiting or detecting unaccounted money in the system. What resulted was: widespread suffering for small traders, daily wage earners and other large segments of the population that operate in the “cash economy”. Those with so-called unaccounted wealth went largely unscathed.

Demonetisation was certainly a critical test that the government faced. But its effects—on economic growth and on small businesses—were not nearly as serious as the impact of the new farm laws have been. Over the last few days, the clashes between farmers and the authorities have turned more violent, particularly in the areas surrounding the capital city of Delhi. The authorities resorted to blocking of Internet in various areas around the capital and neighbouring states—purportedly in efforts to curb social media interactions. Police resorted to tear gas and baton charges against thousands of protestors. Already, the ripples of what is happening in India have reached the world outside. And questions are being asked about the true value of democracy in a country that prides itself as being run on the highest democratic principles.

ALSO READ: The World Is Taking Note Of Indian Farmers’ Protest

The police and authorities’ action against famers’ protests have also spilled over to affect others. A freelance journalist, Mandeep Punia, who was covering the protests, was arrested on the border between Delhi and Haryana last weekend. He was granted bail after spending two days in custody and much outrage. Others have had cases filed against them for reporting or broadcasting news that has been considered “anti-government”.

But the more serious issue is that India’s mainstream media has almost been rendered toothless in recent years, particularly after the current government came to power in 2014. It does not require media experts to see how the majority of mainstream TV news channels and print publications largely avoid taking on the government and critiquing its policies. When they choose to do so the critiques are of the milquetoast variety, tailored not to ruffle the feathers of those in power too much. In any democracy, the role of the media as the fourth estate should be that of a watchdog. In India, at least when you look at it from a dispassionately distanced point of view, it may seem that the mainstream media is more of a lapdog.

For the Modi government, the farmers’ agitation has other possible consequences. The farm sector’s voters aggregate as the largest block during any election. And although the government at the Centre is safely ensconced for the next four years, there are crucial state elections that are due and those could be impacted by which way farmers decide to vote. Also, if the agitations escalate and food supplies are affected across India, they could have other economic consequences such as inflation and distribution bottlenecks. Already reeling from the impact of the Covid pandemic, the economy could be hit further. For the Modi government the farmers’ agitation over the controversial laws could be something that could bring it to its knees.

Modi govt 1-man show: Shatrughan Sinha

The Paradoxical Prime Minister, Narendra Modi And His India, penned by Thiruvananthapuram MP and Congress leader Shashi Tharoor. The actor-turned-politician, who has often been critical of the various policies of the Narendra Modi-led NDA government, said people of the country needed jobs and better facilities instead of promises and jumlas (rhetoric). “I am not just talking about Rs 15 lakh. I am not against him (Modi). I am personally against the one-man show and the two-men army. They are running the country. What kind of scene is this?” Sinha asked. Sinha further said that some people had asked him that being an actor, why was he expressing his opinions on demonetisation, GST and other issues. “If a lawyer can talk on financial issues, without having any experience and knowledge, if a TV actress can become the HRD minister, and a tea-seller, though he never was one but thanks to media propaganda, can reach this height, then why can’t I,” he asked. The former Union minister said he had enough experience in the film industry to speak about demonetisation in the national interest. Sinha said people can decide whether the prime minister was paradoxical or absurd after reading Tharoor’s book. Meanwhile, Tharoor invited Sinha to join the Congress saying there was “room for a hero” like him. He also lashed out at Modi and said that despite being an exceptional orator, the prime minister mysteriously goes silent every time a Dalit or a Muslim gets flogged. “He is the most eloquent prime minister in recent memory. But when a Dalit is flogged or a Dalit student commits suicide or a Muslim Air Force havildar’s father is beaten to death on false suspicion of having beef, this eloquent prime minister becomes mysteriously silent. This is one paradox. This book is full of paradoxes. You have somebody who says something and does the opposite,” he added. Tharoor also pointed to the report of Ministry of Home Affairs which said 97 per cent of incidents of communal violence related to cow protection since Independence happened during this regime. “Am not denigrating the prime minister through this book. You don’t require 500 pages to do that. I have documented his career growth and analysed his four-and-a-half-year growth in the book. This is a biographical profile of Modi,” Tharoor said. Leader of Opposition in the Kerala Assembly Ramesh Chennithala, former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and other leaders also participated in the event. (PTI)]]>

#Rafale: SC clears govt process, bins pleas

CJI Ranjan Gogoi says ‘there is no reason for interference in the choice of offset partner and perception of individuals can’t be the basis for roving inquiry in sensitive issue of defence procurement’. #RafaleDeal

— ANI (@ANI) December 14, 2018 The court said nobody questioned the procurement of Rafale jets when deal was finalised in September 2016. It added that questions were raised on the jet deal only after former French president Francois Hollande came out with the statement. This cannot be the basis of judicial review, it said. The court said it cannot compel the government to procure 126 or 36 fighter jets. That depends on its decision. The verdict was pronounced on a batch of pleas seeking a court-monitored probe into deal. The apex court reserved its verdict on the batch of pleas on November 14. Advocate ML Sharma was the first petitioner in the case. Later, another lawyer Vineet Dhanda had moved the apex court with the plea for court-monitored probe into the deal. AAP leader Sanjay Singh has also filed a petition against the fighter jet deal. After the three petitions were filed, former Union ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie along with activist advocate Prashant Bhushan moved the apex court with a plea for a direction to the CBI to register FIR for alleged irregularities in the deal. (PTI)]]>

#FarmersMarch: Activists haul up Centre

Farmers rise! @newssting1 cartoon #FarmersMarch pic.twitter.com/LGAoPiaDe8

— Satish Acharya (@satishacharya) November 30, 2018 They were stopped near Parliament Street police station, after which they assembled there. Over 3,500 police personnel have been deployed on the route of the march. According to a senior police officer, special arrangements have been made in Central and New Delhi police districts. Farmers have come to the national capital from different parts of the country, including Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh. Banded under the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, which claims to be an umbrella body of 207 organisations of farmers and agricultural workers, many farmers arrived in the city on trains, buses and other modes of transport. CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury, CPI leader S Sudhakar Reddy, AAP MP Sanjay Singh and former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Farooq Abdullah also joined the protesting farmers in the heart of Delhi. Reddy, the national secretary of the CPI, alleged that the BJP dispensation led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi is most the “anti-farmer government”. “Modi government tried to pass the Land Acquisition (Amendment) Bill. But, as the opposition parties opposed it, the bill was not passed in the Rajya Sabha. If the BJP wins again then it will take steps to pass the controversial bill,” Reddy said. He alleged that the BJP government at the Centre has no wish to implement the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendation All farmers bodies across the country have been demanding implementation of the panel’s report. Yechury said, “This is the same police station (Parliament Street police station) where Bhagat Singh was taken into custody for throwing a bomb (in the Legislative Assembly).” “We have the power of votes, if the government does not change its stand, it will be overthrown,” he said, adding, from Kashmir to Kanyakumari the country is united and “we will remove Modi (in the next elections)”. Anjaan added that continuous neglect of farmers will “ensure Modi’s and the BJP’s downfall in 2019”. Swaraj India leader Yogendra Yadav said the protest – Kisan Mukti March 2018 – to Delhi is a historic development as not only farmers across the nation have been assembled under one platform but also it has enjoyed supports from all section of society. TMC leader Dinesh Trivedi said, “Farmers of India stands before us. This is India’s movement. Mamataji (Banerjee) has sent you love. If you have a strong resolve you can achieve everything. There are talks about loan waiver but should the farmer even have to take loans.” He also said this gathering was the “real parliament” and called for a special session of Parliament. NCP chief Sharad Pawar said the condition of farmers in the country needs to be changed but the government is “not sympathetic” towards their plight. (PTI)]]>