The stalemate in Parliament, though most unfortunate, is an Opposition stratagem to further fuel the current farmers’ protest against the farm sector legislation. After eight members of the Rajya Sabha were suspended for the rest of the session on Monday for their ugly conduct when the House passed the two farm bills the previous day, they chose to stage a dharna outside. Far from being contrite, on Tuesday morning, when as a gesture of goodwill, Deputy Chairman Harivansh approached the eight squatting on the lawn outside the House, offering them tea, they spurned his offer. Instead they accused him of being anti-farmer. A visibly anguished Harivansh withdrew from the drama troupe, undertaking a day’s fast to atone for the impudence of the members.
Meanwhile, the Government offered to revoke the suspensions if the eight would regret their ugly behaviour. They would not. Why? Because they are labouring under the impression that their childish behaviour will endear them to the protesting farmers. That the Opposition, particularly the Congress leaders, are being particularly double-faced and hypocritical is not in doubt.
Aside from the pre-poll video interview of Rahul Gandhi wherein he is heard making a strong pitch for the same reforms the Rajya Sabha passed on Sunday, a far more articulate Kapil Sibal’s intervention in the Lok Sabha as a UPA minister leaves nothing to chance. Sibal made a forceful case for unshackling the Indian farmer from the slavery of the middlemen/arthiyas, arguing that the actual grower barely gets 15 to 17 per cent of the end price of his produce, the rest being pocketed by greedy middlemen. What has changed between the time Sibal rooted for farm sector reforms and now ought to be clear even to a dimwit. Now he is in the Opposition and considers it a greater duty to oppose the reforms, rather than abide by his convictions and endorse the pro-farmer legislations.
Meanwhile, to nail the falsehood about the abolition of the Minimum Support Price for procurement of food grains by state agencies, the Government has announced hiked rates for six crops much ahead of the normal practice. The MSP of wheat was increased by Rs 50 per quintal, barely by Rs 75, gram (chana) by Rs 225, lentil (masur) by Rs 300, rapeseed and mustard by Rs 225 and safflower by Rs 112. Clearly, the effort is to incentivise the expansion of area under non-wheat, non-paddy crops. Given the mountains of both cereals in FCI godowns, this is welcome.
In a too-clever-by-half move, the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Ghulam Nabi Azad, sought unconditional withdrawal of the suspension of the eight members. The ruling party was certain that without an apology this may not be possible. Maybe saner counsel will prevail. Informal talks between the two sides would help break the logjam before the current session, held under extraordinary Covid-19 pandemic, ends in acrimony.
In order to counter the propaganda against the market reforms in the agri sector, the government has now launched a media campaign to educate the people. It is clear that the sole objective is to create an alternative mechanism for farmers to be able to sell their produce, in addition to the traditional mandis under the Agricultural Produce Market Committee Act.
In the normal course, the two Bills, passed by the RS by a voice vote, ought to have been debated threadbare in a calm atmosphere. In spite of the attempt to inject partisan politics in the way of reforms, the Government had the adequate numbers to pass the Bills. It is this realisation which led the Opposition to create trouble, uproot mics, dance on the table of the Secretary-General and for TMC leader Derek O’Brien to charge menacingly towards the Chair and try and tear up the rule book.
In short, the ugly scenes were well-planned. Whether these Bills ought to have been sent to a select committee for further examination, whether the government ought to have conducted a vote, are ex-post-facto questions asked by those who make light of the egregious behavior of the Opposition. Meanwhile, the government was wrong in undertaking a public campaign to educate the people about the reform measures, after these were seized for distortion and false propaganda. The media campaign ought to have preceded and not followed the passage of the progressive legislation.