It is normal for opposition to oppose any reform, even if they do exactly the same when in power. Modi should just move on.
Reforms in Agriculture
Three bills were passed by the lower house of the Parliament - the Loksaba. Here BJP/NDA has a comfortable majority (330 + seats out of 543) although not as one sided as the one Rajiv Gandhi and earlier Congress governemnts used to enjoy with over 400 seats. Yet in the Indian mainstream “liberal” media you will find the term “brutal” being employed freely to describe this majority. One never comes across this term attributed to AAPs 67/70 majority in the last Assembly or the 62/70 in the present one.
In the Rajyasaba or the Upper House, where all bills other than “money” bills need to pass as well, BJP only recently acquired a slim majority (116/245). Until then it was uphill struggle to get any work done, with frequent disruptions and delays as well as obstruction. BJP had to put up with this for all of its first 5 year term in office. The opposition’s tactics have somewhat led to the present situation whereby BJP plays hardball and refuses to let the opposition have its way.
Let us ignore the question of who the first culprit is, and all the whataboutery that goes with it. If you want to learn about the dynasty’s side of the story, just read any of our “eminent intellectuals’” OpEds in the media!. P B Mehta, for one, does a fantastic job in Indian Express (1), that even Mani Shankar Aiyar would probably find difficult to emulate. There is absolutely no mention of the disruptions and other such tactics right from Day 1 of Modi’s tenure. And if you take the trouble to go back in time, you will never find any article offering similar advise to UPA to take opposition into confidence during their rule. At that time it was OpEds and Editorials slamming BJP’s tactics. That is our “independent” media for you!
There are three bills.
- Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill 2020
This bill basically allows intra and inter-state trade of farm produce outside of the APMC system. It is amazing that 73 years after indepenedence, we need a bill like this to permit something that should not have been banned in the first place! Put simply, it means a politician like Manmohan Singh of Punjab or Delhi can contest from Assam, a Civil Engineer or Doctor or Chartered Accountant can practice anywhere in India and a movie actor from Hollywood can dance in Tamil movies but a poor farmer can only sell to his nearest APMC and its brokers and none else!
- Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020.
This enables contract farming whereby farmers enter into contracts with potential buyers who can finance the crop or provide other inputs and enjoy certain benefits in return.
- Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill
This dilutes the draconian ECA which was a barrier to inter-state trade in commodities deemed “essential”. A relic of Nehruvian socialism. Investments in private warehousing, procurement, supply chain, cold storage etc, were completely unviable and even dangerous with the damocles sword of this Act and its myriad paperwork, punishments and outright bans. Needless to say, the farmers suffered and so did the final consumer. We leave it to you to guess who benefited! The state still retains enough levers to impose controls should some emergency such as war arise.
That our leftist ecosystem defends this dysfunctional current system is not just illustrative of its moral bankruptcy but also anti-Modi hatred that refuses to see what’s good for India. A few scattered protests are being played up as “farmers protest”. Of course, in India there is always farmers, students, Dalits etc., protesting provided the target is Modi or BJP. If not, it is “rightwing or saffron protests”. Generic terms like farmers (with the implication that entire class is up in protest) are used only if the right party is protesting against the right governement! With such control over narratives, the Stalinist left ecosystem tries to sabotage reform and create chaos.
Interestingly Congress to promised exactly these reforms in its own election manifesto and its own PM Manmohan Singh asked states to do the same!
The bogey being raised is that the minimum support price system will erode or vanish once this is implemented. There is nothing that prevents any government Center or State, to act as a buyer of last resort at set prices. But when did facts matter?! Behind the facade of shedding tears for farmers and outrageous statements like “death warrant to farmers” etc., the corurpt ecosystem is mainly concerned for the middlemen who may miss out on their cut.
We do not want to get too carried away by what Congress does because that is exactly what BJP does when it is in the opposition. This is Indian politics. Every good reform is proposed by the same party that opposes it too.
There is work to do
Passing the bills is just the beginning. At the end of the rainbow we need a agri sector where farmers have access to technology and other inputs, finance as well as market intelligence and access. They should be able to go where the money is and plant crops that bring them maximum revenue. The MSP system may be protective in one way, but since it applies only to a few crops (there is no MSP if you plant ginger or Quinoa or Lemongrass, all of which and more, can give superb returns if done right) it also acts as a barrier to crop diversification as well as increased earnings and value addition.
All this means letting the private sector invest and provide its muscle but providing a safety net at the lowest possible cost to farmers so that no one falls through the cracks. It also means unshackling the farmers and helping them upgrade themselves as well as their lives.
This takes a lot. Senisble laws, Effective bureaucracy, good policies, active monitoring and more. Well drafted laws can be defeated by babus that come out with confusing, contradictory and complicated “notifications” that basically make the laws useless. Ministers have to watch out for this and more.
Let us hope PM Modi will stay the course and push through the bills as well as take the follow up steps needed to see them become facts on the ground.