Farmers’ Stir

“Farce of Farmers”: No Indian could be neutral at this hour; which side are you on?

(This is a reprint from NewsBred).

Let there be no doubt that it’s not about farmers. Think of all the reasons you could and I would demolish it clinically.

MSP? “Farmers” are worried that Minimum Support Price is not guaranteed. That private players would manipulate them in future. Now when the prime minister Narendra Modi has assured MSP in the Parliament; and the Centre needs free foodgrains for 80-crore citizens, there is no way “farmers” wouldn’t get the MSP.

Unconvinced? Let’s look at the figures.The agitation is about wheat and paddy, right? Now between Punjab (69%) and Haryana (25%), some 94 percent of all wheat and paddy is procured. It’s only going up. In 2019, the wheat bought was 34.1 million tonnes. This year it’s already 38.9 million tonnes. In 2019, the Centre had bought 26.6 million tonnes of paddy. This year, it’s 31.6 million.

So, if the agitation is only about wheat and paddy, and MSP on it, what’s the problem here?

APMC? The “fear” that mandis would be bypassed. Really? Does the Farm Acts say so? Is allowing farmers to sell anywhere they want under APMC is doing away with APMC? How is more freedom spun into less freedom narrative? Who else dominates APMC but rich farmers, powerful traders and entrenched politicians?

Unconvinced? Let’s pour over statistics released only this September. Punjab has 31 percent Scheduled Caste population. Yet only 22 Dalits received aid under PM Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojna. Why? Because this set doesn’t own much of land. The land is owned by rich farmers. In Punjab, only 3.5% of private farm land belong to Dalits. As against, Punjab has the richest of all farmers in India—classified as owning more than 10 hectares of land among all non-mountainous states of India. While the national average is 0.57% of total land in the hands of the rich, in Punjab it scales up to 5.28%.

There is no third argument in this farce. You would ask me if this is so why thousands of farmers have gathered at the gate of Delhi and choked the entrance to the Capital? All I know is that this mob is made up of all kinds: Rich-elite farmers, the people-towing trucks which the politicians are so adept at harnessing. When you have tell-tale evidence of Khalistanis popping up their banners; Popular Front of India (PFI) shouting their support; Delhi’s Arvind Kejriwal opening his “langar” for them; Punjab chief minister Capt. Amarinder Singh not picking up phone of his counterpart from Haryana, you know this is anything but farmers.

So, if this is not about farmers what is this all about? This is about controlling India. About usurping the power. To be the handmaidens of those who are upset at the national narrative of last six years. Those who are frustrated that neither voters nor judiciary is being swayed by their propaganda. The last resort of these losers is to unleash anarchy on the street. To keep drumming Bad Police whenever the cops push back. Police freezes, judiciary is dumbstruck—so what option Centre really has?

The Centre has called the farmers for a 3 p.m meeting on Tuesday. If it takes place, it would fail. It should. Centre has more than Punjab to worry about. It can’t guarantee MSP. It can’t handover a template in the hands of anarchists. If you guarantee MSP, you are dissuading private players from improving the agriculture sector which is in shambles. It needs big investment in tech, seeds, water-capacity. Do you think state governments like Punjab could do so? A state government which even can’t solve the stubble-burning problem? Which levies 8.6 percent tax on farm proceeds so it could offer free electricity and free water? Is it concerned that chemicals in water are now producing Cancer Villages of Punjab?

Let me make another prediction. You would have “farmers” rally in support around India, hogging your newspapers in coming days. At least in Kerala, Telangana, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Maharashtra etc who would also pass resolutions in assembly that they wouldn’t implement Farm Acts 2020. Brussels and Washington would be deeply concerned.

Somehow the students of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), Jamia Millia Islamia or Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) would seek “Azaadi” for the farmers. Our Swara Bhaskars and filmi set of Bhatts and Akhtars and Kashyaps would join voices. Our Asaduddin Owaisi would be worrying about India’s democracy in front of cameras. “Award Waapsi” has already begun.

That’s why I say this is not about farmers.

Now let’s look at the other side. What options the Modi government really has to stop this recurrence of anarchy? It has seen anti-CAA protests and now this Farmers’ Stir which has been whipped up on misinformation, propaganda and the agenda to destabilize India. All in one year. Many more would occur.

Where does Modi government go from here?

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.