Without informing the authorities about any scheduled demonstration, which is mandatory, farmers numbering in thousands tried to reach Jantar Mantar in the heart of New Delhi today, but Delhi Police blocked them at border entry points like Tikri, Singhu and Ghazipur. The police advised commuters to avoid these traffic routes.
The police of the capital had received information that more than 5,000 farmers, mainly from Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, would try to reach Delhi. In the afternoon, farmer leaders alleged that the police were stopping vehicles carrying the protesters from entering the city. The police said, however, they had been allowed to proceed after carrying out "due verification".
Why are farmers protesting in Delhi again despite the withdrawal of the agricultural reform laws that they had earlier objected to?
Youth leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) Sumit Shastri says these farmers demand, among other things, a legal guarantee for minimum support price (MSP), the sacking of Minister of State for Home Ajay Mishra Teni and the release of jailed farmers.
Farmers want entitled Minimum Support Price
The Narendra Modi government, like its predecessors, provides MSP for 23 crops — 7 kinds of cereal (paddy, wheat, maize, bajra, jowar, ragi and barley), 5 pulses (chana, tur/arhar, moong, urad and masur), 7 oilseeds (mustard-rapeseed, groundnut, soybean, sunflower, sesamum, safflower and nigerseed) and 4 commercial crops (sugarcane, cotton, copra and raw jute).
The MSP is an indicative price without statutory backing, given to farmers if they are unable to sell their crops during the ongoing season. Farmers cannot demand MSP as a matter of right.
In most crops grown across much of India, the prices received by farmers, especially during harvest time, are well below the officially-declared MSPs, but then, other businessmen take greater risks in their businesses where the government does not give them a penny if they cannot sell their merchandise.
Other than the withdrawal of the three farm reform laws that the unions had demanded for a year up to November 2021, the farmers wanted the Modi government to enact a law that would make giving MSP compulsory rather than allowing it to be merely an indicative or desired price.
While Prime Minister Modi announced the withdrawal of the three farm laws on 19 November 2021, his government has resisted the pressure to make MSP a legal right. Last month, answering a question in the parliament, the government clarified that it had not given any assurance to the protesting farmers on this count.
As a follow-up to the prime minister’s November 2021 announcement, the Ministry of Agriculture constituted a committee in July. Its terms of reference do not mention a legal guarantee for MSP — only the need to make MSP "more effective and transparent".
They want Teni to go
On 3 October 2021, a convoy of three SUVs, including a Mahindra Thar owned by the union minister, hit a group of raucous farmers walking back after a protest in Uttar Pradesh’s Lakhimpur Kheri. A violent retaliation followed. In the skirmish, four farmers and a journalist were killed.
The farmers killed the driver of the Thar and two local BJP leaders were killed. They had not vented all the pent up anger yet. They alleged that Minister Teni’s son, Ashish Mishra alias Monu, was present at the spot.
Ashish Mishra was arrested on 11 October 2021. On 3 January, a Special Investigation Team (SIT) filed a charge sheet against 14 individuals including Ashish Mishra. In February, Ashish was released on bail in the absence of preliminary evidence of his alleged guilt.
Not willing to let their own comrades suffer for the same crime
The farmers have long been demanding that Teni be dropped from Prime Minister Modi's council of ministers. They have called for a judicial investigation into the incident, holding a three-day dharna to push for Teni’s sacking last week.
The farmers want further that four of their comrades who were arrested in connection with the Lakhimpur Kheri violence should be released.
What is the problem in granting these farmers their wishes?
- The farmers of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh are already the most privileged in the profession, managing to extract MSP from the government more than farmers in other parts of the country.
- They want to get MSP regardless of the quality of their produce.
- MSP is a huge burden on the exchequer; it comes from taxpayers' money while these farmers don't pay income tax because agricultural income is tax-free.
- The law cannot treat those accused of a given crime differently. If some members of the BJP are guilty of murder or culpable homicide not amounting to murder, so are the farmer activists. If one set is punished, both have to be. If one set is spared, both have to be.
- The Modi government had given the farmers a better deal than what their older demand, that of MSP, asks for by giving them the freedom to sell their crops anywhere across the country, breaking free of the shackles of brokers at mandis (wholesale markets). But there is no point arguing along that line, as the government withdrew those historic agriculture reform laws.