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By Vijaylakshmi Nadar, Bureau Chief, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, New York, TIO: In a historical first, the year long farmer’s agitation in India, the longest running civil protest, anywhere in the world, continues to haunt the Narendra Modi government, with a promise to crush its authoritarian regime that has taken over a peaceful, democratic country. There are an estimated 120 million farmers in the country and about 140.5 million laborers attached to farming and agriculture, who are fighting the whims and fancies of a democratically elected prime minister.
Modi, thought he could demolish the peaceful, well organized protests by the determined farmers, with brute force, by lathi charging them, tear gassing them, subjecting them to water cannons, by laying sharp spikes in their path; he failed. He thought, if he ignored them long enough, through a hellish winter, through extreme heat, with essential supplies like water, toilets cut off, their temporary shacks burnt down, their electricity supply and internet cut off, they would disappear; they did not.
No abuses, threats, fake cases against over 50,000 farmers, 700 plus deaths, a pliant media branding farmer as Khalistanis, terrorists, declaring them as perpetrators of an international conspiracy against the Modi government, campaigning hard to create a pushback against them by the general public, worked to dispel them from the protest sites for a year.
The protest is now signalling a fight for a second wave of Independence and shows no signs of receding, till all their demands are met. The peaceful protests have revealed to the world how democracy in India is being snipped off rapidly, without the Modi government taking the trouble to announce a formal takeover from the democratic forces.
The farmers are fighting a tough battle to save democracy, maintain unity in the severest of circumstances, and upholding the federal structure of the country, without any media support.
The ‘supreme leader’ comes down the mountain
Through these protests, which have now completed a year on November 26, also celebrated as Constitution Day, Narendra Modi showed no signs of a let up. Situations only continued to become harsher by the day, to force the farmers to retreat.
His out of character address to the nation a few days ago, promising to withdraw the three dreaded farm laws, after applying every trick in the book to crush the farmer’s protests for a year, caught everyone by surprise.
It is a given that elections in key states of Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab, Goa and Manipur, would have forced him to take an uncharacteristic step back, especially since campaigning in election states and winning them is his focus and a necessity at the moment. He thought he could pull another fast one on the farmers, with a cleverly worded address on national television.
The farmers however were ready for him, amidst a flurry of excitement at a battle won, the farmers declared that Modi’s televised address in an election rally, holds no water. Only a prime minister’s actions in parliament is the deciding factor. They also pointed out that Modi had only promised to withdraw the farm laws, which he and his band of corrupt, incompetent ministers, had spent painting it as an agricultural reform, for more than a year. There was no mention of ) in that address.
No trust in Modi ?
The farmers, have refused to budge till one of their primary demands, the Minimum Support Price (MSP) which has been promised by several governments to them but not followed through, too gets approved.
The farmers insist that the prime minister can choose to forget promises made by him but they will constantly remind him how he had fooled them into voting for him in 2014 and then in 2016, after he promised to grant them the MSP. Modi was one of the biggest champions of MSP, having chaired a committee of chief ministers in 2011, which had declared that 50% of the costs involved in production, including his labour charges, cost of fertilizer etc, would be added to the final costs to arrive at the MSP. The farmers, like the rest of the country, expected Modi to fulfil promises made while seeking their mandate. Instead, the farm laws, like every other law in the country, are being framed by his corporate cronies for themselves.
Modi, who has not once had the courage or the gumption to face the farmers, to have discussions with them, though they are sitting less than an hour away from the Parliament. Instead he simply continued with his lies, claiming to have failed only because he was unable to convince “just a few farmers”.
For the farmer’s, it has been a lone battle, with no support forthcoming from the Supreme Court either, which could have taken up the issue, Suo Moto.
This is probably the only such protest in the world, where the pliant media batted for the government, instead of the protestors. It debated for hours, wrote countless op-eds and reports against the farmers, deliberately creating misinformation campaigns to discredit the farmer protests. As many as 192 legislators write agriculture as their primary source of income. 126 of them are from the BJP. And yet none of them could leverage their positions in the party to stand by the farmers.
The 11 meetings the farmers had with the BJP leaders, including the agriculture minister Narendra Tomar, Home minister Amit Shah and finance/railway minister Piyush Goyal, none of whom have the authority to take any decisions on their own, turned out to be a farce. The BJP ministers were only interested in drumming down how good the laws were, and expected the farmers to simply nod and accept it, without questioning it. The minister’s, following Modi’s instructions made it very clear that the laws would not be repealed under any circumstances, and only the finer points are negotiable, rendering any further discussions meaningless.
Everything about these laws are unconstitutional, beginning with how it was pushed through the parliament, in the midst of a raging pandemic. It was hurriedly pushed through in parliament in September 2020, with just a voice vote called by the speaker, a process used to pass only unimportant bills, where there is not much opposition.
The country watched in shock as the Modi government managed to pass the farm bills in the lower house, where they have a majority, without much protests. But since there was no majority in the upper house, the speaker simply announced the bill and rushed through the process, clearing it with a voice vote. The stunned members of the Rajya Sabha when rushed to stop the speaker, were simply thrown out of the parliament by marshals.
In their hurry to pass these laws, the Modi government even steamrolled over the farmers’ wishes, by not even including them in any part of the discussions, before dumping the reform laws on them.
The laws, when set in motion, will devastate the lives of millions of small and poor farmers and yet Modi never felt a need to debate the issue, before hurriedly bringing in the legislation.
The farmers’ protests attracted worldwide attention and as many as 12 countries debated the laws in their parliaments, including USA, UK, Australia, Canada, besides the European Union and also the United Nations (UN).
All the while that the government was plotting and planning to get the laws passed and implemented, and the rest of the country was battling the pandemic and the lockdowns that followed, the actual beneficiaries of these laws were building huge granaries, right besides those of the Food Corporation of India (FCI). FCI granaries are being deliberately allowed to fall into ruin, to make way for these brand-new corporatized granaries, all the way from Uttar Pradesh, to West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh, besides Punjab and Haryana.
The hypocrisy of it all
For all the concerns that the Modi government claims to have for the farmers, when a raging vehicle owned by Ashish Teni, son of the Union Home Minister Ajay Teni, ploughed into a farmer’s protest march, in Lakhimpur Kheri, Uttar Pradesh, on October 3, crushing four farmers and a local journalist ruthlessly, the local police helped the culprits escape. Despite wide scale protests through the country and the international outrage, the government made no attempt to arrest the main accused Ashish Teni, till the Supreme Court’s intervention. Since Ajay Teni too is one of the accused, having threatened to crush the famers, to stop their protests, just a few days before the killing, the farmers are demanding his resignation and arrest as well. These demands continue to be ignored by the Modi government,
A few days after the horrific incident, Modi arrived in Lucknow, a mere three-hour drive away from Lakhimpur Kheri, for the ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ to celebrate 75 years of the freedom movement. And yet neither did he visit the spot, nor express a single word of concern for the dead farmers and their families.
The Modi government, while shouting down that the farm laws were for the benefit of the farmers, consistently refused to reply as to why there was no mention of MSP in the law, which would at least have given them some safety net. The government counter reply was by guaranteeing MSP, the government would add a burden of 16 trillion to its exchequer. These figures have been touted everywhere to explain why MSP is an unfair demand by the farmers. However the farmers have not demanded that the government buy all their produce. They only need to pass laws that nobody can buy below MSP, inside or outside the mandis.
The lies continue to flow despite being exposed several times, of having written off 40% of the Non Performing Assets (NPA’s), worth 8 trillion, without making any attempts to recover these monies, from his corporate cronies. These are huge monies lent by public sector banks to industrialists, many of them are part of Modi’s cozy club. In the process, public sector banks are going through a crisis as well and imposing all kinds of banking charges on their middle class and poor customers to survive.
Meanwhile the national media which was preparing for BJP”s “spectacular” win in Uttar Pradesh, were taken completely by surprise by Modi’s decision to repeal the laws. The pliant media is usually co-opted in all of Modi’s hare-brained schemes, preparing the grounds for their grand launches. This time however, the suddenness of the decision, early in the morning, unlike his late evening addresses, seems just another whim, probably following a sleepless night, triggered by fears of annihilation in the forthcoming elections.
Who are these laws really for ?
During the pandemic, when the economy was crumbling, most people were out of jobs and struggling to meet their daily expenses, and the farmers were battling harsh weather to continue their protest, Forbes released a shocking report. Mukesh Ambani’s personal wealth of 84.5 billion dollars, was all set to equal the Gross State Domestic Product (GSDP) of Punjab, at 85.5 billion. The wealth of Ambani and Adani who’s personal wealth jumped to $50.5 billion, together is higher than the GSDP of both Punjab and Haryana.
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Adani’s procurement people wanted to buy a prime variety of apples at 18% below even the pandemic distress price. And the farmer’s had to put up a huge resistance to it. Merely 6% of the farmers enjoy MSP. About 40% of the farmers do not even recover costs, after toiling in the fields for months, resulting in a large number of farmer suicides.
With these powerful forces working full time to push the laws through, the two steps back by the Modi government is a very big but uneasy victory for the poor farmers. The spectre of the laws being imposed in another format, once the elections are over and the protestors back home, is definitely a possibility.
Farm laws, whose interest was it really ?
Narendra Modi’s idea of reforms is to handover even thriving sectors to the corporate sector.
The fact that dismantling of mandis can only have a negative impact is already seen in Bihar, where the farmers are getting the lowest prices in the country.
The APMC was introduced because outsiders were choking the farmers. It is true that the mandis are akin to the badly maintained government schools of the country, But that cannot be an excuse to discard them. Throwing the agrarian sector to the corporate vultures is hardly “reform”.
There is no level playing field at the moment in the battle between the farmers and corporate sector. 73% of the farmers cannot afford a nutritious meal, and yet they were pitted against the corporate sector, with stipulations in the law that they cannot even approach a court of law to settle disputes,
Modi government far worse than the British ?
The farmers largest protest before this was in 1907, when they protested against the Colonization Bill introduced by the British in 1906, which along with the Land Acquisition Bill implemented in 1900, sought to change ownership of land to the government, after the owner’s death, if he had no heirs.
The Modi government has jumped several steps ahead by seizing fertile, agricultural lands while the farmers are still alive. Farmers are already being stripped of their lands in the name of development, to build roads, railways, airports, industries without them being rehabilitated or compensated. With these laws, fertile lands would disappear at a more rapid pace, all over the country.
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