Different strokes for different people – best sum up the response to the three new Farm Laws that seem to have divided the farming community as well.
As of now, the farmers stir that has engulfed the Union capital city of Delhi from different directions, appears to be drawing majority of protesters from Punjab, Haryana, and parts of Uttar Pradesh, though some representatives from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and even Gujarat can be seen at the protest site at Singhu border and other locations. But rest of the Indian farmers are giving a cold shoulder to this outburst, as of now.
In severe cold wave-like conditions, with night time temperatures dropping to below 5 degree Celsius, farmers are braving the harshest of living conditions which is a statement of their anger and helplessness at the new laws that they fear will enslave them and eventually rob them of their precious lands.
It is interesting to note that farmers from South Indian States are largely staying away from these protests, as they are already engaged with the private sector to some extent when it came to cash crops and fruits and horticulture produce. The State Governments there have been procuring more efficiently as compared to other States, and hence the Opposition to Farm Laws is either absent or minimal in the southern States.
In fact, few farmer leaders from Andhra Pradesh, have welcomed the Farm Laws that they said were answer to their prayers, as they bring about the much needed and long-awaited reforms of the agricultural sector that may now witness greater investments, induction of new technologies and increase in scale of operations.
But as for the protesting farmers, the Central Government insists that they are misguided. But the human story playing out of the protest sites is drawing sympathy for the farmers living under harsh weather conditions. People who have nothing to do with agriculture are nodding in agreement with the farmers when they assert that the negotiations that the Government was now holding, should have been held with the farmers bodies before the Ordinances were brought about. It was later these three Ordinances were enacted as laws after the Parliament passed them and they received the assent of the President.
Agronomy is such a vast and complex subject, given the seemingly infinite aspects of farming – techniques, size of farms, nature of farming, food crops, cash crops, horticulture – the three Farm Laws will have different types of impact on different kinds of farmers, depending on their farm sizes, crops, and location.
So, it is not surprising to notice that the agitation against the new Farm Laws appears to be concentrated in North India in general and Punjab in particular, where the farmers have been agitating for over the past three months. The step-by-step farmers protest gained momentum and the issue began to assume greater significance and political purchase only after the farmers declared their intentions to gherao the National capital.
Since November end, the farmers have spent three weeks out in the open behind the police barricades at different entry points into the capital city of Delhi. The Central Government, firmly ruling out backing down on the Farm Laws, has met the protesters with force – baton charging and water cannoning them to prevent them from entering the capital. Barbed wired barricades, stone and cement boulders and cargo containers were placed to block the path of farmers, some of whom broke through the first cordon in Haryana to reach the Delhi border.
At some places, the highway was dug up to prevent the farmers tractors from reaching the spot. It is the sheer numbers of the farmers that enabled them to fill up the pits and driving on till they hit the road block.
What is sad is that the extremely harsh conditions at the protest sites, deaths are beginning to be reported, which is something that the Central Government cannot afford to allow to continue. Already, the international media is watching the farmers’ stir with a keen interest and the Sikh diaspora is losing no chance and sparing no effort to keep the focus on the farmers stir and alleging that the Central Government was crushing it with brute force.
Meanwhile the Central Government also tried its hand at negotiations and held several rounds of talks with the protesting farmers, that ended up in a deadlock – the farmers insisting that the Farm Laws be withdrawn first and the Government ruling out any roll back as they are going to revolutionize the farming sector much like the 1991 reforms accelerated the growth of industry and services sector in the country.
It is around this time that the Supreme Court stepped in, via a petition that sought to clear the farmers from the borders as their protests were adversely affecting the movement of goods causing hike in prices of essential commodities in Delhi. There is a section of the legal fraternity that viewed the petition on farmers stir as an ‘ambush petition’ designed to help the Central Government. During hearing on this petition, the Supreme Court suggested to the Government to ‘stay the implementation of the laws’ to create congenial conditions for talks to be held with the farmers representatives.
The Centre is yet to make its views on this SC suggestion known.
The Supreme Court has also suggested forming a committee, comprising experts in the agriculture field, representatives of Centre, State Governments and the farmers, so that a negotiated settlement can be reached. The farmers’ fears, if any, ought to be addressed is the sum and substance of the sentiments that are being increasingly heard across the Nation.
The Government on its part has launched an outreach programme, with scheduled meetings in villages to explain the benefits of the Farm Laws to the farmers. Leaders participating in the protests welcome these outreach programmes and said that it will also give the farmers, who are in villages tending to the farms of those participating in protests in Delhi, to ask pointed questions to the Government representatives.
The Government on the other hand sees a great political design to malign the Central Government through lies and propaganda and by misleading the farming community. The Government declared that these farming reforms will lay the foundation of a new chapter in Indian agriculture and make the Indian farmers more empowered and independent.
The protesting farming community, that wants Minimum Support Price made into statutory law, is not impressed.
Some of the farm leaders allege that these new laws were nothing but a devious game plan of the Central Government to destroy the Government operated agricultural infrastructure and force the farmers to depend on the private sector and Corporate giants likely to enter the agrarian sector in a big way.
Till both the sides agree to take a step back, and approach the discussion table with an open mind with a spirit of give and take, the agitation looks set to continue, going by the resolve of the farmers and their readiness (logistics) to sit out for several months.
The writer is a senior journalist tracking social, economic, and political changes across the country. He was associated with the Press Trust of India, The Hindu, Sunday Observer, and Hindustan Times. He can be reached on [email protected]
and Twitter handle @kvlakshman