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None happy about Modi's withdrawal of farm laws

The lack of clarity made the Modi government promote a narrative that was acceptable to none

None happy about Modis withdrawal of farm laws
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PRIME Minister Narendra Modi loves to surprise the country. He has been doing it since he took over the charge. He suddenly put a note-ban and people were in queues in front of banks. He imposed a lockdown and people had to run to the streets to collect groceries. There are many other examples of his sudden announcements.

He did the same during the last week and announced the withdrawal of three farm laws that farmers had been opposing for over a year. Though people had been speculating about the announcement for quite some time, they did not have any clue as to when it would be made. The Prime Minister continued with his pattern and stuck to his usual style. He did not discuss it in the cabinet. He did not place it before the party organisation and avoided any consultation with the opposition parties. He completely ignored the farmers, the major stakeholders, too. The withdrawal, one of the most important political decisions of recent months, immediately sparked controversy because of the manner in which he adopted it.

This is not the first time the Prime Minister has declared a vital decision without first establishing a coherent logic. He argued that the note ban would end terrorism, reduce black money, and promote a cashless economy when he proposed it. The claims were not backed by facts and ultimately collapsed. In this case, he himself has contradicted the appropriateness of the decision. He said that farm laws were beneficial to the farmers and only "a few farmers" were opposed to them. He also asserted that his intentions were good, but he failed to convince these "few farmers." The assertion clearly indicated that he took the decision under some pressure. How could a decision taken to appease a section of farmers be right? Should the Prime Minister yield to pressure from a section of the population when he is convinced of the effectiveness of the laws he has enacted?

Everyone knows that electoral compulsions were behind this decision. His public meetings in Uttar Pradesh were not receiving the expected response, and he seemed apprehensive about a debacle in the approaching assembly elections. Nothing was wrong with telling the people that farm laws were being withdrawn because farmers had not accepted them. After all, the people's mandate is supreme in our democracy if it is within the framework of our Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Prime Minister chose to resort to a weak argument.

Obviously, people are questioning the necessity of a narrative that can not satisfy anyone. The withdrawal has angered those supporters of the farm-laws who believed that no pressure could make the PM change his decisions. They are disappointed to see him change a decision he still considers right. The farmers are angry because they were not consulted, even though they were the major stakeholders. The opposition is angry that the PM did not care to discuss anything on the issue with them.

The majority of the audience is deafeningly silent on another crucial aspect of the story. When the farm laws were enacted, the industry enthusiastically welcomed them. The Sanyukt Kisan Morcha was also alleging that the decision had been taken at the behest of the corporate sector. Though in a lower voice, the industry is expressing its disappointment over the withdrawal. There are ample reasons to believe that the Prime Minister wanted to placate the industry by defending the laws while withdrawing them. He wanted to tell the industry that he still believed in the efficacy of these laws and withdrew them under pressure. His assertion has certainly softened them.

Obviously, the Prime Minister wanted to simultaneously carry two contradictory themes. The theme that the farm laws were good was meant for the industry, and the theme that opposition from a section of farmers made him decide to withdraw the laws was meant for farmers. Was it not possible for him to promote a universally accepted narrative? If we analyze the issue in-depth, we find a lack of clarity or inherent apathy on the part of the policymakers. There are some hard facts which should be kept in mind: Agriculture employs more than half of the country's workforce and employs at least 60% of the country's population. Neither the manufacturing sector nor the service sector can compete with agriculture in absorbing people on such a large scale. Does it not make agriculture the most important sector for us?

Another factor is also not less important. A country with a vast population like ours needs a robust supply of food and nutrition. Keeping in view our failure to arrest hunger and malnutrition among a large population, we need to provide support to make farming a profitable occupation. This could only be done by assisting farmers by ensuring a better price for their produce. The earlier experience shows that Indian farmers are open to change and improving productivity whenever they get the chance. The Green Revolution is the best example of it.

The main reason for rural poverty has been the transformation of agriculture into a loss-making venture. We have seen that ill-thought-out strategies have compounded the problem. Rural poverty is forcing large migration. All the cities in India have been converted into large slums. This can only be checked by making agriculture a profitable venture. But this should not be done by forcing the further displacement of framers and alienating them from the land. A stable rural economy will also make our industrial sector stable. The lack of clarity made the Modi government promote a narrative that was acceptable to none. Farmers have been sitting on dharnas on the borders of Delhi for one year and they will continue with it.

(Anil Sinha is a senior journalist. He has experience of working with leading newspapers and electronic media including Deccan Herald, Sunday Guardian, Navbharat Times and Dainik Bhaskar. He writes on politics, society, environment and economy)

Anil Sinha
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