Captain Amarinder Singh

Farmers’ stir: Analysing the situation from two sides of the barricades; Who’s wrong?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Farmers on foot, tractors, trucks have marched from Punjab towards Haryana and Delhi. Along the way, they have faced barricades, police resistance which morphed into tear gas, water canons and arguably some baton wielding. It’s not a pretty picture and the typical hubris of Modi government is painted in our newspapers. The stand off has refused to die down two months after the three Farmers’ Acts were passed by the Parliament in September.

Emotions are running high. So I would cut out the flourish and engage the readers in the simplest of language possible.

So, let’s first work out what the farmers want and what the Centre is loathe to give it to them. The essence of these Farm Acts is that (a) it’s now One Nation, One Agriculture market; (b) that farmers could engage with private players; and (c) No need to hoard the grains.

ONE NATION ONE AGRICULTRE MARKET: It implies that a farmer could sell his produce anywhere in the country. So, if I am a Punjab farmer, and couldn’t look beyond the mandis of the state (read Agriculture Produce Market Committee—APMC) thus far, I could now scan the neighbouring states of Himachal, Haryana or Uttar Pradesh and get the best price on my produce;

FARMERS COULD ENGAGE WITH PRIVATE PLAYERS: Farmers in Punjab are hampered on water and technological issues. The water tables of the state are so depleted that there are “Cancer Villages in Punjab” due to all the chemicals and pesticides. The simplest example on technological issue is the stubble-burning which makes Delhi a gas chamber and which the farmers’ can’t attend to because of the cost involved. Now farmers could engage private players for redemption on these fronts, including seeds.

NO STOCKPILING: The Centre says we have enough food. Farmers’ don’t need to stockpile but for exceptional circumstances. The State government wants to have it say. It’s not a major point in the present confrontation.

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Once these three Farm bills were moved, Shiromani Akali Dal walked out of the alliance with the BJP. The Punjab state government of Congress, led by Captain Amarinder Singh, moved a resolution which was passed by the state assembly to override these Farm Acts of the Centre. Yet, the agitation has refused to die down because the President of India hasn’t given his assent to the state assembly’s resolution.

The arguments from the other side, backed by the Punjab state government and passed by the assembly, are these:

(a)    The State government could notify the fee on any private or electronic transaction. So if you go to Punjab, as a private, player, the state government could actually levy tax on you (So whither Ease of Doing Business?)

(b)    Instead of a few hundred mandis, the whole Punjab state would thus become a mandi over which the writ of the state government would run large;

(c)     The Punjab state government says that the procurement of wheat and paddy should happen only on the Minimum Support Price (MSP). If it is bought for less, the state would have the right to punish the private player. The State say we are doing so to protect the future of farmers: What happens if the Centre changes its mind and does away the MSP for wheat and paddy?

It’s the MSP which is the stickiest of all points. The contention that private players in future could hold the farmers at their mercy is unfounded. As of last year, the total procurement by private players in the State was a mere 0.58 per cent. Further, under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Yojana, some 80 crores of the 150-crore population are being given free foodgrains. The Centre would always need to procure foodgrains. The incitement to farmers that their future would be held to ransom is fallacious.

Sure, the MSP is not just important for the farmers. It’s also important for the Punjab state government. It taxes farmers to the tune of 8.5 per cent. Last year, the Punjab state government made 3600 crore revenue out of this exercise. This money, they claim, they spend on the welfare of farmers which includes free electricity and free water.

Naturally, MSP suits both farmers and the Punjab state government. Farmers get free subsidies. The State government affords it through taxation, most of which comes from the revenue that the Centre gives by procuring the foodgrains.

The Centre is loathe to guarantee MSP. One, there is little logic as outlined since the government would always need foodgrains. Two, as said, private players are miniscule in this game. Besides, wheat and paddy are not the only produce from Punjab. There is a flourishing dairy industry too. All could benefit if the market is allowed to take its own course.

Arguing in favour of farmers for “free” subsidies is the same if I go to my bank tomorrow and say I can’t pay my loan back because it pinches my pocket. That’s no argument. You can’t run a nation on this premise. Further private players, as said, could provide solution to a lot of lingering farm issues in this country. If the threat of a punitive State action is around, nobody would come forward. The farm situation would only worsen. E-commerce players like Grofers and Big Basket, a win-win for all, would suffer.

Now look at it from another perspective. This issue seems only to concern Punjab. The farmers in the rest of the country have no issue with these three Farm Acts. Wheat and Paddy and that too of Punjab farmers isn’t the entire India and its produce. Could a state hold to ransom which is good for farmers and sectors all across?

Now let’s delve on the political aspect of it. Captain Amarinder Singh and Congress know that the election is only a year and a half away in 2022. This is the right time to make a capital investment. Shrimoni Akali Dal too want to recover its lost ground. It’s BJP, who would fight all 117 seats alone. Who stands to lose the most? One should give BJP credit for persisting in face of such adverse poll logic.

There is also this question of middlemen. It’s not an inconsiderable number in Punjab: At the last count it was 36,000. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) gave them Rs 1,600 crores at 2.5 percent commission last year. They stand to lose the most if the monopoly of mandis (APMC) is done with. They also flourish under the political patronage. Both won’t like the new measures to kick in.

 

Indian Express is specious on “Gupkar Gang” and Kargil analogy. Here’s why!

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Indian Express is being specious in showing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as double-tongued in calling its rivals as “Gupkar Gang” and yet being ally with National Conference (NC) in Kargil, Ladakh.

There is an editorial too in the newspaper in delicious English which to writers is orgasmic. Let’s first get a few basics out of the way in case you are joining this match in slog overs.

Jammu and Kashmir ceased being a state on August 5, 2019. Regional satraps, Abdullahs (NC) and Mehbooba Mufti (PDP) went into house arrest. All are released now. All want the erstwhile special status for Jammu and Kashmir, now a Union Territory, restored. Farooq Abdullah is publicly asking China–the gravest threat as an entity—if it could help.

Meanwhile, the Centre pushed the political process in motion through elections. It began small, at the district level. The one of LAHDC (Leh)—Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council—was held last month. BJP secured a majority. The one in LAHDC (Kargil) is some three years away. In the present Kargil body, elected in 2018, National Conference heads an alliance of 26 elected members. Three of them are from the BJP.

Now the District Development Council (DDC) elections in the other Union Territory, Jammu and Kashmir, are due from November 28 in eight phases. All the regional satraps of the region have joined hands. They did so under the Gupkar Declaration which was an understanding amongst them to restore the special status of J and K. But afraid of missing the bus, they have buried their differences and to hell with J and K’s autonomy. They can’t let DDC elections go. Congress is a part of it, the alliance—People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD) having fielded three Congress candidates in the list for first three phases so far.

That has led to Union home minister Amit Shah calling them a “Gupkar Gang.” And that it’s anti-national. And that Congress must specify if they stand with the forces who want Article 370 and Article 35A restored. And now this alliance is blowing back the hot air through the nozzles of tweets and co-opted media such as Indian Express.

So first spot the difference papered over by Indian Express. One, NC and BJP were never in pre-poll alliance in Kargil like Gupkar-Congress is in Jammu and Kashmir. Two, Kargil is not wanting the restoration of Article 370 and 35A as is being done in Jammu and Kashmir. Three, NC in Jammu and Kashmir is as different from one in Kargil as chalk is from cheese. As an analogy refer to Punjab: Captain Amarinder Singh is a Congress chief minister but practically independent. If it wasn’t so the Gandhis wouldn’t have left Navjot Singh Sidhu at his tail.

But Kargil is still in a lower pecking order of Indian Express. The newspaper’s lead today is that Centre is afraid and has practically put the Alliance’s candidate under house arrest. How would they campaign? Meanwhile, the newspaper alleges that the representatives of BJP and its allies are roaming free with a police escort in tow. These are serious charges and one would wait a few hours before I could share its nuances with you.

On a broader point though BJP can’t be afraid. Even if they lose DDC elections, it won’t change things on the ground. It would only cost them talking shop. Article 370 and 35A would remain a thing of the past. And Gupkaris, please stop doing this charade of special status for your beloved J and K. You are now queuing up to join the new J and K. Admit that the sham of “J and K of past” is just a façade to reclaim your dynasty. Arguably to hand it over to Pakistan–and Chin–by default. Your hapless citizens, all this while, have only been a tool to yield dividends.

All it would do is to afford Abudllahs and Mehbooa a toehold over the ground slipping under their feet. They would have a semblance of power and it would help keep sheep under the flock, whatever is left. It would keep them in the news. In editorials of the likes of Indian Express. But they have been marginalized. Glory is a thing of the past. Its shadow—like of Roshni land scam—is lengthening.

If anything, Farooq Abdullah should be grateful he hasn’t been brought under a sedition charge for openly calling for China when India has an existential issue with the giant neighbour. India is bleeding men and money. You can’t have someone open the front doors and usher the enemy in.

 

What is it that the Gandhis have against women: A father-daughter present their own villains

(A reprint from NewsBred).

I had just picked up my morning tea in balcony when my elder daughter tapped me on shoulder. “Would BJP stop at anything? Gender, patriarchy, misogyny—what do they have against women?”

She was drawing my attention to an Indian Express news where Nirmala Sitharaman, our present finance and past defence minister, had raked up a recent brutal murder in Hoshiarpur, Punjab. A six-year-old girl child of a Bihar Dalit migrant labourer has been raped, killed and her half-burnt body was discovered this week.

My daughter wasn’t amused that Sitharaman had chosen the gruesome murder to make some political points, like “Doesn’t it shake the conscience of the brother and sister pair (Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi) who rushed to every other chosen site…as if they were going (Hathras) for a picnic…But why not in Hoshiarpur? Why not if it (the crime takes place) is Rajasthan?…the pretentious Congress is nowhere…A woman heads their party.”

I wasn’t sure the bit in Sitharaman’s words which had offended my daughter till she drew my attention to another story in Indian Express. The “rejoinder” from Gandhi scion and the chief minister of the Punjab state, Capt Amarinder Singh: “Unlike in UP,” we are not “denying” the rape or “blocking the course of justice.” Amarinder was more lyrical: He found BJP doing a “political puffery.”

Well, that might be true. With first phase of Bihar elections due in a matter of hours, parties are jostling for political points. But leave aside politics, my girl, if it is gender, patriarchy and misogyny could we please look at Congress more closely please.

Till last year Congress had a high-profile spokesperson. Priyanka Chaturvedi commanded attention on media of all kind: Print, digital, social media etc. But she quit in disgust in 2019. She felt “hurt and self-dignity” compromised when her offenders, within Congress itself, were reinstated after being suspended briefly. “I put in 10 years (for Congress)…they ignored a woman..(I had put up) at a great personal cost, self-dignity…If I don’t (quit), it would let all those women down who want to join politics, raise voice.”

More recently Khushboo Sundar, a high-profile Congress spokesperson in South, quit Congress. She said she had given up her personal life to work for Congress in last six years but she has no option but to quit as she was being “pushed and suppressed.”

Let’s say, these incidents were ambitions couched in sexist pretence, I ventured to my daughter. Let’s also not make much of Rahul Gandhi’s “Come, Rape in India” remark in the Parliament which had led to a massive uproar. Mr Gandhi thought he was being witty when he said “Come, Make in India” is more like come “Rape in India.” The fellow women Members of Parliaments were outraged for they found Mr Gandhi being cavalier about a crime which leaves a victim with two options: Suicide or a living dead.

But let’s not deny that it was the kind of remark which should make gender-activists see red. A newspaper like Indian Express ought to have initiated a debate on the mindset of India’s wannabe Prime Minister. It’s no excuse that he is still a bachelor. He has women in family, his grandma was India’s iron lady. Rape can’t be a matter of wit.

If she wants she could give this another instance a miss, I proffered by daughter. Mr Gandhi was all pompous when he had said in Parliament last year that the prime minister had “got a woman (Nirmala Sitharaman) to defend him (Modi),” on Rafale deal. It surely smacked of patriarchy. A woman who is a model to millions in this country—try to see how Nirmala makes such earnest effort to speak Hindi, good one at that—can’t be ridiculed as if it wasn’t the Parliament but some Duryodhana’s sabha.

But no apology. No reprimand from their mother Sonia who has been at the “helm” longer than even Indira. No outrange or OpEd in Indian Express or The Hindu.  And if I could ask you my daughter how do you think they ought to have reacted to “haram-khor” jibe in their own coalition-run State to a young lady who has achieved more than arguably anyone in Bollywood? Did the Gandhis mind the threat to Kangana dare she descend in Mumbai ever or when a crane made itself comfortable in her Bandra room?

It was not the BJP but the Dalit supremo Mayawati herself who was angry beyond words at how the murder and rape of a Dalit girl in Alwar was “hushed up” by the Ashok Gehlot Congress government, as there are a string of other rapes which are occurring in Rajasthan even as Gandhis lost their shirt on Hathras. And when your former chief minister (Kamal Nath) mentions a sitting woman minister (Imarti Devi) an “item” should a perfunctory disapproval by Rahul be enough to cover the silence of Sonia and Priyanka? Has there been any consequence on Kamal Nath? Has Indian Express sought out Randeep Surjewala for his reaction?

I won’t go into what happened to the “Nirbhaya Fund” of a 1,000 crore which was set up by Congress in the aftermath of the terrible incident on Delhi streets. It remains under-utilized even by the BJP states. But the larger point is Gandhis indeed are convenient on women. Debating points, highlighted by predisposed newspapers is no shield.

So, when you raise banners against gender-bias, patriarchy and misogyny my child, I told my daughter, do keep a memory log. And could I have another fresh morning tea please now?