(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Farmers want trouble. They now even don’t want MSP or APMC.
Let’s say there are two sets of demands of farmers: One concerns MSP and APMC. The other is a host of other issues including electricity, matter-in-civil-courts-only, no-hard-penalty-on-stubble etc. If the government is making concessions on all these issues and still the farmers bring placards of “Yes’ or “No” to Vigyan Bhawan, what inference do you want to draw?
You think private players are the root of trouble? That they would hold “poor farmers” to ransom? But since when have wheat and paddy been produced in factories? And even if elephants do fly, how would it take away your MSP. Do you need be told that more paddy from Punjab was procured at MSP jthan at any time in India’s independent history? That the first record it broke was in 2017-18 with 176.61 lakh tonnes procured. That it has bettered this year with 202.77 lakh tonnes procured. How could private players deprive you?
Be that as it may, farmers are at Delhi’s gates. They have laid siege to the Capital. And they won’t go away in a hurry. The “poor farmers” have also brought in their women and children and elderly. In Delhi’s cold and with Covid-19 surging, they have both power and persuasion as their aces. Where do we go from here?
One, simply throw this notion out of the window that the next round on December 9 would see a breakthrough. There won’t be one, on Wednesday and in other rounds if they occur.
Farmers feel they have nothing to lose, at least for the next few weeks. For they have all the time in the world. If government blinks, the template of anarchy would succeed. If it doesn’t, agitating farmers hope it spins out of control.
You see, Punjab farmers are free because paddy season is over. It has been sowed, reaped and sold in Punjab. The next one of wheat has also been put into fields. Harvest is only due in April. Farmers have 8-12 weeks to dance on Centre’s head.
What options Centre have? Clearly, it doesn’t want to use force and it must not. It doesn’t want to lose the perception battle. It’s not a communal matter, it concerns the “annadatas” of the nation and before you know it, this entire farce would morph into something entirely different and all those infamous slogans of Modi-baiters—“Democracy in Danger”, “totalitarian India”, “Hindu extremists”—would fill the air. The prepaid media would be rubbing their hands in glee, and EU, UN and US Congress would be practicing in front of mirror which finger looks best on camera.
So farmers want to appear “peaceful and vulnerable.” Centre is “sympathetic and caring.” Both are engaged in perception battle. We know on whose side the propaganda is. Where does Modi go from here?
Let’s look at how the next few days could unfold. Centre: we are agreeing to all what you want. So why still have the agitation? If you want the three Farm Acts to be repealed, only the Parliament should take a call. After it, it was the Parliament which turned those Bills into Acts.
Farmers are unlikely to accede. For it could be back to square one. They would insist: Scrap the Acts. One, they have only a few weeks free. Thereafter, it’s wheat crop. Time is critical here.
Government could respond: Are you representing all farmers of India? Could we take a referendum please? Let India’s farmers take a call whether a simple majority want “Yes” or “No” on Farm Acts. Modi would obey it as “janadesh.”
What, you are still not ok with this? So let’s do one this thing: We know 40 farmers’ unions are leading this agitation. That’s why they have a seat in Vigyan Bhawan. You claim to be voice of India’s farmers. Could we see how many members you have on roll? You and I both would know if you are voice of India’s farmers.
This is a battle of attrition. An exercise in perception. Farmers are losing it from time to time—like calling for “Bharat Bandh”—and declaring “effigy burning” (did it really happen on Saturday?). It’s called “muscle flexing”; “baring teeth” to scare the opponent. They also want to project it’s not just Punjab but farmers of rest of India who are agitated. December 8 either way won’t offer a clue. Farmers of Western Uttar Pradesh, for example, won’t stay around for long. The sugarcane season would beckon and this agitation can wait.
So Modi won’t lift a baton. The only course open to him is the Art of Persuasion. If farmers still want to agitate, they would have to explain why now. Farmers can’t lose time. They can’t also be anything but peaceful. So stay put if you want. You might win the Battle of Propaganda. And lose the War on Reforms.
(This is a reprint from NewsBred).
Most of us know that the fate of farmers’ agitation depends if the Centre agrees to their guaranteed Minimum Support Price (MSP) demand on Thursday.
So what’s MSP?
MSP is the price at which the government purchases crops from the farmers. This was first announced way back in 1966-67. It was for wheat only which again is in the focus. Green Revolution had brought in surplus in the agriculture market and the farmers needed to be saved from falling profits. Now of course this MSP extends to two dozen crops, announced at the beginning of each season of Rabi and Kharif.
So, if the crops have had a bumper harvest, the government purchases at the MSP to make up for the farmers as the surplus drives the market price down. The government decides on MSP after recommendations from state governments, ministries and dedicated Commission. There are other factors like drought and floods which matter.
Sure, the MSPs are not static. In October 2019, the government had increased the MSP of rabi crops. In June this year, in order to help farmers, the Centre increased the MSP of 14 Kharif crops. (A week later though, thousands of maize farmers from Madhya Pradesh sat on a Satyagraha Andolan. They too wanted an MSP on their produce.)
Since 2009, the MSP on a crop is based on cost, demand, supply, changes in prices, market trend and international prices. The cost of labour, as per market rate, is also factored in.
So look at it this way: if the harvest is bumper, and the market price is low, the MSP would make up for the shortfall. Now keep this at the back of your mind: For the market price could be MANIPULATED.
And who manipulates market prices? Those who control market. In today’s India, the market is controlled by big mandis, who in turn is controlled by big farmers, who in turn are hand in gloves with the politicians and secessionist forces.
Here is the catch. There is only a certain percentage of crops which the government buys under the MSP. The farmers still have to go to mandis nearby for the rest of the crops which are controlled by middlemen at the behest of rich farmers and politicians. Invariably, that price is kept lower than MSP. A farmer still ends up as a loser.
An examples. MP farmers were on “Satyagraha” this June because the maize MSP was Rs 1,850 but in market it was Rs 900-1,000 per quintal. Now look at this double whammy in simpler terms: I am a farmer, the MSP on my crop is Rs 100 which the Centre has calculated on the basis of my costs which, say comes to Rs 80. But the market is selling it at Rs 60. So I am not only losing out on MSP even in market I am getting Rs 20 less even on my investment. Go figure that out.
Let’s take the reverse of this example. Let’s say the harvest is low on cereals. Now almost two-thirds of the total cereal production is through MSP. Only one-third is left for open market. So if the harvest is low, the farmer can’t make most from the rise in demand. He has to depend on the MSP which could be lower. He can’t make profit. So, if a farmer leaves producing cereals, it affects consumption pattern of citizens too.
Does one know what MSP does to India’s trade with other countries? Many have complained in the World Trade Organization (WTO) against India. Australia has complained on what, US and European Union have on sugarcane and pulses. These MSPs have been termed trade-distorting, breaching the 10 per cent norm for subsidy on farm production, set down by the WTO.
Sure, this piece is not enough to bring an entire White Paper on MSP but an additional point need be mentioned:
States could now intervene in the agricultural markets to ensure that the prices don’t fall steeply. The losses States suffer, 40 percent of it would be borne by the Centre. (In case of north-eastern states, it’s up to 50 percent).
Do you know that the Organisation of Economic Cooperation Development and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (OECD-ICAIR) reported that farmers lost Rs 45 lakh crores (phew!) due to manipulated pricing between Rs 2000-2017?
Do you know that the Shanta Kumar Committee in 2015 reported that only 6 per cent of the MSP could be received by the farmers, implying that 94 per cent of India’s farmers were deprived from the benefit of the MSP. That only a crore out of 14.5 crore farmers benefitted out of MSP?
Do you know that In 2016, NITI Aayog had revealed that only 10 percent of the farmers were aware of the right prices before the sowing season?
It would be a huge betrayal of India if the Centre was to agree to the agitating farmers’ demands of fixed MSP. The talks are bound to fail and must fail. If they don’t, BJP would lose support of majority of Indian farmers, not to say millions of Indians like me who want this caucus, this nexus of corrupt and secessionist forces driven into the Arabian Sea.