Political parties in India are well aware that the farming community is too important a vote bank to be trifled with. The ruling party at the Centre is no exception. The BJP-led NDA government has come up with a series of measures in the past six years to financially support farmers and boost their income. Modi Sarkar has even expanded the Direct Benefit Transfer scheme, launched during UPA-II rule, with the objective of freeing the annadata from the clutches of middlemen. No wonder it is paradoxical that the BJP finds itself under fire over three ‘farmer-friendly’ Bills. Initially promulgated as ordinances, these Bills have sparked protests by farmers and farm unions across the country, right from Punjab to Telangana, besides inviting the ire of the governments of non-BJP-ruled states.
Agriculture is a State subject. The Centre is constitutionally bound to consult the states and develop consensus before going ahead with any legislation that impacts farmers. Due process has apparently been bypassed in the instant case, leading to accusations from the Opposition of legislative overreach and an assault on federalism. The Modi government has repeatedly stated that the new laws are not aimed at tinkering with or doing away with the Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime, but the trust deficit persists. Assured procurement of wheat and paddy at the MSP has played a key role in making India food-surplus, even as farmers are contending with diminishing returns amid rising input costs and limited options to sell their harvest. The move to empower them by enabling barrier-free trade makes sense, provided they don’t have to settle for unremunerative prices.
If the Centre’s initiative is indeed well-intentioned, it should go all out to convince various stakeholders of the potential benefits. A national debate is the need of the hour to dispel apprehensions about the Bills, particularly the dreaded corporatisation of agriculture. The feedback ought to be utilised to make changes or improvements in the laws. Ignoring farmers’ concerns can be politically suicidal as well as economically disastrous. It’s hoped that better sense will prevail.