The cry of the farmers

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By Victor Ferrao

The farmers’ protest has gone on for days and several of the protesting farmers have died due to the biting cold of Delhi.

The Government so far has failed to find a middle ground and the farmers are determined to their intent on the repeal of the three new laws that they describe as black laws.

This is not the first time that the Modi Government is facing mass resistance. But this time the unrest is high in decimals. The anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests were first. Unfortunately, the global pandemic prematurely derailed those protests. Besides, those being led by our Muslim brethren, it was easy for the government to use its standard ideological trope of national disloyalty as well as perhaps unleash the menace of vigilante counteraction. This is why we might have seen much destruction and loss of life in the Delhi riots. But this time, things are different. The farmers pose a far more political threat than the previous mass mobilization.

This does not mean that the government machinery did not slam the farmers with their standard ideological trope of disloyalty to the nation. The farmers we indeed framed as Khalistanis. But this narrative did not cut ice with the framers who are struck firmly to their singular agenda to repeal the laws.

The government might have realised that it might end up fanning wind into the sails of the spectre of terror and violence that haunted Punjab in the 1980s. Hence, in a rapid response, another delegitimating tool kit was unleashed. The government projected that some farmers were accepting the three laws. Even the Prime Minister addressed the groups of farmers in Madhya Pradesh through media conferencing. To its bad luck, some vigilant journalists exposed that several of those who masqueraded in those new laws enthusiast gatherings were not farmers yet all. 

Thus far the government has tried to handle politically what is mainly an economic issue of the farmer. What is at stake for the farmers is economic and land security. The new laws do not assure them to the farmers. The Government is pushing the farmers into rigours of the market while protecting the corporate houses that will trade on the farm produce.

Farmers are denied basic legal protections and are left in darkness to be exploited by the heartless corporate houses who are only interested in increasing their profit margins. Farmers were left to face the market competition without any economic as well as legal support. 

Economists make a distinction between business-oriented and market-oriented policies of the government. The new farm laws push the farmers into the marker oriented policies while keeping the business-oriented policies reserved to the cronies of the government.

Cronies with their lobbying power with the government’s assurance that get favours that protect them from the high and lows of the market. Although up to this point, the overall policy of the government had been business oriented as it assured the minimum support price to the farmers, through the new laws, it is pursuing a market-oriented agrarian policy.

It is this change in the agrarian policy of the Government that is badly hurting the farmers. The farmers are to move into this transition that will also involve contract farming to suit the market without any legal as well as economic safeguards.

Over 80 % of India’s farmers being small farmers, no contract farming in a market-oriented environment does make economic sense as the bargaining power is heavily tilting on the side of the corporate houses that then can ruthlessly pursue their economic goals at the cost of the farmers and their lands. The new laws do not offer a level playing field and the farmers are left in a vulnerable situation to face the ravages of the market.

This means the economics of the three laws is not faultless. They are clearly on the side of the crony capitalists. The government appears to follow John Maynard Keynes’ economic doctrine selectively. Keynes taught that governments have to step in to make economic conditions work for all their citizens. In the context of the farmers, the farmers’ new laws offer a multiplier effect on the side of the crony corporate houses while leaving the farmers to the balancing effect of the invisible hand of the market as stated by Adam Smith.

Globalization has clearly shown that the so-called invisible hand of the market only pushes wealth and resources on the side of the rich and powerful and several governments have brought in protectionist policies. Even, the Brexit in England may be viewed through this prism.

This means the new laws have reversed the agrarian economic policy of the government. Up to this point, the economic policy of the government when it came to farm production was business-oriented. The government positively stepped in to protect the farmers. The new laws have changed all this. The farmers are left to fend for themselves in the market. This means when it comes to agriculture, the government seems to be following Friedrich Hayek who wanted a free market with no interference by the Government.

The new laws are not democratic. They are heavily tilting towards the crony capitalists. This means eventually these laws are not just against the farmers but will also be against the middle class that buys the agricultural products at the price that is decided by the rich corporate houses who have the power to increase the shelf life of the perishable goods produced by the farmers by employing big warehouses that will use a cold chain to keep them fresh.

The agricultural reforms affect thousands of farmers and the discontent farmers have taken to protests. The farmers are not fools. They do understand what is at stake and have entered the protests with a strong intent to fight till the finish. Several among them say that farm reforms are necessary but the three laws do not bring about those reforms. They see the novel laws as destructive of their interest as farmers.  Will the Government listen to the cry of the farmer?

(Victor Ferrao, a professor of Philosophy in Rachol Major Seminary in Goa Archdiocese, is a social commentator for local dailies in this western Indian state. Views are personal and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Dalit Christian Digest).

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