Canberra: Millions of farmers in India will benefit from the country’s new farm laws, according to an Australian-based scholar who advised against listening to activists who gave contrary advice.
In an article for Foreign Policy, Salvatore Babones an adjunct scholar at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney said that India’s rich farmers are holding up reforms designed to help the poor.
“(PM) Modi offered the farmers limited price supports but held the line on loan waivers. Instead, he promised to implement structural reforms after the election. The opposition Indian National Congress countered with a promise to “waive all farm loans” across the entire country–an expensive solution decried by economists as a populist magic wand,” he wrote.
“Despite what activists and Western celebrities supporting the protests would have us believe, most of those who’ve been protesting the new laws since September aren’t drawn from the ranks of marginalized subsistence farmers driven by debt and despair to the edge of suicide,” the scholar added.
Babones stated that these farmers fear that the laws will help large agribusinesses undermine the current state-directed system for buying farm produce and ultimately lead to the dismantling of the price support system on which they depend. They are demanding that the government repeal the reforms and guarantee the future of price supports.
“The overall goal of the reforms is to transform Indian agriculture from a locally managed rural economy into a modern national industry. They will allow small farmers to specialize in niche crops that can be marketed nationwide through large-scale wholesalers. They will also create new risks, as farmers are transformed into an entrepreneur,” according to his article for Foreign Policy.
He stated that when authoritative Western media outlets “uncritically buy into the poor farmers” narrative, the result is pure misinformation. Articles suggesting that the BJP’s new farm laws threaten the livelihoods of as many as 800 million people must wrestle with the reality that in a country where 52 per cent of the working population is engaged in agriculture, only 6 per cent of the population actively disapprove of Modi’s performance in office.
“India’s poorest farmers need the reforms because most of them do not have access to the high levels of government subsidies that benefit the larger-scale Jat farmers of Haryana and Punjab. Forced to sell to local middlemen at spot prices, they lack options for marketing their produce outside their home districts,” he said.
He added, “They also lack access to financing and futures markets, management tools that most Western farmers take for granted. The new laws are designed to address these problems while maintaining minimum support prices for the relatively small number of farmers who actually receive them.”
Earlier this month, two Democratic Senators — Charles Schumer and Bob Menendez have called on US President Joe Biden’s administration to engage with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government over the farmers’ protests in India.
Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Menendez and Majority Leader Schumer in a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote that they condemn the January 26 protests that broke out at the Red Fort adding that the farm laws passed by the Government of India are “internal Indian Policy”.
“Agricultural policy is a domestic matter for the Indian government. The UK government firmly believes that freedom of speech and the right for peaceful protest are vital to any democracy but we also accept that if a protest crosses the line into illegality, security forces in a democracy have the right to enforce law and order,” UK Minister of State for Asia Nigel Adams said during a debate in Parliament complex on the issue of peaceful protests and press freedoms in India.
On January 26, violence broke out during the farmer tractor rally on the occasion of Republic Day.
Protestors broke barricades to enter Delhi and indulged in vandalism across several parts of the national capital during their tractor rally organised to protest against the Centre’s three new farm laws.
Farmers have been continuing their protest against the three newly enacted farm laws — Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020; the Farmers Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020 at different borders in New Delhi.