Why a farmers’ agitation 2.0 begins to roll out in Delhi
Delhi is again seeing a farmers’ agitation 2.0. They are arriving from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and different parts of Uttar Pradesh
The farmers are back on the streets of Delhi. Why are they back? Was it inevitable? Will a second act now play out? Is this a politically motivated move? These are among the many questions being raised as India’s Capital again contends with an agitation which could have been better handled in the first place.
There is a popular saying: Good economics often makes for poor politics. And more so when there is a trust deficit between the government and major stakeholders.
This time around a five-point memorandum is pushing for:
- Immediate payment of pending cane dues
- Free electricity to farmers
- Stopping prepaid metres on domestic power connections
- Check over stray animals
- Compensation to drought-hit farmers
In India name tags work. So, the farmers’ agitation 2.0 has been billed as a Mahapanchayat by Sanyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM).
Farmer leader Rakesh Tikait and other farmers' organisations are also demanding the proper implementation of the MSP (minimum support price) for the crops.
Meanwhile, the SKM has written to President Dropudi Murmu in connection with their protest.
“The Ministry of Agriculture made an agreement with Samyuktha Kisan Morcha on December 9, 2021. As per the agreement, we stopped the Delhi border agitation on December 11. But to date the government has not fulfilled the agreement. Not only that, the government is initiating more anti-farmer policies like negotiating Free Trade Agreements.”
“Kindly request you to direct and advise the Council of Ministers to fulfil the agreement with Samyuktha Kisan Morcha on December 9, 2021 and accept the demand notice sent to the Prime Minister dated 17th August 2022 (Demand notice attached). Also, advise the Council of ministers to initiate a discussion with the farmers’ group in the country as soon as possible,” read their letter.
The farmers are also asking for the sacking of Union Minister of State for Home, Ajay Mishra Teni, the strongman from Lakhimpur Kheri.
The farmers’ demands include the sacking of Ajay Mishra, whose son Ashish was arrested in a case where eight people including four farmers were killed in Lakhimpur Kheri in October 2021.
The minister retaliated by saying: “I am a law-abiding citizen and a Union minister, so I should not comment on any case which is sub-judice and involves me. But I want to point out that… this is not a protest of the farmers, but of those people who are against the BJP.”
In July, the Allahabad High Court denied bail to Ashish Mishra, who was allegedly sitting in one of the cars that crushed the farmers to death.
The SKM promoted a campaign at Lakhimpur Kheri but tactically withdrew when the local district magistrate promised a meeting with higher-ups.
Tikait and other farmer leaders ended the stir at Lakhimpur Kheri which ran for 75 hours. They promised a larger congregation in Delhi, knowing fully well the media traction would be that much greater.
They know they need a bigger boat.
So, Delhi is again seeing farmers arriving from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala and different parts of Uttar Pradesh.
That is why it is time to revisit the old question: Why did the government repeal farm laws?
By repealing the laws, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hoped to attain the objective: Regain the confidence of the farmers and Sikhs in particular.
In Punjab, the BJP then did not expect any major political gain but was concerned about not losing any initiative in Uttar Pradesh. In the final analysis, UP voted for BJP while the Aam Aadmi Party won Punjab.
But above all, the BJP was genuinely concerned about not losing Sikh support.
It went about increasing farm budget and crop prices, reopening a historic corridor to one of Sikhism's holiest shrines in Pakistan, and a fresh probe to punish the guilty in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots in Delhi.
The Khalistan movement of the 1980s was another chapter which no one wanted re-opened. As it is, rumours were swirling how “Khalistani money” from Canada poured into fuelling the farmers' agitation as they camped on the borders of Delhi.
History has also taught important lessons in governance. It is one thing to promise bold reforms and another to achieve a straight sets win. Much of what the government intended to do got lost in the maze of Parliament-driven processes. Maybe the speed at wanting things to change proved to be an obdurate speed-breaker. The Opposition looked the other way.
It is also important to address the question: Why is farming so important in India? And what is being done to promote it?
Farming adds about (only) 17 per cent of the absolute GDP. Yet, it gives employment to over 60 per cent of the population. And therein lies a problem.
India needs a different set of solutions for agriculture and for those working the land.
It has enough food. But does it have too many people working in agriculture? And with that the domino effect of marginal farming stares in the face.
“Indian support for agriculture has had multiple drivers, some ostensibly noble (keeping food affordable), some less so (vote-bank politics). Support has ranged from administered prices (both to farmers and end-users through ration shops or other schemes) to subsidised or even free inputs such as power, water, and fertiliser.
“At some point, we need the political will to question current support mechanisms to check their equity, efficiency, and macroeconomic impact. Perhaps current policies are the wrong medicines for the problems — we blame execution failures as the problem, but maybe it is really a problem of diagnosis. The problem is a fundamentally broken system,” writes Rahul Tongia, a scholar of technology, policy, and sustainability
Possibly this is what the government wanted to do in the first place. But when things are not going in your favour, one must try and deny advantage to one’s rivals. The move to repeal the farm laws was just that in its own way. But the problem still continues to fester.
The author is CEO of nnis. Views expressed are personal.