The decision of Shiromani Akali Dal MP and union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal to resign on 17 September with the ruse that her party stood for the ‘plight’ of farmers is rather unfortunate. Equally questionable are all the unions that purportedly fight for farmers’ rights but have done precious little to extricate them from 700 years of mistreatment by kings during the mediaeval era, the British Empire thereafter and successive socialist rulers since 1947. The Narendra Modi government must be lauded for not raising a vacuous slogan of doubling farmers’ income by 2022 but indeed taking steps in that direction since May with the amendment in the Essential Commodities Act, no less asphyxiating for the growers of the nation’s foodgrains than the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee Act. One needs to be inhuman to support the regime of 1955 vintage that controlled production, supply, trade, and storage of certain commodities that the state would arbitrarily consider “essential”. The ECA permitted state governments — several ruling parties in the provinces are infamously broker-influenced — to issue orders to restrict transportation, dealer licensing, stock limits, the ability to determine prices and imposed mandatory buying. The authorities seized the opportunity thrown up by the odd law to raid hoarders as though the nation was still warped in Indira Gandhi’s era. The babus confiscated stocks, cancelled licences and even put in jail whoever they thought were offenders. This, while the APMC Act forced the farmers to sell only to designated wholesale markets.
When the government brought in Section 2(m) of the Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020, defining “trade area” as any area or location, place of production, collection and aggregation including (a) farm gates; (b) factory premises; (c) warehouses; (d) silos; (e) cold storages; or (f) any other structures or places, from where the trade of farmers’ produce may be undertaken in the territory of India, obviously the pimps at the excluded APMC markets wouldn’t like it. And when the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Agricultural Services and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill, 2020 gives our peasants the independence, morally as well as monetarily corrupt political parties see their feudal power of keeping the tillers at their mercy slipping away.
Of course, there could have been a non-legislative way of ensuring the freedom of farmers, but an India that has grown up on misleading socialist education raised a bogey of foreign invasion when, way back in 2011, the UPA government had tried to open multi-brand retail to FDI. The Wal-Marts, Tescos and Carrefours of the world — as much as Reliance Fresh, Big Bazaar (now bought up by Mukesh Ambani), Subhiksha (now no more) etc of India — would have bought agricultural products directly from the farms and sold them to the end-users without going through seven levels of brokers while also competing with one another unable to establish a monopoly or affect the mom-and-pop stores. Prime Minister Modi has rightly addressed the country as much as the electorate of Bihar today to allay the unfounded fears the opposition in trying to induce in the people. Never mind the fact that the activism by his party and its ideological parent — which looks and feels communist when the BJP is in opposition — kept the farmers in misery unnecessarily for nine more years. Delayed freedom and protracted prosperity befit a paranoid nation.