The President gave his approval to the two controversial agriculture bills passed by Parliament earlier. These measures have been labeled 'anti-farmer' by both the opposition and long-time BJP ally Shiromani Akali Dal. Harsimrat Kaur Badal, Minister of Food Processing Industries and the only SAD representative of the Modi government, resigned from the Union Cabinet, protesting against the bills, alleging that the bills were harmful to the agriculture sector of Punjab. After this, Shiromani Akali Dal, the BJP's oldest ally, left the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).
What are the three agriculture-based reforms in dispute?
The House was responsible for the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation), the Price Guarantee and Farm Services Agreement of the Farmers' (Empowerment and Protection), and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act and obtained the President's approval to translate them into legislation. Minister of Agriculture Narendra Singh Tomar ensured that the Minimum Support Price System would remain in place and that adequate protection of ownership of land was in place to protect farmers' interests.
For what reason are they?
The Government has indicated that these reforms would accelerate sector growth through private sector investment in infrastructure construction and farm supply chains in national and global markets. They are intended to assist small farmers who do not have the resources to either negotiate for a better price for their product or invest in technology to increase farm productivity. The Agri market bill seeks to allow farmers to sell their goods to everyone they want outside of APMC'mandis.' Via rivalry and cost-cutting on shipping, farmers can get better prices. This Bill, however, may mean that states would lose 'commissions' and 'mandi fees'. The contract farming legislation would allow farmers to enter into a pre-agreed price deal with agri-business companies or large retailers. The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020, seeks to delete the list of essential commodities from commodities such as cereals, pulses, oilseeds, edible oils, onions, and potatoes. Except under exceptional situations, this would bring an end to the imposition of stock-holding caps.
In Punjab and other parts, farmers are protesting against these reforms. Badal, too, tendered her resignation after the Bills were passed. Opposition parties, including TMC, Congress, DMK, and BSP, opposed the agriculture sector reform bills, arguing they were against the interests of small and marginal farmers. "Congress raised its ante against Prime Minister Modi's government, calling the move a conspiracy to defeat the Green Revolution. Congress leader Gaurav Gogoi slammed the government saying, "This government has looked at how they can take farmers' land to support their capitalist friends, whether it is the Land Acquisition Act, whether it is in the industrial system by weakening the laboratory.
Farmers across India have a feeling that there is something major and probably bad on the way, something they don't completely understand. They also know that in many parts of the world, farmers are angry and protesting. But their own reactions differ. Farmers in the Northwest are furious, those in the West are worried, those in the South are uncertain, those in the East are calm and their counterparts in UP and Bihar are unaware of anything. I was shocked by the level of awareness of the farmers about the laws and protests of farmers. As many as two-thirds of farmers know that farmers are protesting in the country (as many as 91 percent in Punjab and Haryana). Almost half of them when asked why will say they are protesting against the new farm laws. Very impressive, I thought. Perhaps more impressive is that two-thirds (82 percent in the Northwest, but just 48 percent in the East) have learned about the new farm laws, although the understanding of each of the laws is much lower. The bad news for the government is that among farmers, the farm laws are getting a bad reputation. The decision is negative when asked whether they are in favor or against these laws: 52 percent against and 35 percent in favor. To be sure, the particulars of these laws are not really known to more than half of the defenders and opponents. And as predicted, across regional and class divisions, the answers are inconsistent. Yet in politics, this general negative feeling is what matters. One undisputed aspiration and demand of farmers is underlined in the survey: the guaranteed MSP for farm produce. When asked if the MSP should be required by statute, the answer is a resounding yes: 59% of farmers vote for it while 16% reject it. Help is obviously higher (81% in the Northeast, 80% in the West) in areas that have a working procurement system and among those farmers who sell their crops for MSP.
The bad news for the opposition is that the Modi government is still not seen to be "anti-farmer" amid strong and growing anger towards these three laws. Those who say so are 28%, as opposed to 44% who already believe it is "pro-farmer." Haryana and Punjab are, once again the only exceptions. But there was a slight change when the same issue was framed differently. When farmers were asked to name the community most cared for by the Modi government, 35% said it cared most for farmers, while 45% said the government of Modi cared most for traders, corporations, and MNCs. Another wave of the farmers' movement and the government of Modi could well receive the "anti-farmer" tag. On 26 and 27 November, the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), the country's largest alliance of farmers' organizations, released a call for 'Dilli Chalo' [Disclosure: the author is a member of its apex working group]. Before this street-war takes place, a battle for farmers' minds will take place over the next month. If they see and present it as a revolt of the entitled one the government and a part of the media will live in denial. If they view it as a revolution of the enlightened vanguard, the opposition and farm activists could indulge in a wishful fancy. As of now, there is nothing more, and nothing less than the uproar of those who are willing to stand up and speak up, and those who have what it takes. An uproar like that appears to percolate. If so, it's a losing wicket for the Modi government.