Tuesday, December 6, 2022
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Farmers’ protest a big challenge for Modi. Bigger than demonetisation, GST

Rural distress has been on the rise, stoking farmers’ anger. And politics has added fuel, making it a lethal cocktail.

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Delhi’s borders have been witness to violent clashes between farmers and the police since Thursday, with thousands marching to the national capital to protest against the three farm laws enacted by the Narendra Modi government in September.

Though farmers from six northern states — Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh — are participating in the agitation, it is mainly those from Punjab who are at the forefront. They were the first to revolt against the Modi government’s farm legislation, squatting on rail tracks and bringing train operations to a grinding halt in the state for almost two months. It’s an irony that farmers from Punjab are leading the ongoing agitation. Called India’s bread basket, Punjab happened to be one of the main beneficiaries of the Green Revolution in the 1970s that transformed agriculture, and along with it the lives of farmers in the state. It’s also an irony that farmers are agitating at a time when the agriculture sector has been the silver lining for the Indian economy, even during the pandemic when industry and services came to a virtual standstill.

But things have changed since the 70s. Rural distress has been on the rise, stoking farmers’ anger. Politics has added fuel, making a lethal cocktail. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) alleges that the Congress government in Punjab, led by Amarinder Singh, has incited the farmers against the “progressive” central laws.

Be that as it may, the agitation has, once again, put the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government under the spotlight.

For a government that successfully managed the political fallout of demonetisation and goods and services tax (GST), got voted back to power and has rarely taken a wrong step politically, it has found itself at the receiving end of the ire of the farmers — a significant vote bank — not once, but a couple of times in its tenure.

And that is why the farmers’ protest are ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.

Also read: Farmers allowed to protest in Delhi after tear gas & water cannons, but will remain at border

Laws that divide

The farmers apprehend that the laws will open the doors to corporatisation of the farm sector, a charge denied by the government. The latter has hailed it as a landmark legislation that will free the farmers from the tyranny of mandis (agriculture market), and give them the freedom to sell their produce anywhere in India.

But the farmers are not convinced.

Both, farmers and the government, are holding their ground. While the farmers want the three farm laws to be repealed and a new law with a provision that ensures the Minimum Support Price (MSP) is not tinkered with, the government has maintained that MSP is not being done away with.

Also read: Worried about 2022, Punjab BJP wants Shah & Nadda to quickly resolve farmer protests

Agriculture in pandemic economy

In the April-June quarter, when the Indian economy contracted by 23.9 per cent, agriculture grew by 3.4 per cent. Even in the July-September quarter, when the economy contracted by 7.5 per cent, agriculture grew by 3.4 per cent.

Helped by a normal monsoon and record Kharif sowing, the rural economy has also sustained overall demand at a time when demand in the urban economy has remained subdued on account of loss of jobs and livelihood.

Agriculture was also a major benefactor of the Modi government’s economic support packages. Higher than budgeted allocations for the rural employment guarantee scheme and fertiliser subsidy have further supported the rural sector.

Record kharif sowing across more than 1,000 lakh hectares with a good monsoon has raised expectations of a good harvest. A good rabi harvest has provided a boost to income levels. Employment under the MGNREGA has further added to rural incomes. All this has translated into higher rural demand.

Tractor sales, an indicator of rural demand, have seen a substantial jump this year as compared to 2019 and that too at a time when overall vehicle sales are lower.

Tractor sales grew in double digits this financial year as against a decline registered in other vehicle segments.

The rural economy has also been a growth driver for fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG) companies. According to a Neilson report, the FMCG sector registered a double-digit growth in the rural areas in the July-September quarter even as overall sales grew only 1.6 per cent during the period.

Even though the pandemic has spread into rural areas, the rural economy has been spared any wide scale disruptions.

Also read: BJP alleges Khalistani agenda behind farmer protests, says Congress playing with fire

Modi govt and farmers

In its first term, the Narendra Modi government was forced to retract its proposal to ease the land acquisition norms fearing political backlash, following massive protests across the country. But the peace it bought with the farmers was short lived.

Farmers’ angst in nooks and corners of rural India had been simmering, bursting out in spurts of violence like the one witnessed in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur in 2017 where farmers were protesting, demanding loan waiver and higher crop prices. Six farmers were killed in police firing after the protest became violent.

This was followed by the 2018 farmers’ agitation in Maharashtra. Irked by the poor implementation of the loan waiver schemes, thousands of farmers undertook a march from Nasik to Mumbai demanding redressal. Though the Maharashtra government at the time decided to fulfil the farmers’ demands, it was, however, not implemented.

It’s not that farmers’ agitation has picked pace only since 2014. But agriculture sector experts say farmers’ grievances have mostly remained unaddressed. Though Left-backed organisations such as the All India Kisan Sabha have been rallying behind the farmers, organising them across the country under one umbrella coalition, the movement has lacked strong farm leaders of the likes of Charan Singh and Mahendera Singh Tikait.

Tikait, who had led a massive march of a few lakh farmers to Delhi’s Boat Club in 1988 — demanding among other things, waiving of electricity and water charges for farmers — bought the Lutyens’ to a grinding halt for two days. The protesters had forced then Congress government led by Rajiv Gandhi to accept all their demands.

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  1. Good article. Opening agriculture fully to the vagaries of the market will only move power from the farmers to corporation. The agricultural sector is composed mostly of monopolies and oligopolies, which means that the corporations will have pricing power. This is the case in every other country where companies like Cargill, Tyson, Continental Grain etc. There are hardly any farm owned farms in such markets, as scale plays an important part and the business model is towards corporate farming. Even then most corporate farms are provided with subsidies by the respective govt because the cost of inputs for farmers is always rising but the world prices for agricultural goods fluctuate even below cost in many instances . Putting a floor on prices allows farmers to work in a stable environment and thereby plan for the future, being exposed to monopolies having pricing power it will only be a matter of time before the small and mid size farmers will be squeezed out of the market entirely to make way for large scale farming operations. Once the family farm has been liquidated there is no plan by the central govt to find jobs and livelihoods for these people- land is capital and with the govt current policy this capital will be in fewer hands , India will remain a 3 world country shedding more people to the dustbin of poverty, making no progress to improve the standards of its people and the rich will get richer accumulating more capital . The funny thing is no one will ask why or question which policy helped the rich to become richer – however I’m quite sure Pakistan, China or some other unseen enemy working in the shadows will be blamed. In short, my question is what is the plan once family farms start being liquidated and entire families thrown out in the streets, what great magic trick will India pull to provide these people with livelihood – monopolies and oligopolies at the margins limit costs such as labour. From this perspective it looks like the farmers are saving India from itself.

    • ‘In short, my question is what is the plan once family farms start being liquidated and entire families thrown out in the streets, what great magic trick will India pull to provide these people with livelihood …’

      The idea is to employ them as cow vigilantes, get them to run cow shelters, use them as RSS hirelings for riots etc.

  2. Looks like writer has written all this just sitting in her room. The current protests are more or less sponsored and lack and ground support. Modi already won in Bihar which clearly indicate that the farmer’s are fine with this law.

  3. Although the agitation presently covers farmers from Punjab and Haryana, agrarian distress is widespread. The early response to this protest has not been sure footed. Between Radha Mohan Singh and his successor, difficult to judge who has been a less invisible, ineffectual presence. This is serious rocket fuel, but the Opposition seems content to play its politics on social media.

  4. The Protesters are worried that MSP will get eliminated. They want legal protection for MSP. Simple isn’t it Now tell why half dozen people are rushing to defend the Bills.

    • MSP; The Govt . Has clearly said it will not get eliminated. MSP has never been Guaranteed. Why does Capt. Amarinder Singh NOT Guarantee MSP to the Farmers instead of sending them to Delhi ?

  5. Like Punjab Congress, this Print media house also seem to be gotten desperate as Modi Govt. nicely ignored the Punjab Govt. sponsored Farmers’ protest! Pubjan Govt. will soon face stiff financial problems as no GST share for the State. No railways. Really good. Now the Punjab farmers – the real farmers – will see through this. Normal Congress tactics to play at the cost of the poor farmers. Misleading them on the Agri bill is still another topic.
    The Print is expected to be against Modi Govt.

  6. Every challenge for Shri Narendra Modi since 2002 has been a bigger challenge than the previous one. Unfortunately for our luddite liberals and selective secularists, the man has emerged stronger from every such challenge. That is not to say he is infallible. But at the same time the pamphleteers masquerading as neutral journalists could do with some introspection having repeatedly gone wrong in their assessments, the latest being the Bihar elections.

  7. Surprising journalists writing for ThePrint are so much ignorant of history of even last six-seven years ! The headline is also misleading — Farmers’ protest a big challenge for Modi. Bigger than demonetisation, GST—. Can all-knowing journalists inform readers– How many Loksabha seats BJP or Mr Modi ji lost after implementing demonetization or after introducing GST ? For their kind information be it known to them that BJP /Mr. Modi got more seats in Loksabha after demonetization and introduction of GST .Tally for BJP in 2019 was better than tally of 2014 . For their kind knowledge — The current agitation by richest farmers of India living in Punjab is fight for turf war by Congress party and Akalis. On the face of it , it appears a joint battle against BJP/Mr.Modi , but in reality is fight between two cats. Monkey will ultimately benefit from their cat-fight. Remember, the story read in childhood.

  8. Oh common, we all know that the Punjab CM has instigated the so-called formers a disguised trader community is a part & parcel of the Mob. Because of it held this agitation commercial supplies to Punjab State. Worried about this, he directed them to go to Delhi. Fine, with initial resistance by the government to enter Delhi, now they are open to meet and talk to the Farmers.

    An excellent opportunity to the Government to convince & clarity on the misinformation & rumours on this issue. This is what, when the bricks thrown at you build a house with the same bricks. I expected such an angle from the print but got an immature article.
    Nagesh Rao

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