The first watering of wheat has been done and procurement for the last Kharif crop is over. This is not the season to pick a fight with the rugged farmer from Punjab and Haryana who has enough time till the April harvest to sort out his pending peeve with the Centre. The large “ jatthas (groups)” of Sikh farmers from Punjab are camped at the Burari border in Delhi where they believe a “corporate conspiracy” has been hatched to dismantle their neighbourhood mandis .

In Delhi, there is a sense of bewilderment at the raw anger pulsating in the two agrarian States. Home Minister Amit Shah has said that the Centre is ready to engage with the protesting farmers. Meanwhile, the Centre rushed to announce increased MSPs for six rabi crops a month in advance, after protests broke out following the ratification of three farm ordinances during the monsoon session of Parliament. Two of the Bills help in removal of stockholding limits and create a framework of contract farming respectively. They enable private players to invest in warehousing, grading and other marketing infrastructure.

But the government has clearly underestimated the anxieties that plague the farmers, particularly in Punjab, about the fate of their mandis with regard to trade zones outside the APMC area. The first new law is aimed at creating an option to sell directly to the deregulated zones, without going through the middlemen and paying levies such as mandi fees. The reality is that the mandi is an organic socio-economic ecosystem. The middleman is a part of everyday rural life, doubling up as a moneylender, facilitator for seeds/fertiliser et al. The most marginal of farmers can heap his produce at the mandi and haggle with different buyers. The creation of a market outside the APMC mandis has led to widespread suspicions that it would create a buyers’ market. Coupled with these fears is the apprehension that this is a step towards an eventual exit from the MSP regime.

The need for a dialogue to pacify growing anxieties cannot be overstated in a border State like Punjab which, like Kashmir, has a troubled history that includes a violent secessionist movement.