Farmers unlikely to relent until Centre concedes key demand of legal framework for MSP on all crops
Fixing the MSP for crops is important for the farmers because it will allow them to sell them at remunerative prices even when corporate houses resort to offering low prices to undercut them
Democracy in our country has become something like Hegelian dialectics: It is there and it is not there. Interpretations keep changing, with only one constant factor and that is erosion. When the farm laws were imposed, it was in the name of development. Wiping away the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations, the new laws were forced upon the farmers all over the country.
These new laws were the negation of democracy and a denial of rights. The Constitution has defined fundamental rights and asserting them when there is a violation cannot be a reason for punishment. But there are plenty of incidents when the 'attitude' of those who assert their constitutional rights like the right to speak is attacked as 'detrimental' to the concept of 'development'. This essentially amounts to intolerance to any opposition.
The innumerable cases slapped against the farmers were the follow up of the same undemocratic handling. Added to all this were the extreme methods applied to crush the movement itself. They tried to coerce the farmers to submit. But every such attempt ended in a fiasco.
The thirteen-month long dharna was a training ground for the farmers and the youth, as well as many other sections that were also in the movement apart from agrarian people. It was their commitment to the cause that enabled them to swim through the bone chilling winter and the cold shower from the water cannons, the blaze of Delhi summer and the corona epidemic.
Together they all went through the ordeal, babies and old women and men. They lost their comrades, in hundreds. Yet they did not leave their post. Food was coming from villages, no one bothered about the source or the destination. No one remembered the caste or creed of the deliverer.
At a Maha Panchayat organised in Kairana on December 12, the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SMK) announced that if the government did not mend its communal policy, there was every possibility of it being voted out. The SKM spokesperson announced, “We are not here to tell whom to vote for. We are here to remind the government about the promises made and then to keep them.”
They did not mince words as they spoke to thousands of farmers gathered there to listen to them. Speaking about the minimum support price (MSP), it was stressed that the biggest success of the dharna was that it had become a household theme everywhere.
It is a fact that nobody has any inkling what made the Prime Minister withdraw the laws that he had imposed on the farmers in a ruthless and undemocratic way. They were brought in as ordinances since there was a lockdown and no Parliament session was held. Later, when Parliament became operative, the bills were tabled and passed as laws without any debate.
The farmers refused to accept them and there were demonstrations all over the country which culminated into a dharna. But for the entire year, the PM refused to even see the farmers. Mostly the dialogues remained one sided and the government delegations remained stubborn and withdrawn.
Now, without any consultation in Parliament, the three laws have been withdrawn. The dharna continued since there were other demands like MSP that had not been met. In fact fixing the amounts for MSP is important because it arrests the falling down of prices that the corporate houses offer.
It has been conceded by the Centre that a committee would be set up to ensure MSP for all farmers along with other assurances, none of which were part of the laws that were passed and then repealed.
In fact, MSP has been a step that protects the farmers against corporate exploitation. It is an initiative taken by the government when it intervenes to stabilize prices to provide remunerative prices to farmers.
Currently, it is no more than a public procurement programme to meet the requirements of the National Food Security Act (NFSA). As against the official announcement of MSP for 23 crops, only two, for rice and wheat, are procured as these are distributed in NFSA. For other crops, MSP is almost absent or at times comes only on ad hoc basis.
The current demand for a legal guarantee for MSP has to be seen in the larger context of the situation of farmers. In 2014 and 2015, farmers have gone through the agony of declining commodity prices. Demonetisation and hurried the rollout of GST almost destroyed the agrarian sector and while trying to stage a comeback, they suffered hugely. Not only the rural economy, primarily the non-farm sector, but entire agriculture sector suffered.
Every opening was slowly ebbing in darkness as the economy itself faced a slowdown in 2016-17 followed by the pandemic which caused another steep decline. A majority of the farmers were pushed into a situation that was dangerously precarious. Rural wages severely went down in real terms since 2014.
In addition there was shrinking employment opportunities. The crisis was worsening in real terms. Input prices for diesel, electricity and fertilisers were much beyond affordable limits.
Under the circumstances, the farmers are unlikely to relent until the Centre concedes this key demand.
Views are personal