The talks between the protesting farmers and the government are reported to have reached a dead end. The seventh round talks on Monday failed to find a common ground, with the farm union leaders adamant on the outright repeal of the three agricultural reform legislations. The here-and-now obduracy was understandably unacceptable to the government. The official proposal for a clause-by-clause consideration of the three-reform legislations was reasonable and commonsensical.
After all, if the farmers harbour fears about any provision in these laws, the government could allay their fears and, if desired, provide a legal assurance for the same. But to insist that the laws be scrapped through an ordinance was an attempt to blackmail and bully the government to negate the will of the people as expressed through an overwhelming ratification of these laws by Parliament. Besides, there was near unanimity among farm sector specialists that the three reforms were long overdue.
The Punjab and Haryana farmers alone seem to have a vital stake in the status quo since they alone manage to sell their near-total produce of wheat and paddy to the Food Corporation of India at the Minimum Support Price. Farmers in other States are not so fortunate, invariably forced to sell their produce at rates far lower than the MSP. Though the MSP is fixed for 23 different commodities, wheat and paddy account for the bulk of the procurement under the scheme.
Notably, originally the provision of the MSP was devised at a time of food shortages in the country. Half-a-century later, India is a net exporter of food grains. Its godowns customarily overflow with foodgrain, invariably three times the prescribed limit for an emergency buffer requirement. Yet, to this date, the MSP lacks legislative backing and can be scrapped through an executive fiat.
It is a measure of the conciliatory approach of the Government that it had now agreed to provide legal backing to the MSP scheme of procurement of foodgrain. Yet, the farmers’ leaders misread the willingness of the Government to negotiate a mutually acceptable compromise as its weakness. Otherwise, they would drop their repeal-or-nothing stance and help find common ground to break the impasse.
Meanwhile, despite the façade that their protest is apolitical, there is concrete evidence to substantiate the fact that partisan, anti-Modi forces animate it. The Congress government in Punjab, the epicentre of the protest, is helping the siege of Delhi by all means possible. Notably, the vandalism of Reliance Jio towers too has been reported from Punjab alone.
Admittedly, a number of failed politicians, including a couple of discards from the Arvind Kejriwal-controlled AAP, have insinuated themselves into the protest, misleading the naïve and earthy rural folks with their goody-goody spiel. So desperate are the anti-Modi elements that they no longer try to hide their reliance on the protesting farmers to extricate themselves from a state of isolation and irrelevance.
Notice how former Finance Minister P Chidambaram, facing corruption charges --- his wife and son too face such charges --- compares the protest to the freedom struggle. Now, whether or not farmers genuinely seek freedom from the Modi Sarkar, there can be no doubt that Chidambaram himself is desperate to be rid of it. But why use farmers as a pawn for your own private relief?