Dr Mehmood-ul-Hassan Khan
SHINING India is “fading”. Despite big claims, its national economy is now at its lowest “ebbs”. Recession, widespread social disharmony, brutality against weaker sections of the society, genocide and discrimination against minorities, acute capacity building problems combating against COVID-19 and last but not the least ongoing farmers large-scale protest and Bharat Bandh has badly exposed Indian Government’s inability to cope with the emerging situation. It seems that RSS India has “trapped” within itself. Perpetual “unrealistic” so-called economic structural reforms has achieved nothing but national-wide widening disparities, high ratio of poverty and, above all, suicides (40-50 per day) especially in the rural areas. More than 300,000 farmers have killed themselves since the 1990s. According to the latest official figures nearly 10,300 did so in 2019.
The Indian farmers especially Punjab, Haryana, and other parts are protesting against the BJP Centre’s new farm laws ie the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020; Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act 2020. Farmers claim that the new laws would pave way for dismantling of the minimum support price system, leaving them at the blackmailing of big corporations. Both sides are still stick to their stances leaving life of common people, daily businesses and production channels in the hands of policy-makers. This ongoing protest has badly damaged Indian so-called soft image in the world. Minister of State for Agriculture Kailash Choudhary reiterated that the farm laws would not be repealed but amended after negotiations.
The farmers of India-held Punjab rejected the suggested amendments of BJP-led government and prolonged its sit-in. Even 18 Opposition parties extended whole-hearted support to farmers which has already created political discomfort and societal chaos in the country. According to BJP government these new laws will give vital liberty to farmers after which they should have the right to sell their crop wherever they want. The Union Government has held multiple rounds of talks with farmers and tried to reassure them that their interests will not be compromised. But, no significant progress has yet been made. On the other hand, the protesting farmers have expressed their apprehension that the new farm laws will eradicate the safety cushion of MSP and scrap the mandis, thereby leaving them at the mercy of big corporates. However, the government has repeatedly assured them that MSP will not be scrapped. The burning issue of MSP has not yet been promulgated in writing, they are all verbal assurances.
In economic terms the MSP is the minimum price paid by the government when it procures any crop from the farmers. It is announced by the state-run Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP) for more than 22 commodities on an annual basis, after calculating the cost of cultivation. Farmers consider it crucial for their survival and do not want to compromise on it. Now farmers in several Indian states are protesting against three new bills; the government says will open up the tightly-controlled agriculture sector to free-market forces. The government hopes private sector investment will stimulate growth. Modi, who won elections on a promise of doubling farm income, has been under pressure to bring private investment to an agriculture sector that has stagnated badly. For decades, farmers found themselves driven deeper into debt by crop failures and the inability to secure competitive prices for their produce. Finding themselves unable to cope with many have resorted to taking their own life.
The bills further state that farmers can come into an agreement with private companies. Such deals are financially attractive but because there are so many terms and conditions attached, it is difficult for a farmer to cope with them. Farmers are of the opinion that new laws promote slavery. They consider this fight is not just about economics, but also for their self-respect and human dignity too. Critical analysis of the three laws uphold that farmers would be at receiving end if a farmer gets into a dispute regarding his contract with a private company, it will be very difficult for the farmer to have the dispute settled in his favour. It would not be possible for a small farmer to face mighty corporations like Reliance. A farmer is anyways in a difficult position since agriculture is unsustainable, and then to expect that a person will have to fight against big companies means they will eventually be driven towards suicide. There are a lot of problems in the APMC mandi system which require reforms. Nobody is denying that. But reforming the APMC mandi does not mean you push the farmers from one set of middlemen to another set of middlemen. It is not a solution for agriculture.
Agriculture sector provides a livelihood to nearly 70 per cent of the country’s 1.3 billion people and accounts for around 15pc of the $2.7 trillion economy. The Green Revolution of the 1970s turned India from a country facing regular food shortages into one with a surplus and a major exporter. But for the past few decades, farm incomes have remained largely stagnant and the sector is in sore need of investment and modernisation. According to Indian official figures (December, 2020) in US$ 27 trillion GDP, agriculture contributes 15% (US$500 billion). According to a 2015-16 Agriculture Ministry survey more than 85% of farmers have less than two hectares (five acres) of land. Fewer than one in a hundred farmers own over 10 hectares. According to the Finance Ministry (2020), India hands out an estimated $32 billion in subsidies to farmers annually. Modi’s RSS orientation is now converting green lands into grey-yards of big corporations thus put itself on the path of self-destruction which may further divide India into two distinctive pools ie agriculturalist and industrialists. Being a prominent regional geopolitical expert, I fear that seeds of hatred, discrimination and marginalization among the hearts of the farmers would remain in the regional as well national politics of India like wandering souls, ever ready to take revenge, if it is not ratified in accordance of their just demands.
—The writer is Director, Geopolitics/Economics Member Board of Experts, CGSS.