Farmers enact a mock Parliament to protest three laws
At Jantar Mantar, an 18th-century observatory in India’s national capital, a farmers’ mock parliament is in session, barely a kilometre from India’s actual Parliament. ‘Lawmakers’ in the mock one unanimously sign off on a series of ‘legislation’, from repealing real-world “anti-farmer laws” to enacting “legal guarantees” for assured farm prices.
Protests in New Delhi by farm unions against three agricultural laws enacted by the Modi government last year are full of colourful acts of high symbolism, backed by nearly 200 cultivators from various food-bowl states.
Elsewhere in the hinterland, however, farm unions are preparing to doggedly resist agricultural policies of the Narendra Modi-led government. The protests have long radiated, after they began in November 2020, from Punjab on to Haryana and Rajasthan, and most importantly Uttar Pradesh, a political bellwether which faces assembly elections next year.
On the face of it, the farmers have had little success in convincing the government to scrap three laws that provide for freer agricultural markets, allowing big supermarkets and food businesses to directly source produce from farmers.
“Aside from the question of repealing the laws, we are ready to talk on any provision of the laws at any time,” agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar said twice last month.
The Modi government has argued that the laws are important to boost rural investments and farm incomes. The farmers say the new laws will expose them to exploitation by big buyers. They prefer to rely on highly regulated government-backed markets, which are not corruption free, but allow farmers to get assured prices for cereals.
Farmers have demanded a flagship law that will legally guarantee benchmark rates, known as minimum support prices, for all produce, regardless of market conditions.
“You will see the impact (of the farmers’ agitation) in elections. Please wait,” Rakesh Tikait, who represents the Bharatiya Kisan Union outfit, said.
Behind the curtains, strategies are being drawn to campaign against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which rules both at the Centre and states such as Uttar Pradesh and Haryana. Farmers from both these states are heavily participating in the protests.
A core group of farm leaders make up the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella outfit coordinating the protests that are now well-organised in at least four large states: Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Punjab. The first two are ruled by the BJP.
“We are saying repeal these laws. The government is not listening. We are opposing the BJP because it has brought these laws and is refusing to drop them.” Tikait makes it clear that he will work to defeat the BJP.
His organisation has planned at least 100 mahapanchayats, or traditional clan-based rural rallies, in Uttar Pradesh. “Lucknow ko Dilli banayenge (will turn Lucknow into another Delhi,” he said. The BJP, which managed a landslide victory in the 2017 assembly polls and grabbed 76% of seats in the recent local body polls, hopes its policies for farmers will pay off.
“The political fallout (of these protests) is not very concerning. Steps taken by the government to improve farm incomes will counter any negative fallout,” said Gopal Aggarwal, the BJP’s national spokesperson overseeing economic affairs.