The government’s biggest reforms push in the agriculture sector was reversed on Friday when Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the repeal of the three farm laws against which farmers mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh have been protesting, laying siege to Delhi for almost a year now.
Assembly elections are due in the politically crucial State of Uttar Pradesh as also in Punjab early next year and most Opposition parties attributed the PM’s reversal in stance to a fear of electoral losses in these States.
The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, which creates an option to sell directly to the deregulated zones; the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, which removes stockholding limits on farm produce; and the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services, which is aimed at creating a framework of contract farming, were enacted last year. Protests broke out across Punjab and Haryana during the process of enactment and on November 26, farmers from mainly these States marched to Delhi and have been encamped at Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur borders ever since.
With all negotiations with the farmers’ unions failing and the government proposals to dilute some of the provisions of the laws rejected, the farm movement was finding political roots, especially in poll-bound UP and Punjab, forcing the government to change tack.
“We tried to reason with them to the best of our capacity and intent. We were even ready to amend the provisions that they were opposed to. We were ready to suspend the laws for two years… Today, I apologise to my countrymen with a clean heart and pure intent. Perhaps there was a flaw in our own tapasya that we were not able convince our farmer brothers of the flame of truth. Today is Guru Nanak Devji’s birth anniversary. This is not the time to blame anyone. Today, I have come to tell the country that we have decided to repeal the three farm laws. We will complete the process of repealing the farm laws in the upcoming winter session of Parliament,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Modi said he has decided to set up a committee of Central and State representatives along with agriculture scientists, economists and farmers to reform the sector.
The Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), the joint body representing farmers unions which had organised the protests, welcomed the decision. Although the SKM did not announce the withdrawal of the protest, several leaders confirmed to BusinessLine that the protest sites would be vacated once the process of repeal of the three laws is completed in Parliament.
Withdrawal call today?
Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait said it would withdraw by November 29-30 but other SKM leaders said a final decision would be taken at the Morcha’s general body meeting on Saturday. For the moment, a considered statement welcoming the PM’s announcement and yet listing out all the pending issues was issued by the SKM. The repeal of the “anti-farmer, anti-people and pro-corporate laws” is a “historic first victory of the farmers of India”, it said.
The SKM maintained that the repeal of the laws signifies “reinstatement of democracy in India” and listed out their pending demands including bringing a legislation to guarantee a remunerative MSP (minimum support price). The SKM was careful not to make any political statement with Pavel Kussa, a leader of the BKU (Ugrahan) group which had organised the biggest protest at the Tikri border, saying that the most significant aspect of the farmers’ movement is that it remained “peaceful, secular, all-inclusive and democratic” till the very end.
Opposition parties, however, maintained that the Prime Minister’s hand had been forced by the upcoming Assembly elections.
“The PM’s announcement on the withdrawal of the three farm laws is not inspired by a change of policy or a change of heart. It is impelled by fear of elections! Anyway, it is a great victory for the farmers and for the Congress party, which was unwavering in its opposition to the farm laws,” said former Finance Minister P Chidambaram.