Rajat Sharma

Political motives behind farmer leaders’ move to continue dharna

There is, as of now, no guarantee that the farmers would leave once the MSP guarantee law is passed. One should also understand whether it is feasible on part of the Centre to guarantee minimum support prices to farmers?

akb fullAfter the Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced withdrawal of the three farm laws on Friday, farmers were expected to end their year-long agitation, but this did not happen. People of India are now wondering as to what is the real aim of Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the umbrella forum for agitating farmers.

During the last one year, these farmer leaders had been promising to call off their agitation once the new farm laws are repealed, but now they seem to have gone back on their word. Farmer leaders are now demanding a law to guarantee minimum support prices. These leaders are now saying, only after the farm laws are repealed by Parliament, and the MSP law is enacted, the agitators will leave the dharna sites. The question now is: will the farmer leaders really call off their agitation once this is done?

There is, as of now, no guarantee that the farmers would leave once the MSP guarantee law is passed. One should also understand whether it is feasible on part of the Centre to guarantee minimum support prices to farmers? One should understand the effect it would have on the nation’s economy. The farmer leaders know it very well that this demand is not going to be fulfilled and they would merrily carry on with their agitation.

For the last one year, three major border points of Delhi are practically closed to traffic with farmers pitching their tents along with their tractors. Most of the farmer leaders are busy campaigning in Punjab, UP and Uttarakhand. The political atmosphere in these three states is on the boil as assembly elections are fast approaching.

Farmer leaders like Rakesh Tikait and Yudhvir Singh are focussing on UP, while Gurnam Singh Chadhuni and Balbir Singh Rajewal are focussing on Punjab. Tikait held a Kisan Mahapanchayat in Lucknow on Monday. He tried his best to prove that Prime Minister Modi has bowed to increasing pressure due to elections in Punjab and UP.

Tikait said, the agitation will not end after the repeal of the farm laws and it will continue until and unless farmers get the Centre’s guarantee for ensuring good prices for their produce. The agitation will continue till the MSP guarantee law is enacted, he said. Even if the law is enacted, farmer leaders will raise the manner in which MSP formulas are made.

Already, on Monday, they gave clear indications about their intent. Rakesh Tikait went to the extent of saying that a quintal of wheat should be purchased at Rs 15,000 if a correct formula is adopted. In other words, 100 kg of wheat should be purchased at Rs 15,000, which amounts to a price of Rs 150 per kg, payable to farmers!

Rakesh Tikait is now behaving more like a politician than a farmer leader. He is inciting and misleading the farmers and quoting an outrageous Rs 15,000 per quintal procurement rate. He is unwilling to show any scientific formula on which he arrived at this amount. He said, when Narendra Modi was Gujarat Chief Minister, he had then demanded a guarantee for MSP while submitting his report to the then PM Dr Manmohan Singh. Tikait said, Modi should at least act on his own report.

I have gone through different reports on MSPs, and have come to the conclusion that if the Centre offers guarantee of MSP for certain crops, it will open a Pandora’s box. Thousands of crops, fruits and vegetables are grown by farmers, and if the Centre offers MSP guarantee for wheat and paddy, farmers will demand similar MSP for other produce.

At present, the Centre decides MSP for 23 crops, but there is no legal guarantee. It only implies that the government will pay the MSPs only when it procures these crops, while farmers are free to sell their crops to traders, millers and others at mutually agreed prices. Farmer leaders are demanding Centre’s guarantee, by law, but if traders are unwilling to buy those crops, it will be the responsibility of the government to buy those crops, regardless of the fact that it has storage capacity or financial resources, or not.

Once such a law is passed, farmers will put pressure on the Centre to buy all those crops. Even in developed countries, the governments do not give MSP guarantee, but do offer subsidies, says Anil Ghanwat, president of Maharashtra-based Shetkari Sanghatana, and a member of the Supreme Court appointed panel on farmer issues.

Anil Ghanwat says, if the Centre starts purchasing all crops at MSPs, it will become bankrupt within two years. Every year millions of tonnes of paddy and wheat go waste because of lack of storage capacity. At present, 48 lakh MT paddy is consumed in India, but the government has already procured 110 MT of paddy, that is two and a half times the amount of consumption.

If the MSP guarantee law is enacted, farmers may sell their crops to the government and go home, but where is the storage capacity? That is why, experts are laying stress on building storage infrastructure first, rather than guarantee MSPs. Experts say, it is the market which decides the prices of crops, based on demand and supply, but the farmer leaders are unwilling to listen to reason.

When our reporter told the expert’s view to Rakesh Tikait in Lucknow, he said, “In 1967, three bags of wheat fetched one tola of gold. Let the government give us this rate, we will go home”. For a layman, this may sound logical. Prices of paddy and wheat did not rise at the speed with which prices of other commodities rose, over the decades.

But experts explain this in a different manner. They point out that in 1967, when three bags of wheat fetched a tola of gold, wheat production was very low in India. There was huge shortage of wheat, and India had to import wheat. You may remember, in 1965, the then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had appealed to people to observe fast once every day because of severe food shortage. It was only then that the MSP concept was introduced, to encourage farmers to produce more. At that time the MSP was introduced not through legislation, but through an executive order.

The situation now has undergone a sea change. There is no more shortage of food. There is shortage of space to store the foodgrains, and no buyers. The interesting part is that farmer leaders like Rakesh Tikait, Yogendra Yadav, Gurnam Singh Chadhuni, Yudhvir Singh, Hannan Mollah and Balbir Singh Rajewal know this fact for sure, but are trying to mislead the farmers. They are putting up conditions which no government can accept. The reason: the farmer leaders are no more interested in the welfare of farmers, they are more interested in ensuring the defeat of Narendra Modi’s party in the forthcoming assembly elections.

What more can a Prime Minister do, except appeal to farmers with folded hands and a sincere heart, that he would repeal the farm laws and farmers should now go home? The Prime Minister admits that there might be shortcomings in his ‘tapasya’(efforts) because of which he could not convince all the farmers about the new laws.

Farmer leaders will never understand the sincerity of Modi’s intent, because they do not want to. Even if the MSP guarantee law is enacted, these farmer leaders will again shift their goal posts and come forward with more demands: withdrawal of criminal cases against agitators, withdrawal of ‘parali’(paddy stubble) burning ban order, withdrawal of all power tariff on farmers, new law for fixing prices for seeds and milk, etc. In other words, the demands will go on increasing, but the tents will continue to remain in place. Till then, the farmer leaders will be busy touring the states where elections are going to be held.

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