On the auspicious day of Gurpurab (birth anniversary) of Guru Nanak Dev, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the historic decision to repeal the three Farm Laws. The promulgation of the laws witnessed protests in many States, mainly Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab.
Protestors established camps on the border of Delhi, thus causing tremendous economic loss and also considerable inconvenience to commuters travelling to and from Delhi. A series of meetings were held between the Government and the leaders of the Farm Unions, which were inconclusive, leading to a prolonged agitation. On January 12, 2021, the Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the laws and appointed a committee to look into the farmers' grievances. It was expected that once the matter became sub-judice, the farmers would roll back the protest and go back home, but this did not happen; the protest continued.
The Government submitted to the will of a segment of the farmers who were not convinced about the benefits of the laws. In taking this dynamic decision, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has upheld the highest traditions of democracy and exhibited his respect and love for the farmers. The Prime Minister has also maintained his internationally acclaimed stature of being a statesman who remains sensitive to the feelings of even the smallest segment of society.
The statement of the farm union leaders of waiting till the process culminates amounts to embarrassing the highest executive office in the country and increasing the woes of the farmers
While declaring the decision during his address to the nation on the occasion of Gurpurab, the Prime Minister was humbleness personified in admitting that “Tapasya Mein Kuch Kaami Reh Gayi.” He meant that though the farm laws would have been beneficial to a major segment of the farmers, he and his Government failed to convince some segments of the community, hence the decision to repeal the laws altogether.
On the issue of the remaining demands, including a statutory legal guarantee that all farmers will receive minimum support prices for their produce and withdrawal of the Electricity Amendment Bill, the Union Government has given an assurance that a committee of experts and farmer union representatives will be constituted to look into the matter and a decision taken after considering all views.
Politically speaking, in election-bound Punjab and Uttar Pradesh, the decision has taken the wind out of most parties that oppose the BJP. The party is getting feelers from both parties Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Captain Amarinder Singh, for forging an alliance.
According to SAD, the falling out of their decades-old alliance with BJP was due to the promulgation of the Farm laws. And now, when the issue is no longer there, a resurrection of the alliance can be worked out. Capt. Amarinder Singh, having left the Congress, is formulating a new party and needs the support of the very big and powerful BJP. Both entities have realised that they have no political future without the BJP and are now desperate to get into an alliance.
However, the BJP in Punjab has been working hard to create a pan-Punjab signature since the last year. It has gained considerable success, which this latest decision of the Government will supplement. Under these circumstances, to ally with the SAD would spell disaster. Some sort of a seat-sharing alliance with the new party being floated by Capt. Amarinder can be worked out based on like-minded views in charting a progressive future for Punjab.
While there is a wave of euphoria in Punjab at the declaration of the intent of the Prime Minister, many experts feel that while the farm unions have won the battle, the farmers have lost the war. This situation offered an ideal opportunity to the farmers to change the repressive agricultural practices of the “Arthiyas” (farm produce traders) and move on to an independent course. There would have been initial hiccups but, with time, the process would have settled down to the benefit of the farmers.
This was also an opportunity to break free from the debilitating wheat-rice cycle that is causing unbearable damage to the soil in Punjab and will soon lead to a serious environmental disaster.
It would be best for the rice and wheat growing States like Punjab and Haryana to carry forward the reform process, albeit more deliberately. There can be a study of incentives to support farmers for switching from rice cultivation and declaration of a policy change rather than a law. In the deliberation, stage care will have to be taken to ensure that rigid, obdurate positions are not taken since they can lead to breakdowns of talks.
Benefits have accrued in areas where an open view has been adopted, the ‘e-Choupal’ Initiative is helping farmers in procurement/planning, etc., and eventually deals directly with the ultimate buyer of their produce. Fishermen use mobile apps to check prices in various markets up and down the coast and then sail to and sell into the market, offering the highest prices. Such innovations can change the face of agriculture.
It has to be kept in mind that the farmers of Punjab succeeded in the Green Revolution, which the Government-backed by switching their agriculture practices to the cultivation of paddy and wheat in a big way. The same should now not be looked upon as a liability; instead, more remunerative and ecologically sustainable alternatives need to be implemented. This would require dynamic leadership at the regional level working in close coordination with the Centre. The creation of such a leadership model, thus, should be a priority for the people of Punjab.
Once the Prime Minister has assured that the repeal process will be taken up in the next session of the Parliament, it was expected that the farm union leaders would immediately call off the agitation. The statement of the farm union leaders of waiting till the process culminates amounts to embarrassing the highest executive office in the country and increasing the woes of the farmers whom the Prime Minister wishes to see in their respective homes before the onset of the winters.
The Government is committed to the welfare and development of the agriculture sector across the country. Due to the Government’s efforts in providing seeds, keeping fertiliser prices in control, crop insurance, easy finance, direct benefit transfers, etc., a marked increase in agriculture produce has been witnessed in the country in the last few years. There is a need to build trust based on this reality.