In a totally unexpected development, the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi in a national address early morning on 19th November 2021 had, on the occasion of Guru Nanak Birth anniversary called Guru Purab or Prakash Parv (a holy festival observed by the Sikhs on the birth/demise anniversaries of the their Saints/Gurus), announced the Government’s decision to repeal the three controversial Farm Laws the constitutional formalities of which are going to be completed in the winter session of the Indian Parliament starting from 29th November 2021. The Prime Minister, though, stoutly defended the Farm Laws saying that these reforms were brought in favor of the farmers, particularly the small and marginal farmers; however, he admitted that the laws could not convince sections of the farmers and dissatisfied cultivators cannot be left behind. Narendra Modi added that perhaps the government’s ‘dedication’ to uplift the cultivators of the country was not enough. The Prime Minister also promised to revamp and strengthen the Minimum Support Prices (MSP) of crops mechanism by appointing a committee of state representatives, farmers, agricultural experts and economists, and this step was also to be decided in the Parliament session.
The Farmers’ Movement has been going on for nearly a year with thousands of them camping in the outskirts of capital Delhi and suffering through all four seasons, many of them perishing in the camps. They have been observing various programs of highway blockades; rail blockades; Delhi marches during one of which on the Republic Day of 26th January this year there was a burst of unprecedented, arguably unintended, violence in the capital; marches to the Parliament; Bharat Bandhs; and so on. Around 11 rounds of talks with the Modi government failed to resolve the issue and the government allegedly tried to repress the movement in various ways like trying to win over factions to support the laws or taking tough measures in the areas of the camps and so on. The trust-deficit of the farmers in the Government of India has worsened so much that even now, at this welcome announcement, the top leadership of the farmers says that the movement will continue till the last nail on the cancelation of the three laws gets hammered in during the Parliament as promised.
Be it for the forthcoming assembly elections in five states including the crucial states of the definitive (for General Elections) Uttar Pradesh and Punjab where the BJP is still a minor player even after the Amarinder Singh defection from the Congress, or be it the final realization of the Prime Minister about the intrinsic fears lurking in the provisions of the laws this huge announcement is indeed very welcome-basically because no nation can survive for long keeping the food-givers unhappy and agitating; for the farmers it comes as the final victory; the success of democratic movements; and for the BJP a favorable factor to seal the assembly elections. As has been hailed all around the decision is indeed a political ‘masterstroke’ on the eve of the assembly elections early next year, suddenly taking away the main vote plank from the opposition political parties, particularly for the Congress tactics in Punjab and Uttar Pradesh. The opposition has largely welcomed the step calling it a victory for the farmers and that it marks the end of the ruling party’s ‘arrogance’.
Agrarian reforms have always been a contentious issue in most of the nations of the world, particularly India where agriculture is still the mainstay of the country’s economy. Attempts at reforming the farming sector have been going on since the British period and the post-independence era in India where many of the reforms proved to be big blunders while some of these seemed to have benefited the farmers. Most of the nations of the world have been following a capitalist form of agriculture with a regular mechanism of giving subsidies to help the land-holding phenomena of farming survive, and the concept of ‘cooperative farming’ in the most inclusive sense still remains a dream.
The Prime Minister while stoutly defending the three Farm Laws failed to mention the fact that many of the top Indian economists and agriculturists were bitterly divided over the issue-the main fear being the big capitalists taking over farming putting the farmers at their mercy for the MSPs or guaranteed prices and ending the land ownership cultivation of the small and marginal farmers. Yet, inequalities in the farming community continue to exist with some of them being affluent enjoying the benefits of technology while most of the small and marginal farmers continue to struggle at a subsistence level. Therefore, truly convincing and inclusive reforms are always welcome.
In any case, we heartily welcome this big announcement by the Prime Minister largely for the fact that one of the longest ever agitations, particularly by the food-givers, is finally going to end. Debates must go on for reforms and one of the main allegations of the opposition parties and other experts and leaders had been the fact that there was no debate before passing these crucial Farm Laws in Parliament. The target or the task is extremely difficult no doubt, because in a democracy it is well-nigh impossible to satisfy all stakeholders with a particular policy; however as we have said the efforts must be intensified democratically taking all into consideration.