By Irfan Mahar*
Indian farmers have been protesting, nationwide against the Indian government new laws concerning agriculture reforms, for many months. Thousands of farmers are staging sit-in protest along Delhi borders against the present government to record their grievances as well as demand a complete rollback of the new farm reform laws.
In September 2020, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government through parliament passed three bills regarding agricultural reforms. Indian farmers consider these three bills, namely the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, anti-farmers. Protesters, who have come from far-flung areas, living in tents in such cold weather.
Additionally, they have been facing multiple kinds of difficulties and hardships created by the Indian government. The BJP government reaction to farmers protest has been criticized by many people belonging to the different sections of society such as writers, politician, human rights activists and the Indian diaspora, particularly the Sikh community. They have the view that the BJP’s government is showing its authoritarianism through beating peaceful protesters, using violence to disrupt protesters, suspending internet access for millions of people, detaining journalists, torturing and sexually assaulting female protesters such as Nodeep Kaur, and cutting off the electricity and bathroom access. Looking over the farmers’ as well as worldwide resentment on agriculture laws, the Indian Supreme Court has put on hold the implementation of the three farm laws.
Indian farmers are afraid of government policies that it wants to implement through the bill because it will allow private buyers more access in a marketplace. Moreover, they fear that new laws regarding the agriculture sector support the private companies and big businessmen which will ultimately allow these big corporations to exploit poor (low-income) farmers. Additionally, farmers show their anger over the unprofessional and hawkish behaviour by the BJP government in regulating and passing the agricultural laws without even bothering to discuss it with farmers unions and farmers who are the major stakeholders.
Similarly, many farmers during protest shared their views that PM Modi is being used by such business tycoons who are very much powerful and influence the policies of the government. Such powerful entities are using the PM Modi government through it they aim to achieve their interests. Furthermore, farmers have the view that the PM Modi government is trying to impose authoritarianism in the form of capitalism which will not be acceptable to any farmer.
While on the other side, the Indian government keeps the view that the new laws regarding agriculture are very beneficial for the farmers which help them to get competitive prices of their products in the market because of the competition among many stakeholders. Moreover, the Modi government has been trying to convince the farmers regarding the new laws that these are made according to the changing situations that will give farmers autonomy, allow better marketing, remove regulatory barriers and provide multiple options to farmers when it comes to selling their agricultural products in the market. The economic structure of not only India but of the whole region is in the process of transition. The new laws will help the farmers to fill that generational gap through liberalizing the old laws with new and better ones. Most of the developed countries of the world have also advanced their agriculture sector by liberalizing it.
In this regard, Indian farmers have to understand the changing circumstances as well as have to accept the modified laws which are made for the progress and development of the agriculture sector but also the betterment of farmers who keep many shares not only in the economy but also in the population of the country. As for as the strong ally of India is concerned, it welcomes India’s Farm Reforms and explains that the US always supports the Indian government steps which would improve the efficiency of India’s market.
As for as the worldwide reaction to the Indian farmers’ protest is concerned, many well-known personalities have reacted to it such as Rihanna and climate activist Greta Thunberg. Moreover, celebrities’ reaction over recent protests in the streets of New Delhi has highlighted the farmers’ plights globally. While the Indian government’s response seems to be harsh and strict when it comes to the favour of farmers by any national or international celebrity. In this regard, many of the ruling party’s leaders consider them as agents or being used at the hands of foreign entities. The role of the BJP government has been criticized by the people of various sections of society. They keep many concerns over the democratic structure of India not only because of the ongoing farmers’ protest but also the previous policies and actions of the PM Modi government. Such as, on August 5, 2019, the government imposed a curfew in the Indian occupied Kashmir by revoking Article 370 and 35-A of the Indian Constitution which removed Kashmir’s protected autonomy.
Furthermore, the BJP-led government’s decision and amendments regarding the citizenship act were also vastly criticized by the people of India particularly Muslims and other minority groups. Resultantly, protests were started by the people throughout the country that led the country towards unstable and violent conditions. In this regard, during ongoing dialogue efforts between the BJP-led Indian government and the farmers, PM Modi should ponder over its previous policies and come up with revised and better policies which will be beneficial for the whole nation irrespective of any section of society. Moreover, it is the responsibility of the present government to keep serious steps for the solution of the problem instead of prolonging it. The solution to the problem not only gives relief to the poor farmers but also will be considered as the success of the present Indian government. Many people throughout the world also want to get rid of this ongoing skirmishes between the Indian government and farmers through peaceful means. As also expressed by UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet on February 26, 2021, that he hopes, the ongoing dialogue will lead to an “equitable solution” to the crisis that respects the rights of all.
*The writer teaches at the Department of Defense and Strategic Studies, Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad, Pakistan.