he three farm laws enacted by the NDA government for the purported benefits of farmers have kicked up a massive stir in the country. Farmers from agriculturally advanced states such as Punjab and Haryana have taken the lead in opposing the government and demanding immediate repeal of the said Acts. The Opposition has thrown its weight behind the farmers. Thousands of farmers have reached the doorsteps of Delhi and have blocked some of the entry and exit points of the national capital. The government seems utterly clueless on handling the crisis. It has sent its best faces to negotiate with the farmers but to no avail. The farmers’ unions Tuesday rejected the Center’s offer to set up a committee to look into their issues. Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s assertion a day before that his government would never back out from the new farm laws have aggravated the crisis. Now, the protesters claim nothing short of a complete repeal of the new farm laws will placate them. Farmers from some other important states such as Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh are likely to join the ranks of the agitating farmers if a quick solution to the crisis is not found. First, the Centre erred by taking the farmers for granted. It did not show much empathy with their cause when they were beginning to organise themselves for a bigger challenge. It did not react till the farmers reached the doorsteps of Delhi. It follows that the Centre cannot escape the blame for letting the issue blow into a crisis and come to such a pass. Unleashing of paramilitary forces on peaceful marchers and use of violent means to tackle the protesting farmers aggravated the situation. Worse, some worthies in the government used insensitive words at farmers like ‘Khalistani terrorists’. This must have further antagonised the community. The government kept reiterating that the new laws are in interest of the farmers. But the latter refuse to be convinced. They fear the laws will end the time-tested mandi system and the minimum support price regime — the mainstay of farmers in India. The rancour among farmers was evident when they blatantly refused Home Minister Amit Shah’s request to shift to an alternate venue for their protest.
Agriculture continued to grow during the pandemic even as the recession-hit economy has seen a contraction of the conservative 7.5 per cent. Agriculture contributes nearly 15 per cent to India’s GDP. Though small in terms of value, the sector has been providing income stability to three quarters of the country’s population. During the pandemic when people’s moral is at the bottom and there are massive uncertainties in jobs and rural distress at a record high, there was no reason why the government thought it fit to tinker with the agriculture policies. This is not to say that the farm sector is perfect or does not need reforms. But the time was not ripe to bring in such sweeping changes in policies. If at all the government was to implement them, things should not have been done in a hurry. The Centre should have taken all the stake-holders into confidence and tried to reach a consensus. At present, the farmers want an assurance from the government that it would never tinker with the MSP. Only assurance won’t do, this should be drafted into the law as an inalienable right of the farmers. The government should do this pronto. Both sides should try to do some adjustments and reach a common ground. And the government should make the first move. The deadlock must go. The crisis, if allowed to pester for more time, will not only impair the farm sector which is in the middle of the harvesting season now, but will delay the economic recovery. The onus is on the government to bring the agitating farmers to the discussion table and resolve the issue. It must shun obduracy, a hallmark of this government.