The Modi government is groping for a credible excuse to push through the three controversial farm laws, following the unprecedented challenge posed to it by the farmers.
Unable to get over the muddle of its own creation, the government came up with yet another gimmick. It declared that 50 per cent of the problem was solved. The claim was that the government agreed to two demands: (1) power subsidies will not be affected and (2) no punishment to farmers for stubble burning.
What is the central issue? It relates, first to repeal or rollback of the three farm laws and second, to providing legal guarantee to Minimum Support Price (MSP) mechanism.
Side-stepping the issue at hand, aside issues were taken up only with a view to creating a gung-ho feeling of achieving a breakthrough in the impasse.
Impasse continues; gung-ho feeling is passe.
With over 40 deaths owing to harsh and inclement weather and suicides by farmers, the situation on the borders of the National Capital has since turned grim. There is need for taking a more serious view of the protests by the farmers.
There is no dispute over the need for reforms in the agricultural sector. What is really surprising is the haste with which the controversial Ordinances were promulgated and then pushed through in the Monsoon Session of Parliament in 2020 by the Modi government.
Instead of hurriedly promulgating the three Ordinances, the Modi government could have discussed the issues of far-reaching implications involved in it with all the stakeholders and brought forward a well-considered law.
Unable to justify the haste with which the three Agriculture Acts were passed, the Modi dispensation is trying to follow the procedure in the reverse gear.
Having skipped discussions with the stakeholders at the stage of enacting the laws, it is attempting to hold a debate, post-legislation. Clause-by-clause discussion is held on floor of Parliament at the stage of passing the Bills. Now, it is being mooted by the government now, after enactment of the legislations.
Forcing a fait-accompli on the farmers, the BJP government is inviting them for a clause-by-clause discussion of the three laws already passed by Parliament.
Farmers have a point that if the Modi government is serious, it could as well repeal the laws and after thorough point-by-point discussion with them, it could pass a fresh law that is based on consensus, in the upcoming Budget Session of Parliament that is round the corner.
The Agriculture Produce Market Committees (APMC) Act is really not effective. Answer to the problem lies in strengthening and expanding the mechanism, instead of dismantling it, without putting in place an alternative mechanism.
The weaknesses of the APMC system can be corrected by creating thousands of farm markets across the country in small towns and large villages to enable farmers to sell their produce at MSP.
This will save the Farmers from falling prey to the pitfalls of a not wholly welcome mechanism like APMC. It was for this reason that the Congress Election Manifesto of 2019 promised the same. But the BJP sought to twist it out-of-context and misrepresent it by claiming that the Congress supports the same.
Not eliminating, but expanding the APMC system, is the answer to the protests by the farmers.
The same holds good for MSP. Indeed, the MSP is not effective, because it serves only a small proportion of them. Farmers are able to sell at MSP only wheat, paddy, soyabean, sugarcane and cotton.
The government would do well expand the scope of MSP for other important crops, which is the only way to raise the income levels of farmers.
Instead of expanding and strengthening the MSP mechanism, the Modi government has other plans of slowly doing away with MSP for good.
Instead, the government wants to allow corporates to buy directly from the farmers at a so-called negotiated price, which is euphemism for the farmer selling his produce at dead-cheap rates.
On the other hand, the government should try to legally ensure that no one may sell or buy produce at less than MSP.
The MSP needs to be made the minimum floor price, below which the farm produce should not be procured. This is the challenge before the government.
After chanting the Dr M S Swamithan formula on MSP when out of power, to now seeking to do away with it, the BJP has come a full 360 degrees.
What is more, striking at the root of the economy of the farmer, in the same breath, the BJP claims it will double the farmers’ income. Certainly, the BJP needs to strive for greater consistency and seriousness of purpose.
Venkat Parsa is a senior journalist and writer based in New Delhi.
Views expressed are personal