The big message is India's reform journey has been derailed by misguided farmers, motivated Mandi operators and sheer champions of negativity, the opposition parties.
New Delhi: Many called it the 'November shocker' (again) from Prime Minister Narendra Modi. On Nov 8, 2016, PM announced the demonetisation of high-value currency. Five years and 10 days later, on Nov 19, 2021, PM announced repealing of contentious three farm laws, which was a major negative catalyst to the reform process in the Agro-economy sector.
"The repeal of farm reform laws is the real India story, though a bitter one. It will help a small segment of farmers and merchants in two-three states. But the whole country will continue to pay a heavy price for it," says Ramakanto Shanyal in Bengal.
In 2015, the Land Acquisition Bill was also resisted, and later, the centre 'left' it to states. Of course, the year-long protest against farm laws was also seen as one of his biggest challenges since PM Modi came to power in 2014. But there was no decline in Modi's popularity graph. A global survey in November had given him top rank, with a staggeringly high 70 percent score.
One foreign agency said, "The rallies (protest by farmers) became a lightning rod for opposition to Modi's administration in a country where two-thirds of the 1.3 billion population rely on agriculture for their livelihood."
Prime Minister Modi was a sad man to order the repeal of the laws. "…. Maybe something was lacking in our Tapasya, which is why we could not convince some farmers," he said in a national broadcast on Nov 19.
The Government sources said the PM chose 'national interest and one source said, "The purpose of the new move, 'repealing' the three farm laws is not to allow anti-national elements take advantage, who want to create problems and conflicts between communities."
There were reports of such tension on the eve of polls, especially in Punjab. A notion of alienation of Sikhs, even flagged by Capt Amarinder Singh, had left PM worried. "An impression went both within the country and overseas that the Hindu-Sikh division has widened again, like in the 1980s. The three laws seeking to throw open the market for greater private investment in the Agro sector was being dubbed as anti-Sikhs," says analyst Vidyarthi Kumar.
Former Punjab Chief Minister, Capt Amarinder Singh (himself a Sikh and a former military officer), warned about the Sikh alienation and held two separate meetings with Modi's trusted lieutenants, Home Minister Amit Shah and National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. There were also suggestions that some anti-India forces (a possible reference to Pakistan) were trying to back the Khalistani movement.
In 1984, the anti-India movement of Sikhs resulted in the Indian army storming into the sacred Golden Temple at Amritsar and the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
Anil Ghanwat, an agriculture expert and a member of the Supreme Court-appointed panel that 'unsuccessfully' worked to bring the farmers' stir to an end, lamented: "No federal government will dare to bring much-needed reforms in the coming 50 years, and the majority of farmers will remain poor."
"Over 83 per cent of India's households are dependent on agriculture, but the sector's contribution to the country's GDP is minimal. I am not against the protesting farmers, but the farmers from the states in southern and eastern India who did not agitate have been punished," lamented a Naga leader Thomas Ngullie.
Over-depending on food grains alone has taken away Indian farmers from cultivating other products like vegetables, pulses and fruits. There is over-dependence on sugarcane cultivation in some western states, which again takes away the bulk of irrigated water and electricity.
"The status quo on the farm front is not sustainable," commented 'The Economic Times' in its editiorial.