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The dictionaries of idioms and phrases explain “holy cow” as an expression of surprise or shock. It is used in the same manner as Holy Christ! Holy Moly! and so on. But, in India, perhaps on account of reverence for ‘gaumata’, the phrase “holy cow” has a different contextual meaning. It is an expression which is used to refer to someone or some class of people, or some idea, who or which cannot be criticised, for whom at least a pretence of respect must be shown.

India has had many holy cows. Some have been dethroned. Some have remained holy cows. Even now, some are being elevated to the status of being holy cows. 

Farmers have been making news in India over the last couple of decades for all the wrong reasons, mainly over their death by suicide. Neither the governments nor the academic scholars have undertaken in-depth study of the socio-economic causes for farmers dying by suicide.

As I see from the information available in public domain, the governments do quite a lot to hold the hands of the farmers. Irrespective of their solvency, the farmers get loans from co-operative banks every crop season. They get seeds for sowing at subsidised prices. Fertilisers are subsidised. Crops are given Minimum Support Price. So, the farmers merrily grow only such crops that are under MSP and refuse to grow fruits, vegetables. We continue to import lakhs of tonnes of edible oil. No farmer wants to grow oilseeds, as these are not under MSP.

The farmers pay almost nothing for the water used for irrigation. There is a State PSU in Karnataka that has been formed for exploiting Krishna waters, which came to the state’s share consequent to Justice Bachawat award in 1995. Though the company provides several hundred tmcft of water to the farmers, it does not earn a rupee as revenue for operating and maintaining a huge irrigation system. It is wholly supported by the state government.  During a visit to this dam, along one of the channels, I saw hundreds of poles about 10’ to 12’ tall erected on the bank. From these poles pump sets were hung. The pump sets were connected to the nearby electricity pole for powering the pumps. So, not only irrigation water is free, but electricity also. None dares remove these pump sets, or stop the theft of electricity. 

Coming to loans, now it is almost an unwritten rule that the farmers are not obliged to repay the loans to the banks. One who repays the debt is either naïve or a fool. Sooner or later, some government will spend another Rs 50,000 crore for loan waiver. 

For the last one year, the farmers of Punjab have been holding the national capital to ransom. CAA agitation puttered away because of Covid-19 pandemic. But, the prevalence of pandemic and even the second wave have not deterred the agitating farmers. While paying lip sympathy to the maintenance of law and order, neither the courts, nor the governments dare remove the protesters. Farmers have learnt how to exploit the weakness of the political parties to pose themselves as pro-farmer party.

The Supreme Court has no doubt asked eloquently, “What are you agitating for, when the court is seized of the matter?” It is just a rhetorical question. In 1994, there was a contempt of court proceeding in the Supreme Court against Borobabu Singh, the speaker of Meghalaya. He refused to appear before the Court claiming legislative privilege. But, Justice Venkatachalaiah, who was the Chief Justice, directed the central government to secure his presence in the Court on the next date of hearing. Such is the power of the Supreme Court. But, when it comes to unruly farmers, none including the courts dare discipline them. 

These pieces are being published as they have been received – they have not been edited/fact-checked by ThePrint.

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