PM slams ‘andolanjeevi’ in Rajya Sabha farm laws defence

Updated on Feb 09, 2021 06:05 AM IST
  • At the same time, the PM appealed to agitating farm groups to call off their protests, said all doors for suggestions and improvement remain open, and invited them for continued discussions.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha during ongoing Budget Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. (PTI)
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha during ongoing Budget Session of Parliament, in New Delhi, Monday, Feb. 8, 2021. (PTI)
By, New Delhi

While warning the country against “andolanjeevis” (those who live off protests), and the influence of FDI (“foreign destructive ideology”), Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday strongly defended the recent farm laws, touted their benefits, particularly for small and marginal farmers, and reiterated the government’s commitment to modernising agricultural markets (mandis) and retaining the minimum support price (MSP)-based procurement regime.

At the same time, the PM appealed to agitating farm groups to call off their protests, said all doors for suggestions and improvement remain open, and invited them for continued discussions.

Responding to the debate on the motion of thanks on the President’s address in the Rajya Sabha, Modi cited the history of political backing for agricultural reforms, including by former PM Manmohan Singh, and criticised the Opposition for their “U-turn” on the issue.

At a time when there is increasing criticism about India’s democratic record, the PM also called India the “mother of democracy”, and at a time when some have labelled protesting Sikh farmers as extremists, he hailed the contribution of Sikhs to nation-building and underscored the sensitivity of Punjab given its history.

Modi also praised the manner in which Indian citizens battled Covid-19, spoke of the immense goodwill generated for India with its supply of medicines and now vaccines to other countries, and highlighted India’s post-Covid-19 economic recovery. On the continued stand-off with China at the Line of Actual Control, he said that India’s position was clear and there was no question of any relaxation in India’s commitment to “border security”and “border infrastructure”.

Highlighting the urgency of agri reforms, which formed the core of his speech in the House, the PM said: “This is the time to make agriculture prosperous... Give the reforms a chance and see whether we benefit from it. If there is any weakness, we will remedy it..the doors are not closed... If we delay this, if we get caught up in our political calculations, we will push farmers to darkness. I pray to all of you to think about this.”

The PM also warned against those he termed “andolanjeevis”. “We are familiar with shramjivi (those who labour), and buddhijivis (intellectuals). But I see that a new group has emerged in this country. If there is a lawyers movement, a students movement, a workers movement, they will be there — either in the front or behind the scenes. They cannot live without andolans (movements). They get to all places, give an ideological stand, mislead and show new ways. The country must be saved from these ‘andolanjeevis’. The interesting thing is they cannot do anything on their own but if something is happening, they will be there. They are ‘parijeevis’ (parasites).”

He added that even as the country was talking about foreign direct investment (FDI), another form of FDI had emerged. “This is foreign destructive ideology. To save the country from this FDI, we need to be more aware.” The PM’s comments come in the wake of tweets by global figures — including pop icon Rihanna and environmental activist Greta Thunberg — in solidarity with farm protests, which triggered an official government response blaming “vested interests” for propaganda. At the same time, Modi emphasised the importance of Punjab. “There are people who are making constant efforts to weaken and destabilise India. Don’t forget what happened with Punjab. During Partition, Punjab suffered the worst. During 1984, the maximum tears were shed in Punjab. The most horrific incidents happened in Punjab... all governments have known who was behind it.”

He also sent out a message on the Sikh community. “Some people are trying to mislead the minds of Sikhs in particular. This country is proud of every Sikh. What have they not done for this country? However much we respect them, it will be less.”

Senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said Modi’s speech did not offer any solution for the protesting farmers but tried to divert the issue. “He spoke in his own style but didn’t say a word about relief to farmers,” he said. Samyukta Kisan Morcha, the umbrella body of farmers unions, condemned the Prime Minister’s ‘”andolanjivi” remark and said it was an insult to the farmers. “Farmers would like to remind the PM that it is ‘andolans’ that have liberated India from colonial rulers and that is why we are proud to be ‘Andolan-jivi’,” a statement from the organisation said.

On the laws, Modi first spoke about the scale and marginalisation of small farmers in India and cited the late farm leader and former prime minister, Chaudhary Charan Singh — this was symbolic, for it is Singh’s community, the Jats, who are currently at the forefront of the protests in Singh’s geographical base, western Uttar Pradesh. The PM said that Singh, citing the 1971 farm census, had often spoken of how 51% of Indian farmers had less than a hectare of land. This figure was now 68%, while 86% of farmers in India were small and marginal. Modi claimed that this large segment had been neglected — while big farmers got the benefits of bank loans, bank loan waivers, insurance schemes, irrigation, free power. It was his government, Modi claimed, which had expanded benefits to small and marginal farmers — through direct income assistance, expansion of Kisan credit cards and insurance scheme and initiatives such as Kisan rail and Kisan udan to enable them to reach distant markets. The PM then spoke about increasing land fragmentation and the need to generate livelihoods for members of farming families. He gave the example of the dairy sector — which contributes 28% of India’s agri economy — and said that milk and vegetable producers were able to directly get better rates from the market. “Why should foodgrain and lentil producers not have the same freedom as those who produce milk and vegetables?”

Citing Manmohan Singh as having said that Indian farmers must be allowed to sell their produce where they can get higher rates of return and there should be a common agricultural market, the PM said, “Maybe those making U-turns won’t accept my view but accept his views...You should be proud that Manmohan Singh said it and Modi is doing it.” The entire discussion on the subject in the House, the PM claimed, had not been about the law but had revolved around complaints about the method and that it was hurried or there wasn’t enough consultation. “This happens. Even when there is a wedding in the family, a relative may say she was not called... this happens in such large families.” The PM also spoke about the resistance to any change as being natural — and claimed that even during the Green Revolution, the then Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri had to face opposition from his Planning Commission, from members of his cabinet including the finance minister, from Left forces (“they are using the same language today they used then”), and appointed C Subramanian as agriculture minister when other politicians feared that taking over the portfolio would antagonise farmers and jeopardise their political careers. “But the result is that from seeking food under the PL-480 (an American aid programme), our farmers did record production domestically.” Modi projected the reforms as inevitable, claiming that those parties opposing the reforms at the moment had done similar, even if partial, reforms, in their states. “We will have to explain to protesters that whoever is here will have to do it, if not today, then tomorrow. Today I have done it, tomorrow you will have to do it. Attribute the negative to me, take the credit yourself. But let us move forward.”

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