A Delhi Blockade, Complete Hypocrisy And Economic Sabotage: How Is Any Of This About Farmers?
No government should accept blackmail and economic sabotage as valid forms of protest. They are not.
Short of that, all solutions can be on the table. But the final decision should be based on facts, not fears.
It is a pity that vested interests masquerading as defenders of farmers’ well-being are damaging India’s nascent economic recovery – an economy laid low by the Covid pandemic. In doing so, they are destroying their own futures. And possibly creating a health risk to everybody, including themselves, as potential super-spreaders of Covid-19 in and around Delhi.
It all began with farmers being instigated to head for Delhi to choke its roads and entry points. That was an economic blockage of sorts. Then it became intensely political, as various anti-BJP parties that had earlier advocated the same reforms sought to shoot from the shoulders of Punjab’s farmers to corner the BJP.
A partially genuine concern over the farm reform laws then became a farce. Now, it is sabotage. According to reports in The Times of India, some 1,300 cell towers in Punjab have been damaged or vandalised. These so-called defenders of farmer interests are ensuring that farmers cannot communicate with anyone else. There is no justification whatsoever for protesters to damage the interests of Punjab’s mobile phone users or even businesses who are not parties to the dispute.
Any sensible observer will be sure to ask: how is all this – economic blockade, making things intensely political, and now sabotage – anything to do about farmers?
Quite clearly, those indulging in sabotage want to bring Delhi and the Union government down to its knees, so that they can enforce abject surrender. And various political parties are doing a death dance on the economy for short-term political gains.
As we have repeatedly pointed out, the government has no option but to stay firm in resolve but soft in communication and attitudes. This means allowing the forces of attrition to wear down the resistance of genuine farmers, and then engaging with the reasonable ones to find a solution.
Given the reality that it is the farmers who are rigid and ego-driven and not the government, one way out of the deadlock is for the government to offer two solutions:
One, to promise investment support to all states that are willing to build the marketing and other infrastructure needed to implement the new laws successfully.
Two, promise to conduct a joint study by an expert panel – in which farmers will be included – to understand the medium term impact of the new farm laws on farmer incomes over the next three years. The government can promise to drastically amend the laws (or even scrap them) if the data show that farmers are actually worse off after three years than they are now.
The problem with both assertions – that farmers will benefit from the new laws, or that they will harmed by it – is that neither is fully supported by data and research. However, one thing that helps the government’s case is that no intervention of any kind, from minimum support prices to farm loan waivers to large subsidies on every farm input (power, diesel, fertilisers, seeds, credit), has significantly helped improve the lots of small and marginal farmers, who account for 86 per cent of farm holdings. So, trying something new is the need of the hour. The only dispute is about what that new something ought to be. More of the same failed policies of the past cannot be the answer.
If farmers believe that the case for ending the monopolies of Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) mandis is unproven, the government should offer them a data-based approach to either prove them right or wrong. It is never a mistake to rework policy based on actual, visible outcomes. If the data show that the new laws have not worked to the advantage of farmers, they can be scrapped without any regrets.
But the bottomline is this: no government should accept blackmail and economic sabotage as valid forms of protest. They are not. Short of that, all solutions can be on the table. But the final decision should be based on facts, not fears.
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