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Saturday, March 25, 2023

Modi should not succumb to another opposition ploy

Margaret Thatcher the former PM of Great Britain won the “Iron lady” accolade for standing tall against the labour party and others opposing the labour law reforms introduced by her. She etched her place in history for bringing in the reforms for her country inspite of fierce opposition.

The farm laws brought in by the government albeit through the ordinance route are reformist in nature and the NDA government headed by PM Modi should not cave in to this politicized agitation and appear weakened. This is a combined attempt by the current CM of Punjab who is calling the shots on behalf of the opposition aided and abetted by the BKU and other unions to promote anarchy. The former CM of Punjab, who was once a part of the current dispensation, is also leaving no stone unturned to appear as the messiah for the farmers.

In the 2019 manifesto, Congress promised to replace the Essential Commodities act 1955 by a law that can be invoked only in an emergency. The manifesto talks about repealing the APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) and make trade in agricultural produce, including export and inter-state trade, free from all restrictions.

To top it all, before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections Congress announced that all Congress ruled States should denotify fruits and vegetables from APMC act. At the behest of the UPA, a committee of state ministers was formed under the chairmanship of the then Maharashtra Minister for Cooperation and parliamentary affairs, government of Maharashtra (Harshwardhan Patil) which proposed a bill for barrier free markets.

Sharad Pawar, the then agricultural minister, who is now sermonising the government, had then supported privatisation of mandis and also written a letter to the then Delhi CM Sheila Dikshit advocating the same.

Source: https://dmi.gov.in/Documents/stminprreform.pdf

So has the UPA backtracked on its earlier promise or is it a ploy to put the government on the backfoot by raising a cacophony and taking it to a crescendo to earn some brownie points?

Off late the opposition has been short of ammunition and thus, is clutching at straws in the wake of lack of issues on the table. Thus opposing the farm bills, which it had earlier proposed but failed to implement when in power, is the ploy being adopted by the Congress to hoodwink the farmers and stretch the government.

The governments of two states, namely Punjab and Haryana, have been levying 6% and 4% cess respectively, on transactions done in mandis and along with the Arhityas (middlemen) have been splitting the earnings amongst themselves earning thousands of crores in the process (1800 crores for the government of Punjab and an equal amount for the mandis). Thus, politicians are always vying with each other to head these mandis which have become cash rich and the governments have also been able to shore up their finances.

No wonder the CM of Punjab, as also the ex-CM, are spearheading the protests as they have a lot to lose if the mandi system is dismantled. The onus is on the government to not allow itself to become a convenient punching bag in the hands of the opposition, and for that the farmers for whose benefit the whole exercise has been undertaken should be on the right side of the government unlike at present.

In Punjab, which has seen the most vehement and vociferous protests, almost 65% of the land holdings are above 2 hectares (Government of Bharat, Ministry of Agriculture figures) as compared to Haryana where almost the same number (67%) are small and marginal farmers with the remaining having large holdings.

The current Punjab government’s manifesto spoke about the same reforms which they are now protesting. Before moving in the farm bills through the ordinance route the government should have launched an information blitzkrieg to apprise the farmers of the benefits of the bills.

The government should have had the foresight to foresee a possible agitation and taken counter measures to prevent it. A special PR campaign should have been launched in States like Punjab and Haryana and allies should have been taken onboard. However, the government underestimated the protests and was caught napping.

Even though the Prime Minister has stated that MSP would remain, even though it is not explicitly included in the new laws, this message should have been spread with greater vigour. This small error on the part of the government after resonating in parliament – with the cacophony reaching a crescendo in the Upper House – has now snowballed into a major embarrassment for the government.

It has become a very convenient tool in the hands of the opposition because division was not allowed in the Upper House as per the opposition demand and the ordinance was pushed through hastily by the Deputy Chairman when the house could have been adjourned and the voting taken up the next day as per parliamentary practices and procedure.

The fears and skepticism of the rich farm lobby aided by the Arhityas – which is propelling this agitation in cahoots with the opposition – regarding the corporates taking over the purchase of the produce at their cost should be put to rest by the government in no uncertain terms.

The fear of the farmers regarding the MSP and the corporates heckling them in the future should have been put to rest by the government at the outset if necessary by incorporating certain terms in the ordinance to lend credence to its verbal claims which are not being heard and registered. But with the opposition piggybacking on the farmers agitation and the government not yielding, the battle lines are drawn.

The opposition is raising a fracas and creating a din to confuse the small farmer and the onus is on the government to expose the false narrative of the opposition. The government after bringing a reformist legislation has already lost a formidable ally and also the support of one section of farmers for whose benefit the whole exercise was undertaken.

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Aman Gupta
Aman Gupta
Political Editor, Samast Bharat magazine


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