A Bhartiya Kisan Union member protests against three ordinances passed by the Centre, in Sri Muktsar Sahib | PTI
A Bhartiya Kisan Union member protests against three ordinances passed by the Centre, in Sri Muktsar Sahib | PTI
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Once upon a time, when India was a far more open democracy, we used to hear the word “samanvaye” or consensus a lot. But it has disappeared now.

Don’t mistake consensus to be a weakness of the coalition era. It was a recognition that policymaking must be democratic in nature if it has to succeed in a democracy. All stakeholders must be on board. When there is opposition, a middle path must be found. This can result in slow implementation sometimes, but it makes sure that the impact is long-lasting. If we have to shove policy down the throats of people, we might as well formally become an autocracy like China or North Korea (take your pick).

When the Left Front government in West Bengal tried to forcibly acquire land of farmers in Nandigram and Singur, it was overthrown even after 34 years of nonstop rule. So long as we are an electoral democracy, we must have consensual policymaking.

You could have two views about the Narendra Modi government’s efforts to reform agricultural marketing, procurement and sale. At a time of food abundance, our agricultural economy can’t be stuck in the food-scarcity era. But the protesting farmers are not reacting in a knee-jerk manner, and yes they know what the triple laws are trying to do. Before you accuse farmers of not knowing their own interests and being misled by Leftist union leaders, consider their specific objections.


Also read: All non-BJP parties must unite against Centre’s farmer bills in Rajya Sabha, says Kejriwal


The devil is in the detail

Nobody dislikes having a choice. But the triple laws, farmers fear, will leave them with no choice. The certainty of the state-sponsored procurement system will be replaced by the whims and fancies of the corporate sector. And the poorly implemented farm insurance scheme hasn’t given them much cause to trust the private sector.

Farmers are particularly concerned about how the terms ‘trade area’, ‘trader’, and ‘market fee’ are defined, and how dispute resolution is to be carried out. All of these are geared towards the private sector, and farmers are already reeling from falling real incomes to be ready for private sector uncertainty.

The new laws seek to diminish the state-backed APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) mandis or markets by excluding them from the definition of trade area. The private sector can trade anywhere, but the APMC mandis can’t go beyond their ‘physical boundaries’. The new definition of ‘trader’ seeks to effectively end the employment of agricultural commission agents, known as arhatiyas. Demonised as middlemen, we need to ask why farmers trust arhatiyas more than the government or corporates. It’s because farmers have a long-standing relationship of trust with them. You can’t break such relationships of economic trust overnight with ordinances and laws brought about without creating a consensus. Or at least you shouldn’t.

Similarly, the laws do away with any market transaction fees. Such fees make the APMC mandis economically viable. They exist for a reason. With these fees gone, corporate players will again have an edge over the APMC mandis, which farmers fear will collapse.

The provision on dispute resolution sounds a lot like what happens in our police stations: people are asked to ‘compromise’ rather than seek justice. The quasi-legal dispute resolution mechanism in these laws, farmers fear, is loaded against them. Powerful corporates will have the last laugh in an arbitrary system.


Also read: Modi govt’s three rushed ordinances can help agriculture, but not farmers


Why not create a consensus? 

These laws were first introduced as ordinances in June, at the height of the Covid pandemic when protests were impossible. That itself tells you how undemocratic this government is. Why does a government with 303 seats, and then some more of allies, need to introduce far-reaching legislation as ordinances? The ordinance route is meant for laws that may need to be put in place urgently. But the Modi government uses ordinances because it does not respect the spirit of parliamentary debate and discussion, which are, or should be, the lifeblood of a democracy. Parliamentary discussions can and should ideally lead to a clause by clause consideration of laws being passed. The government should listen to detailed objections — so if the definition of ‘trader’ is problematic, the government should be open to changing it.

That’s what Parliament is for. But the executive today makes it clear that it sees Parliament as a mere annoyance. A controversial bill will suddenly be passed on the last day of the session, not giving MPs, media, stakeholders or the general public any chance to understand and debate them.

Ideally, the Modi government should have reached out to political parties, farmer unions and civil society to say that it wants to bring about private sector participation in agriculture. This is how we are planning to go about it. What do you think?

This government hates doing that. It feels it is an affront to its dignity and pride to create consensus. Why persuade stakeholders when you can discredit them with propaganda? Already, our peacock-loving Prime Minister has said farmers are being misled. Such is the lack of consensus-building that even the BJP’s long-standing ally, Punjab’s Akali Dal, has had to walk out of the government. Clearly, the BJP doesn’t consider it necessary to even take its allies on board over decisions that can cost it votes.

The truth will be discredited with falsehood, mouthpiece media will be used to attack farmers. Perhaps we will be told that these farmers are backed by Maoists and some farm leaders may even be arrested under a law meant for terrorists?


Also read: BJP-SAD alliance of 23 yrs in trouble as Harsimrat Badal quits Modi cabinet over farmer issue


There is perhaps nothing this government dislikes more than having to create consensus. From demonetisation to GST, from changing the constitutional status of Jammu and Kashmir to holding JEE-NEET exams in a pandemic, this is a unilateral government. When people all over India were protesting against the ‘chronology’ laws of NPR-NRC-CAA, the Modi government didn’t even attempt a dialogue, and is instead persecuting many protesters. Even the British Raj was happy to talk to Gandhi and tried to persuade him against protesting.

The Modi government mistakenly thinks a majority in Parliament gives it the freedom to do absolutely whatever it likes with the lives and livelihoods of 1.3 billion people. That is not how democracy works. Democracy works through samanvaye — consensus.

The author is contributing editor, ThePrint. Views are personal.

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23 Comments Share Your Views

23 COMMENTS

  1. to the print editors, why do you allow such dimwits to write and lower your standards ? because of people like these you have to run around with a begging bowl. This is is 1991 moment for farm sector.

  2. Shri Vij, did you seek SAMANVAYE with your colleagues before writing this girbish? If you had spoken to your editor in chief, shri Shekhar Gupta and also your economics editor Ila Patnaik, I am sure you wouldn’t have written this ill informed and highly opinionated trash!!

  3. “Shoe I am ” you STUPIDO.

    Ofcourse the SAMANVAYE you seek is only possible in a corruption ridden system.

    Today we have to pray for DARKNESS to return to ENJOY SAMANVAYE and we can go back to having pasta and PIZZA meanwhile it’s MAMAMIA!!!!!

  4. Whim and fancies of the Corporate?:In a market driven economy there are no whims and fancies of the providers of goods and services. If you have doubt pls ask Idea and Vodafone. Don’t paint the industry and industrialist as villain. Both of them -farmers and industry -need each other.
    Is it End of Arhatiyas? Ambani and Adani to use your favourite jargon would not buy agro products themselves someone, some procurement chain, will have to be developed and employed. You can call them-those middlemen- with the names you like or you fear to be extinct.
    Mandis economically viable? Yes political prudent too. Ruling part can nominate their henchmen as marketing committee chairmen and chiefs.

  5. A one sided article. Please don’t forget that Congress supported these measures in their manifesto. Dont oppose just for the sake of opposing!!

  6. CONregressi PRESSTITUTE Mualana Shivam Vij, enlightened farmers like me (I am better educated than you with PhD, MBA, MTech from aussie universities ranked among top 25 to 200 out of 30,000 degree granting institutes across the world, compare that to the equivalent of toilet paper worthless degree you collected from a rubbish university) are welcoming the excellent policy intervention. Taklu Shekhar Gupta, are you insane to hire and approve this rubbish. Let me get ED unleashed on you, tere din of playing with BJp whil being CoNregressi are over, you can not fool any more, ab tu gya.

    • Did you ever read Dr Raghuram Rajan or Abhijeet Banerjee boasting about their Nobel prize or association with top 5 universities in the world? It’s a psychological thing. If you have a inferiority complex due to whatever reason (maybe you actually graduated from a shitty university or maybe you failed to do even that etc etc) in that case you may try to make boasts like above or that you have 56 inch chest etc. People with no such inferiority complex issues prefer to debate on topics while providing cogent arguments.

  7. “Don’t mistake consensus to be a weakness of the coalition era”. This is my exact feeling maybe coalition have done more good for country than all powerful leaders from indira gandhi to Rajiv to modi..

  8. Shivam Sir,

    Before printing this article, did you seek the consensus views on this issue, from all your stakeholders, including the readers of this e-newspaper.

    • Abhay, do you take a consensus view from everyone before going to the bathroom? It’s the same argument you are making for a columnist, this is his opinion as an observer of this govt and of society. A government elected by people needs to form consensus, not private individuals, I hope you can grasp the basics of a democracy.

  9. Modi got elected with the funds supplied by the money bags of Indian industry. Now he is helping them recover their investment. As a result students, middle-class, migrants and now farmers – all are getting screwed by Mr 56 inch chest and his super-rich cronies. Acche din aa gaye and many more to follow. This is what happens when you elect someone who has no empathy for anybody – all these folks are just like “puppies who have come under his car.”

  10. In the long run this policy change will create more freedom for farmers economically. Ofcourse market i.e competition can be tough for farmers who have been wards of the state for so long so to speak.

  11. For the first time in six and a half years, one agrees with a decision the government is taking. However, only the economic rationale for it, not the political path it has chosen. Samanvaye is something one associates with Pranabda and Vajpayeeji. An acceptance of the scale and diversity of India, of the unending disagreements between Indians over all manner of issues, profound to trivial. If the elimination of the principal opposition party, one which has ruled India for more than half a century, becomes a stated political / electoral goal, consensus is the first casualty.

  12. I am so happy that Vij has spoken. Now its clear the laws are perfect. He is bellwether of things. If he and pappu oppose, we are on right track

  13. I don’t agree. We need to change old laws for the betterment of the poor. Even, assuming private sector wants to take advantage, what prevents the Government from amending the laws.
    We can not remain in status quo state. When consensus can not be achieved, then laws must be changed unilaterally for the good of the countrymen. The intentions have to be honest.

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