Anger that had been simmering for months finally came to a boil on November 29, when thousands of Indian farmers marched upon Delhi from Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh (UP). The protests started against the central government’s new agriculture laws, which were passed back in September.
The protesters were stopped by barricades and barbed wires were erected by the Delhi police to block their entry into the capital. However, despite the police’s efforts and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s statement that the government was willing to negotiate with the farmers, many set up makeshift tents and are still camped on the roads, aiming to stay for as long as their demands are not met.
Now the fight between the farmers and the government has become a classic case of who leaves the battle ground first.
So, what are the farmers protesting against?
For decades now, the Indian government has been offering farmers a guaranteed price they earn for the crops they sell, giving them a sense of security and allowing them to prepare for further investments. The previous laws gave farmers the liberty to sell crops at an auction rate where they knew they would get a minimum amount of money, decided by the government and the Agricultural Produce Market Committee. The restrictions were only limited to who could buy the goods while the prices were pre-decided for necessary crops.
Under the new bill, the farmers fear losing these safeguards. According to the protestors in Delhi, this law takes away their bargain power and leaves them at the mercy of big giants in the market, who leave less to no place for negotiation when buying from the poor farmers.
According to the Indian Express, Modi aims to increase competition in the market by dismantling the committee structure the farmers had been following for centuries now. Being an agricultural country, more than 86% of India’s land is controlled by small landholder farmers. These farmers own less than two hectares individually.
Despite the constant assurances by the government, the farmers have been urging that the new law indirectly helps major players in the market to help them bring down the prices. There is no doubt that the removal of committee structure will help elevate prices if the demand increases for the goods. However, if the supply also increases, the farmers could be struggling to meet the minimum price for years.
Why is the new bill garnering so much attention now?
India is home to 1.3 billion people, where about 58% of them rely on agriculture to make ends meet. This means that farmers also occupy a greater part of the voter bank in the country. Thus, the new bill has become a hot political issue in the scenario where these farmers have been meaning to get the minimum price increased for years now.
In the 2014 general election manifesto, the Hindu nationalist party, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led by Modi assured the farmers that the crop prices should be fixed at a 50% higher amount than the cost of its production, in a bid to win more farmer votes. The PM reassured the voters again in 2016 by promising to boost the agriculture sector by the year 2022. The government said they were working towards doubling the minimum price of goods being sold. Then, the new bill happened. Modi hailed the bill as a “watershed moment” in September, claiming it would enable the decades old practices in the agriculture sector to take a fresh turn.
The government still has not issued a statement as to why such a move has been taken during a global pandemic that has not only put the farmers in a vulnerable place, but has also put the world’s largest democracy through its first recession in decades. As for the farmers and the cause they have been protesting for has proved contentious. The ongoing protests have gathered support from across the globe with Twitter labelling a tweet by the BJP IT head, Amit Malviya as ‘manipulated media‘, in another first.
What are the farmers demanding?
The main idea behind the Delhi Chalo march (let us go to Delhi) is to reverse the new policies that have been launched under the new Agricultural bill.
Here is everything the angry farmers have demanded so far:
1. To keep the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and also defining it on paper for the selling of the crops to avoid exploitation by giants in the market.
2. They want the electricity usage law to be withdrawn given the current circumstances that are only adding to their misery.
3. Removal of any fine that they have to bear in case of the crops getting burned.
The meetings between the Modi government and the farmers did not result in anything beneficiary. The Indian farmers are adamant on the stance that they have taken against the government in the quest of better representation of themselves in the country, even if it means being called ‘anti-nationalist’ by the government. The farmers might have not been able to convince the government yet but, they certainly have the attention of the masses, economists and Bollywood stars like Diljit Dosanjh announcing a hefty amount as a token of support for the farmers.
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