The Prime Minister’s speech in the Rajya Sabha on Monday should serve to kill speculation that the government was considering a repeal of the farm reform legislation. It is not. This much became amply clear from his reply to the debate on the President’s address to the joint session of Parliament. Yes, he was willing to consider mutually agreed amendments to allay apprehensions of the farmers, but there was no going back on reforms.
Pointedly, he recalled how the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri was criticised for introducing what were then far-reaching changes in Indian agriculture which would soon lead to the Green Revolution. The Communists called these reforms an American plot to destroy Indian farming. Even well-meaning farming communities in Punjab and other places resisted the changes, though soon they were big beneficiaries of the Green Revolution.
He tore into the Opposition defence for the repeal of the reforms, accusing them of a U-turn, having called for the reforms while in power. If they did not have the courage to press ahead with the reforms, at least the Opposition should not obstruct them now that these were being implemented by the government. Conceding that everyone had a right to protest in a peaceful manner, nonetheless he appealed to the protesting farmers to go back to their villages without fearing any adverse fallout from the implementation of the reforms.
Significantly, Modi again reiterated that there was no question of disbanding the system of procurement of food-grains under the minimum support price mechanism. “How can we stop such procurement, given that 80 crore people get subsidised rations from the nation-wide network of fair prices shops,” he asked. The Prime Minister suggested that the farmers’ protest was dominated by relatively big land-holders in Punjab, Haryana and western UP, whereas 86 per cent of the farmers with less than two hectares of land had a huge stake in the success of the reforms. “Don’t we have any responsibility towards these 12 crore small farmers … should we not keep them at the centre of our policies…?” he asked.
Meanwhile, the disclosure in a section of the media that an expert group set up by the Punjab Government under the former deputy chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia had virtually called for the very same reforms has embarrassed Chief Minister Amarinder Singh, who had set up this expert group. The preliminary report was submitted by the Ahluwalia group to the state government well before Parliament passed the enabling reform legislations.
The laws passed by the Centre virtually mirror the recommendations of the Punjab group. Yet, the Punjab government openly incites the farmers’ protest. When asked about the recommendations of the expert group, an embarrassed Amarinder Singh said he had rejected the recommendations and refused to implement them. This, then, is the duplicitous face of the Opposition which most brazenly is exploiting the farmers for its own partisan interest.