Today, when the world media is focused on India’s farmers’ protests and the deadlock in talks between the government and farmers’ representatives (five rounds gone and sixth scheduled for Wednesday 9 December), it is exigent to decipher the politics behind it to understand the core issue – that of farm reforms to help the Indian farmer.
Sadly, for everyone except the Indian farmer, politics has taken precedence over the actual issue. If reforms fail, the only casualty will be the farmer while at least one side (of politics) will reap the political benefits for stopping farm reforms when in fact both parties espoused the issue of farmn reforms to help the Indian farmer to increase their income multifold.
One has to sift through the deliberate misinformation of gigantic proportions that is being disseminated by the paid traditional and social Indian media which is being selectively (their liaisons permitting) being beamed all over the world, earning Justin Trudeau a snub from the Ministry of External Affairs India.
What is his locus standi? Isn’t it tantamount to interference in India’s sovereign matters? https://t.co/H2KktkW4PC
— Ram Madhav (@rammadhavbjp) December 1, 2020
India’s Ministry of External Affairs has also use diplomatic channel and told the Canadian envoy in Delhi that “comments by the Canadian Prime Minister, some Cabinet Ministers and Members of Parliament on issues relating to Indian farmers constitute an unacceptable interference in our internal affairs,” according to a statement issued on Friday by India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA).
It is important to look where it all started and one will have to go back to the economic reforms era of PM Manmohan Singh and Montek Singh Ahluwalia. And the roots of these three Farm reforms Bills (now Acts) are found in UPA’s FDI in multi-brand retail policy. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had gone on national television to address the people of India explaining his economic agenda and claiming it would to assuage farmers and their livelihoods would be ameliorated and not compromised by the historic liberalisation. The changes canvassed would adopt the farm-to-fork model and allow transnational business giants like Walmart, Tesco and Target etc to enter India to set up their giant retail stores all over India.
The Congress party led ‘Manmohanomics’ as some call it was revolutionary to the core as it was predicated on dismantling the APMC model, giving Indian farmers direct access to corporate buyers as is being proposed by the new Farm Bills. Warehousing, cold storages, automations and adoption of technology, mechanisation of farms, transport logistics, rural infrastructure and modern marketing including branded consumer packaging – various features of new reforms were all part of the proposed paradigm of Manmohanomics.
Exactly as envisaged in the new reforms being proposed, farmers would be incentivised to look at other crops and grow fruits, flowers and vegetables, as part of a crop diversification strategy, educated to move away from traditional rice and wheat production.
The economic thesis of the revolutionary reforms was the over reliance by the Indian farmer on MSP or the Minimum Support Price – which was introduced by the former prime minister of India, the Late Lal Bahadur Shastri who also gave India the slogan – ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’. In 1965, PM Shastri set up the Agricultural Prices Commission to fix and announce MSPs. The first MSP announced was in 1967 that of Wheat to be Rs 65.00 per quintal.
The commission was renamed as the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) in 1985. Today, 24 crops are covered under the MSP regime.
It is to be noted that the MSP for Wheat in 1967 at Rs 65.00 had increased 30 times in 2014 to be at Rs1400.00. But the government report – NSSO survey of July 2012-June 2013 – found that only 6% of farmers in India could benefit from selling their wheat as part of the MSP system.
Again, it was under Manmohan Singh regime that the study was done and the report was compiled. Now that the UPA government knew the MSP system’s efficacy, it decided that something had to be done. And thus the proposed reforms were mooted.
But back then the BJP, in Opposition, opposed it, for convenience of politics.
The Congress is doing the same, YES, purely for the politics of it. But the Congress is guilty of even more – because only last year it had again mooted those ‘Manmohanomics’ reforms as part of their agenda under Agricultural reforms. In that part of their manifesto claiming to have heard “the cry of anguish of farmers”, and feeling “the pain of their acute distress”, the Congress listed a whole host of farming reforms including the repeal of the APMC ACT which will take away the MSP.
One cannot but see the extreme of hypocrisy in the Congress position on the reforms and their ridiculous demand to completely withdraw the three Bills. It is rather incongruous to understand the present position Manmohan Singh would be taking within the Congress, perhaps making his title of “maune baba” (the silent one) a touch more meaningful.
The vexed question of MSP or price guarantee in the new Bills
Most of the protesters and their sympathizers all over the world believe (not having read the new Bills) that the MSP has been totally removed leaving the farmers completely at the complete mercy of the big Corporations who will rule the roost.
Not entirely true. It is there but not like before which may be even better for the farmer.
What does that mean? I explain.
Under Section 5 of the The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020, the farmer will be paid a “guaranteed” price for his produce which will be explicitly written in the agreement with the buyer corporate entity.
And to ensure best value for his produce to the farmer, over and above the guaranteed price, reference may also be made to the APMC yard prices (read MSP), or electronic trading and transaction platform (being set up under the new reforms) or any other suitable benchmark prices for any additional amount as bonus or premium to be paid to the farmer.
Looking at the whole protests scenario the poor Indian farmers are being led into pushing the MSP button, the Congress and other vested interests are using the same analogy Punjabi political leaders did decade ago when division of undivided Punjab took place and the ensuing “SYL” dispute followed. Famously a leader trying to politicize the issue (as is currently being done to farmers) said:
“How shall my farmers use the water (coming out of Bhakra) for farming after all its power (electricity) is already taken out?.
Jumping into the mix of Dadi Bilkis Bano, Khalistani champions, Shaheen Bagh protagonists and other paid artists – does not and will not help the cause.
Farmers are innocent, hard working and god fearing people who want to do what they do best – farming and raise their families.
Are these new Bills in favour of farmers?
The answer is YES with some exceptions.
Do the Bills provide enough protections to farmers?
The simple answer is NO.
When the sector – which runs on government subsidies and grants and assistance is suddenly comes out to open market’s forces at work – without proper protection mechanisms in place, which many advanced countries struggle to catch up with, the Indian case is far from ideal.
If anyone wants to really help the Indian farmer, they should urge the government of Narendra Modi to put protection mechanisms and infrastructure in place before unleashing the revolutionary reforms.
Is there a better way?
Yes, but no political party in India has the appetite for it. The better way will be to modernize the APMC model, modernize the FCI and other government agencies, procurement, storage and distribution mechanisms and keep the PPP (Public Private Partnership) and not throw it totally to the corporate behemoths who can ultimately hold the markets to ransom.
We all remember the good times of Gas and Fuel Corporation of Victoria against the dreaded scenario of today’s energy and gas providers. Did the privatization brigade led in Victoria not promise putting all “check and balance” in place?
Everything in the end gives way to corporate interests and they wear the pants.