Farmers’ protest in India

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Akbar Jan Marwat

ON 24 September 2020, the Indian Parliament passed three laws concerning the agriculture sector without any meaningful input from the farmers – the main stakeholders. According to these laws; 1) corporations have been given the power to influence the setting up of the prices of agricultural products. 2) The special concessionary agricultural electricity tariff for farmers to be revised; and 3) the farmers and their tilling of land to be brought into the ambit of environmental protection laws.

The Indian farmers have been protesting against these laws for the last three months. The government of India has been unsuccessfully trying to pacify the farmers by promising them SOPs like postponing the implementation of these laws for two years etc.

It is agreed by almost everybody that the agricultural sector in India is not performing optimally. The sector employs about a half of India’s workforce, but accounts for less than a sixth of the National GDP.

Distressing reports of Indian farmers committing suicide has been appearing in national press on a regular basis for the last few decades.

But further exposing the farmers to the vagaries of free market economy; when they are already exposed to the vagaries and uncertainties of weather and climatic changes, is not a very commendable solution either.

The proposed loss of the minimum support price of their various agricultural products become the understandable cause for the farmers revolt against the government.

The farmers of Punjab and Haryana have been the most strident in these protests, because of their greater dependence on agriculture.

These protesting farmers seem to be well aware of the fact that returns on their produce may increase in the short term, as competing corporations try to outbid one another.

But once these corporations establish their monopolies, the prices of agricultural commodities would be fixed by corporations owned by Ambanis and their ilk.

The overwhelming number of Sikh farmers from Punjab, who are trenchantly spearheading these farmers’ protests, are also being labelled as separatists by the pro-Modi print and electronic media.

Even the body of Khalistan is being alluded to by certain Hindutva Zealots. This mistrust of the government against the Sikh farmers led to the crackdown of authorities on the farmers’ protest, accusing the Sikh farmers of scuttling the reform law and under-mining the Indian State.

The Modi government passed the three farm related laws, based on their clear proclivity towards neo-liberal economic policies.

According to these policies the government hopes to increase the productivity and efficiency of the farm sector.

These policies have not always worked in developing countries and have, many times, caused great suffering to the people.

The local press and media as described earlier have been a hostage to the night wing policies of the Modi government not projecting the case of the farmers adequately.

The international community till recently have largely kept mum on the excesses of the Indian government against the farmers.

Only recently famous American singer RIhana spoke in favour of the protesting farmers. Swedish environmentalist Grata Thumberg shortly afterwards expressed her solidarity with farmers also.

Both the celebrities, however, faced a barrage of invective from the bigoted supporters of Indian government. Some organizational protest from the West seems to be emanating only recently.

Modi partisans have called these mutterings from abroad as foreign interference. But to many conscientious foreign policy observers, this is considered as a welcome expression of solidarity with Indian farmers. Ultimately, however, the plight of the Indian farmers depends on the support that they get from the various classes within India.

Pakistani observers must not see the farmers’ unrest in India, as a phenomenon only specific to the ineptitude of the Modi government.

There are many similarities between India and Pakistan as far as its agriculture sector is concerned.

These similarities include a large agricultural base, a considerable number of small farmers who struggle for their livelihood and survival, the WTO and its commitment to the agenda of economic liberalization and most importantly the long-term history of both countries to legislate through ordinances rather than through meaningful debate and consensus with the stakeholders.

The absence of major agricultural protests in Pakistan has not been because of positive action by various Pakistan governments, but due to the acute backwardness of Pakistani agricultural sector.

Small farmers/kassan in Pakistan, unlike their counterparts in India, have remained too poor and under-educated to organize themselves and agitate for their interests.

In the recent past, however, peasants or Kassans of Pakistan have held some massive rallies in Pakistan.

Pakistan cannot remain isolated for long in these days of social media, therefore, it would be wise to turn its attention towards the modernization and uplift of Pakistani agricultural sector and to do so not in compliance with WTO and other multilateral agencies, but in consultation with domestic groups who have a stake in the system.

This, perhaps, is the only way for having a prosperous, peaceful and thriving agricultural sector in Pakistan.
—The writer, based in Islamabad, is a former Health Minister of KP.

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