Feb 26, 2024
Feb 26, 2024
It is not the first time that the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has surprised Indian masses with his odd time address to the nation; one such paradigm address was the sudden announcement of demonetization on 8 November 2016 at 9.30 PM which had shocked the entire nation with mixed yet worrisome thoughts and emotions. On the occasion of Gurupurab and Dev Deepavali on Friday, the 19 November 2021, he delivered yet another shocker to the nation in an early day-time address at 9.00 AM with the announcement of his government’s decision to repeal three farm laws. It is generally known to everyone that a section of farmers from the northern Indian states of Punjab, Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh has been agitating for it over a year now. The announcement is significant and shocking for many well-meaning people because despite farmers continued agitation and eleven rounds of talks earlier held with them, the farmers were adamant not to accept any alternative formulation and government was unwilling to stop the implementation of the farm laws, which are indeed in the larger interest of the vast section of small and marginal farmers of the country.
Salient Points of Prime Minister’s Address
Although Mr Narendra Modi touched other issues too such as the opening of the Kartarpur Sahib Corridor, Gurupurab and Dev Deepavali, his primary focus was on the farmers’ issues and three agricultural laws. He emphasized again that these laws were brought in the best interest of the nation and were particularly aimed at small and marginal farmers. He painstakingly also tried to explain his government’s intention which was absolutely pure keeping in view the welfare and benefit of the farmers. He regretted that despite their good intentions, sincerity and dedication for the welfare of farmers, and the best interest of agriculture and country, the government was not able to convince a section of farmers. During the course, even the agricultural economists, scientists and progressive farmers too had endeavoured to make the agitating farmers understand the importance of agricultural laws but their efforts proved futile. Although only a section of farmers was protesting but even their views were important for the government.
Then, Mr Modi painstakingly went on to elaborate how they (government representatives) had tried to explain farm laws to the agitating farmers with utmost humility and open mind, and had even agreed to change the provisions of the laws on which they (agitators) had objections. In fact, a proposal was made to suspend the operation of laws for eighteen months so that the time could be utilized by all parties to understand well the merits and demerits of the laws. In a nutshell, the government did not leave any stone unturned to accommodate and appreciate the arguments of the protesting farmers and propose solution thereto. Apologizing to the countrymen, Mr Modi said that perhaps there was some deficiency in their (government’s) penance that they could not explain to the farmer brothers the truth akin to the light of the lamp. He then announced that for these reasons he has now decided to repeal all three agricultural laws.
While making this announcement, Mr Modi also explained various measures taken during his tenure for providing and augmenting quality seeds, insurance, markets, savings, neem coated urea, soil health cards, micro irrigation, direct subsidies, FPOs (Farmers Producers Organisations), liberal crop loan, and so on to overcome the difficulties and challenges of small and marginal farmers of the country. Assuring that the constitutional process to repeal three agriculture laws will be completed in the ensuing Parliament session, he made appeal to the agitating farmers to return to their homes, families and fields. He also announced his decision to constitute a committee with representation of all stakeholders to address issues such as promotion of natural farming, scientific change to the favourable crop pattern and making MSP more effective and transparent. He concluded with the remark that whatever he did was for the farmers and whatever he was doing now was for the country.
Revisiting Legislation and Subsequent Developments
If one is inquisitive, one would easily find umpteen statements of political leaders of various parties in the Parliament and at public forums speaking in favour of the agriculture reforms and commensurate laws for over a decade. However, since the corresponding three agriculture bills were introduced and legislation passed in 2020 under the aegis of the present NDA regime, the same leaders of different opposition parties made a U-turn by not only opposing the laws but also inciting and supporting a section of farmers through overt and covert means. Three laws collectively catered to provide farmers with multiple marketing channels and a legal framework to enter into pre-arranged contracts along with many other improvements. The three bills, which became laws after the promulgation of the relevant Acts, are the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.
The most significant feature and underlined spirit of these laws is that the farmers can now engage in trade and commercial activities of their agricultural produce outside the physical markets as notified under various state Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) laws. The laws seek to empower the farmers with a foundational structure for engaging in contract farming, whereby they will have the facility to enter into a direct agreement with any buyer even before the sowing season with a price assurance so that the farmers could sell their produce at the pre-determined prices/rates. The law also provided for the amendment to the Essential Commodities Act, 1955 in vogue that limits the powers of the government in regard to the production, supply and distribution of the key commodities. The essence of the revised scheme was that every farmer would have option to continue with the existing system of MSP and APMC or take the advantage of the revised option of contract farming under new legislation whichever suits best to his requirements.
Soon after the acts were introduced, farmer unions mostly from Punjab started local protests, and in next few weeks other unions from neighbouring Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh too joined them. Soon the movement converted to “Delhi chalo” (March to Delhi) and agitating farmers seized all important routes from the neighbouring states to Delhi. While they were supported by the opposition political parties like the Indian National Congress, Aam Admi Party and Communist parties, the more disturbing trend has been the presence Pakistan and Khalistan supporter elements in the movement. During the protests, many objectionable videos, images and slogans were visible and raised by some protesters in support of Pakistan and Khalistan. Some protesters were seen putting on T-shirts and carrying posters of the Khalistani terrorist Bhindranwale and Khalistani flags. All this suggested that the radical elements from separatist organizations and ultra-Left elements had also made inroads among the agitating farmers.
Although the agitating farmers had started with many demands but their focus gradually shifted to repealing of three agricultural laws, making MSP (minimum Support Price) and state procurement of formers’ produce a legal right, repealing of the Commission on the air quality management in NCR Delhi and withdrawal of all police cases against formers and their sympathizers. The agitating farmers held a tractor rally in Delhi on 26 January 2021 in the inner parts of the capital from Sindhu, Tikri and Gazipur borders defying all protocols including the timing. While few farmer groups appeared to follow agreed protocol and route but a large unruly and chaotic assembly of the protesting farmers led by Nihangs on horses flashing swords, kirpans and fursas charged at the police, broke barricades and clashed with police at several points. The historic Red Fort became their final flash point, which was kept hostage for hours damaging and destroying the public property inside the fort, while a few unruly men climbed atop the rampart of the Red Fort hoisting a saffron flag, which was later identified as the Nishan Sahib, the religious flag of the Sikh pantheon.
Needless to mention that the Delhi police and federal government handled the said tractor rampage and anarchist behavior of agitators with utmost patience and care on the Republic day despite hundreds of injuries, provocations by miscreants in the garb of farmers and misinformation from the journalists like Rajdeep Sardesai. Efforts were also made by certain elements with links abroad to internationalize the issue and defame India worldwide. To do this, celebrities like the American pop singer Rihanna, Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg and ex-porn star Mia Khalifa of Lebanese-American origin were roped in; interestingly, these celebrities hardly knew anything about India and agriculture community. Later the names of international suspect firms, payment route and players abroad also surfaced who actually made heavy payments to the alleged celebrities for their intervention. Some other significant foreign personalities who directly or indirectly tried to intervene in India’s internal matter by rendering support to the said agitation in various ways include Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, Jagmeet Singh Dhaliwal, Canadian MP and well known Khalistan supporter, about a-half dozen US Democrat Congressmen, and some MPs of the Labour Party in UK.
During the last one year the Indian government had eleven rounds of talks with the representatives of the agitating Farmers’ Unions. Initially, the government proposed to discuss the new Agriculture laws with the farmer leaders clause by clause to understand the latter’s reservations and objections so as to amend laws where necessary but they remained adament for the total withdrawal of the legislation. Subsequently, the government even made the proposal of withholding the implementation of laws for one and a-half year so that during the intervening period the flaws could be examined for the needful course correction but even this suggestion was refused. All along for the last one year, the national capital Delhi was almost kept hostage by the agitating farmers renewing threats and demands from time to time. Several visits to the seize points by various journalists also revealed that the participating agitators had all material comforts and adequate preparedness for a long haul. While the farmer leaders of the participating unions and their supporters have celebrated the alleged victory after the announcement of the Government’s resolve to repeal the said laws, there are no visible signs of ending the agitation any time in the near future.
Ever Growing Demands of Farmers
When a section of farmers started agitation demanding complete withdrawal of the new legislation on agricultural reforms, this author had painstakingly examined the provisions of all the three laws and found that they were indeed in the best interest of all small and marginal farmers of the country comprising of over eighty-five percent of them. When a new reform or law in any area is introduced, it also carries some worries and apprehensions which are cleared with time on practical implementation. In the instant case, the old system of MSP and APMC markets were allowed to coexist with the revised scheme and thus the farmers had two clear options before them to choose whichever suited best. The apprehension of farmers that with the new laws the old scheme would cease to exist was clearly miscounted. Of course, the probability is that the success of the new scheme might lead to gradual decline or perhaps even discontinuance of the old system at some point but any time limit was neither specified nor anticipated for this.
Therefore, the author feels that the current decision about repealing the three Agriculture laws under the pressure of a section of the farmers in the North India is a retrograde step against the larger interest of the agricultural community of small and marginal farmers in the country as also the norms and practice internationally followed in progressive countries. As this author has been closely following these developments, he also remembers the opinion of some experts that this agitation will not stop even if the government decides to repeal three agriculture laws because the nature and objective of the agitation appears to be far beyond the scope of the agriculture laws. Apprehensions were expressed that as part of a larger conspiracy the real objective of the key players behind the agitation in India with their master minds abroad appears to tarnish the image of the ruling government and country with an ultimate goal of bringing down the Modi government. In the same context, with the available resources at the disposal of the government including various intelligence inputs, the concluding remarks of the Indian prime minister appears to be relevant and significant that whatever he did was for the farmers and whatever he was doing now was for the country.
All along the ongoing agitation, the demands of the agitators were to repeal three agriculture laws, allow Minimum support Price (MSP) as legal right, accept the Swaminathan Committee report, repeal Commission on Air Quality Management (AQM) and relevant Ordinance in the National Capital Region, reduction of diesel price by fifty percent and withdrawal of cases against farmer leaders, poets, intellectuals, lawyers, writers, human & democratic rights activists all over India. Many implementable provisions of the Swaminathan Committee report on agriculture have already been implemented over a period out of their hundreds of recommendations and it is so often being used by many as a political tool. Even the unreasonable and selfish demand of agitators about repealing the Ordinance and Commission on AQM was accepted by the government during negotiations. Reduction of diesel prices by fifty percent and withdrawal of legal cases against offenders is utterly absurd and unreasonable. The legislative process for repealing three Agriculture laws has already been undertaken by the government. Making MSP a legal right is nearly an impossible task with so many socio-political, economic and legal complications and cannot be done under the threat or blackmail.
The appropriate and graceful action on the part of the agitating farmers would have been to withdraw the agitation now vacating seize of Delhi borders which has been creating a lot of inconvenience to the general public and commuters for the last one year. Instead, some farmers have stated that they do not believe the words of the prime minister and will go ahead with the scheduled agitation plan in various ways till the stated legislation is formally annulled and other demands met; the plan inter alia includes a daily tractor rally to the Parliament from 29 November 2021 onwards. Apart from the demands posted in the past with insistence for the government to convene a special Parliament session to repeal the farm laws, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM) has now posed following more demands in an open letter to Prime Minister Modi on 22 November 2021, which only vindicates the fear of some experts expressed in the recent past that this agitation would not stop even if the government repeals three farm laws and concede other reasonable demands. The additional demands are briefly as under:
Implications of the Withdrawal of New Agriculture Laws
The first and foremost implication of the prime minister’s announcement regarding the repealing of the farm laws is that it would severely dent the government’s image and intention of doing good business. The reforms in the agriculture sector have been on the agenda of various political parties and a talking point of politicians, agriculturists and experts for over a decade. There may have been scope for further improvement in the farm laws but per se there was nothing wrong in various provisions contained in the notified laws giving option to farmers to continue with the existing system or adapt to new provisions whichever suited them well. Such unceremonious withdrawal will now only help the critics and opponents to further demonize these laws to use it against the very government who intends to withdraw it now.
The present fiasco with the new farm laws will probably put a break on any further agriculture reforms for a considerably long time by any government. As the saying goes ‘once bitten twice shy’, in future, every government will be hesitant and deliberate umpteen times before venturing to undertake any reform in the agriculture sector. In the instant case, it appears to be the victory of the upper five percent affluent farmers with large land holdings, many of them are also earning a lot of profit by operating as agents/middle men between the small and marginal farmers and APMC mandis, thereby controlling handsome business in the farm sector. Needless to mention that the problems of varying and fragmented rates in mandis of various regions, high fees of trading, limited number of mandis with insufficient options for farmers, poor infrastructure, high wastage of harvests, vicious circle of agents/middle men, were the chief reasons why the government was keen to give more options to farmers to sale and buy agricultural commodities under Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020.
The author does not remember a precedent in the last few decades when a government had ever taken action to repeal the legislation earlier passed during the tenure and at the initiative of the same government. Mr Narendra Modi led government has enacted many important legislations during the last few years including the abrogation of the redundant Article 370 of Constitution on the special status of Jammu & Kashmir and the Citizen Amendment Act (CAA) to rehabilitate the stateless refugees from the neighbouring Islamic countries by grant of Indian citizenship. A few political parties from Kashmir have been demanding the special status of Kashmir by restoring the erstwhile constitutional provision. Withdrawal of the farm laws will only encourage the opponents and critics to revive protests to press for the cancellation of such legislations. Mr Asaduddin Owaisi, leader of The All India Majlis-e-Ittehad-ul-Muslimeen (AIMIM), well known for openly playing the communal card, has already demanded the withdrawal of CAA following the PM’s decision to repeal the farm laws.
The conduct and statements of some farmer leaders in response to Indian prime minister’s initiative and action are unfortunate and regrettable. Besides, with their constantly changing stances and demands, their own creditworthiness in rebuilding of mutual trust has become a casualty. One leader was seen speaking in public on camera that he does not believe on what prime minister has announced until he actually does it in Parliament. Almost every public movement is characterized with certain implementable and unimplementable demands and parties negotiate and agree on settlement keeping practical aspects and genuine constraints in view. The current agitation has been unique in a way that the agitating farmers have not conceded “an inch” so far and more difficult demands have been added with time making the get going of the government increasingly difficult. Besides, the presence of Khalistan supporters, Pakistan sympathizers and ultra-left wing elements at venues raises many eyebrows and doubts about the very objective of the agitation.
Seize Points at Delhi Border Geared for a long Haul
Two recent protests organized against the present NDA government in the NCR region represent a paradigm shift in the history of agitations and against the contemporary governments to press for any public demand(s). One was the Shaheen Bagh protests organized by the Muslim community against the Citizen (Amendment) Act, 2019 from December 2019 to March 2020 supported by some opposition parties, a section of media and self-proclaimed Indian liberals while the other is the current Farmers’ Agitation against three Agriculture laws notified by the Central Government in September 2020. Conspicuously, most public agitations have suffered in past with inadequate fund mobilization, not so well organized gatherings, and arrangements for the participants’ transportation and sustenance at the protest sites. The Shaheen Bagh protests were remarkably well funded, perhaps sources of funding are still a subject of conjectures and study, with round the clock supply of staple food as Biryani and popular drinks with credible reports of people (mostly ladies) being daily paid for their attendance. Consequently, with the intent of gorging on free lavish eatables and money to participate, the impoverished section of the minority community appeared daily in hundreds religiously chanting the script given by the organizers.
The three main protest sites of the farmers’ agitation at Singhu, Tikri and Ghazipur besides many others appear to be so well organized with no dearth of funding support that many onlookers believe a kind of de javu sorts is happening at Delhi border. On and off presence of anti-national elements and Khalistani ideologue at these sites, and reports of funds inflows from foreign sources only add credibility to the controversial nature of the ongoing movement. What is clearly visible there are a score of langers and makeshift kitchens allegedly deployed by the farmers’ organizations and non-government organizations (NGOs) to cater for the daily food needs of the tens of thousands people staying in the farmers-camps. These langers are stated to be operating round the clock to provide free and fairly lavish food to all without any distinction or discrimination. The media has widely reported the serving of pizzas, dry fruits and nuts such as cashews and raisins besides the conventional food items like roti, rice, lentils, vegetables, buttermilk, tea, and so on. Apart from many Indian Sikh and Muslim organizations, some NRI-NGOs have also pitched in with their own contributions to run these langers. There are reports of even a make-shift school having been set up in the camp at the Singhu border.
Apart from the food and soft drinks, the people participating in agitation have reasonably satisfactory accommodation facilities with the provision of tents, furniture, solar-powered mobile charging points, library, laundry, medical stalls and dental assistance where procedures like tooth retraction, cleaning, filling and scaling treatments, and foot massage chairs for the elderly participants are provided. These supports are stated to have been provided by some domestic and international NGOs, including the UK based Khalsa Aid. In the context of healthcare, the name of Dr Swaiman Singh from Newark Beth Israel Medical Center is in the limelight, who is said to have made available a rather large team of doctors at the protest sites through his NGO providing free medical care to the participants. Besides, there are other volunteers too who help the needy in the camps in various ways including transport supplies. At certain points, the agitating farmer groups have even installed several CCTV cameras to keep a round the clock vigil and watch on the protest sites. Obviously, the aforesaid arrangements need a vast amount of money which is allegedly coming from various national and international sources.
Aftermath of Decision Repealing Agriculture Laws
The aforesaid arrangements and associated expenses are by no means a miniscule amount of money but its source and magnitude is largely unknown other than the contribution of some visible frontline organizations and NGOs. Though media reports talk about the assembly of tens of thousands people at various points, let’s assume an average gathering of only ten thousand with the food and drinks expenses of only Rupees 100 ($1.3) per person per day. The agitation has completed one year on 26 November 2021, hence with aforesaid assumption at least Rupees 365 million would be spent on food alone by now. In fact, compared to food, much more amount of money is needed to establish and maintain infrastructure, logistics and allied needs and expenses. This means that the amount spent on sustenance of the farmers’ agitation must have already surpassed Rupees thousands of million by now. Though such reports had appeared in the international media too but even “The Print”, an Indian online newspaper better known for the perennial criticism of Prime Minister Modi and his government, had published the story with money trail about the US singer Rihanna having been paid $2.5 million (about Rs 18O million) for her TWEET in farmers’ support in February 2021 through a Public Relations firm, namely Skyrocket.
Some Sikh organizations abroad and NRIs have proactively supported and pursued agitating farmers’ case in many Western countries. Consequently, some politicians and members of political parties in countries like Canada, US, UK, Italy, Australia and New Zealand made public statements in support or sympathy of the farmers. While such reactions from most other countries have been due to sheer ignorance or their ideological and liberal outlook, but the intervention of the Canadian PM Justin Trudeau was purely driven by his political interests and were outrageous enough to annoy Indian leadership and diplomatic circles. Experts believe that his reactions largely represented his political compulsions as his ruling party short of majority needs constant support of New Democratic Party (NDP) of Jagmeet Singh Dhaliwal alias Jimmy Dhaliwal, who is a proclaimed supporter and sympathizer of separatist Sikhs seeking Khalistan. The Poetic Justice Foundation (PFJ) and alleged Public Relations firm Sky Rocket are linked with Mo Dhaliwal, also based in Canada, who was allegedly associated with Rihanna funding and famous anti-India “toolkit” erroneously leaked by Greta Thunburg. Though the sources of such a massive funding needed to sustain Farmers’ agitation is subject of investigation but there are ample reasons to believe that it indeed has foreign sources and anti-India connection.
This author is undoubtedly against the Modi government’s decision to repeal the progressive farm laws under the pressure of one section of affluent and well-connected farmers from few North Indian states, while these laws were in larger interest of small and marginal farmers of the country that constitute over 85 percent of total farmers. India is still a primarily agrarian country with almost 70 percent population living in villages and dependent on agriculture and allied activities. The exact count of farmers is not available but even by conservative estimates, it won’t be less than 150 million (Pradhan Mantri Kisan Samman Nidhi estimated about 111.5 million eligible farmers). It’s not that all other farmers are silent or against the agriculture laws as many counter protests were also organized by farmers in various parts. The Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmers' union in Maharashtra, openly supported the farm laws and wanted the prices of agricultural commodities to be market driven. A group of 10 farmers' unions had staged rallies on 14 December 2020 in favour of the new agriculture laws. Under the banner of the All India Kisan Coordination Committee, farmer groups belonging to states such as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Haryana, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Telangana had expressed their support and solidarity with new farm laws. Similarly, about twenty thousand Kisan Sena members had marched to Delhi in support of farm Laws on 24 December 2020. These were impromptu initiatives and moves which can be sustained and continued only with a lot mobilization and funding support – lacking in these cases.
Some political analysts and self-proclaimed experts have suggested that the decision to repeal the farm laws have been taken by Modi government to woo the farmers keeping in view the ensuing state assembly elections in five Indian states. The states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur are due to elect their new assemblies in February/March 2022 and elections in Uttar Pradesh with the largest number of assembly seats are stated to be most crucial for the ruling Bhartiya Janta Party. In the past, some regional political parties and allies of BJP such as Shiromani Akali Dal in Punjab and National Democratic Party in Rajasthan too had withdrawn from the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in protest against the farm laws. Although the political parties in India and elsewhere too are known to play such gimmicks due to sheer vested interests but this author would avoid making any qualitative remarks on the stated suggestion merely based on surmises; however, he feels that the stated elections and loss of allies could also be a factor but for sure it cannot be the sole and determining reason for the regressive move of repealing the farm laws.
The current farmers’ agitation has raised certain disturbing and alarming concerns as is evident from the visual clips and images as well as messages circulating on the social and electronic media. In many instances, protesters were seen raising slogans in support of Khalistan and Pakistan flashing swords and other lethal weapons while simultaneously dumping abuses on India and Prime Minister Modi in person. Several objectionable images/video clips have emerged and seditious messages circulated on the social media. Ironically, the agitating farmer leaders all along maintained stoic silence on these developments and none of them ever came forward to moderate the unruly crowd or own any responsibility. In the recent past itself, at least two toolkits have come to the fore with the purported motives of causing disaffection and disenchantment among masses about the existing ruling dispensation in India. Recent violent incidents in Lakhimpur Kheri district of Uttar Pradesh too is indicative of a larger conspiracy that certain forces are out to create violence and unrest in various parts and squarely put the blame on the central government.
The majority people have short memory and tend to forget or relate incidents. In the context of the farmers’ agitation itself, this author still remembers the video message of Canada based PFJ co-founder and Khalistan supporter Mo Dhaliwal, “If the farm bills get repealed tomorrow, that is not a victory. This battle begins with the repeal of the farm laws. It does not end there. Anybody who tells you that this is going to end with the repeal of the farm bills is trying to drain energy from the movement.” The Indian government has already initiated action to repeal the farm laws but the Farmers’ joint front, instead of heeding to Prime Minister’s appeal, has now projected more difficult demands and announced their plan to escalate agitation to other states of India and abroad as well. In this regard, the statement of Prime Minister Modi “whatever he did was for the farmers and whatever he was doing now was for the country” appears to be very significant and further developments in the ensuing weeks will probably unravel what is hidden underneath.
Ironically, while the agitating farmers, opposition political parties, a section of media and liberals in India, and their sympathizers abroad are against the implementation of the Indian farm laws; the International Monetary Fund, agriculture economists and scientists worldwide find it a progressive step to reform the farm sector. Many developed and developing economies in the world had introduced such reforms in their agriculture in 1980s and 1990s itself encouraging participation of the public sector. Even Canada back home has favoured similar reform but their prime minister is now opposing such reforms in India. If the leaders of the farmers’ agitation were well-intentioned, they should have also tried to understand the resources and constraints of the nation and government and, accordingly, fine tune their expectations and demands. For instance, during last one year even a single farmer has not died on account of any government action but they are now claiming compensation and status of martyrs for 700 farmers. The way they have indulged in a course of confrontation with the government, the possibility cannot be ruled out that they are indeed a part of the greater design of in-house and international conspiracy of planning upheaval and insurrection in India to bring down Modi regime.
More by : Dr. Jaipal Singh