The other demands the farmers have now raised include a total waiver of agriculture loans, pension and crop insurance
The Union government must sit across the table with the farmers’ unions which had called off their historic 18-month agitation against the three farm bills and discuss their grievance that the government has not met the commitments it had made to them while negotiating the terms for ending their strike last year.
Top on the farmers’ agenda is the legal backing for the minimum support price (MSP) the government offers to agricultural products. While the withdrawal of all the three bills, which would have collectively ended their bargaining power and stopped several of the sops they received from the government now, was their key demand, an assurance to introduce a legal backing to the MSP which would have guaranteed them a return for their toil was a hot topic even then.
The other demands the farmers have now raised include a total waiver of agriculture loans, pension and crop insurance. They also sought withdrawal of cases registered against farmers and compensation to families of farmers who died during the agitation in their meeting with the Union agriculture minister on Monday.
The government had last year promised to look into their demands; and it indeed set up, after seven months, a committee under the former Union agriculture secretary with a mandate, among others, to promote zero-budget based farming and to make MSP more “effective and transparent”. The terms of reference of the committee had no mention of a legal guarantee on MSP.
There are many reasons why the government should sort out the farmers’ issues. The Narendra Modi government which came to power in 2014 has made several promises to the farming community which included doubling their income by 2022. Every Budget would promise moon but very little is seen on the ground. The latest was the proposal in the 2019-20 Union Budget to promote zero budget farming which was aimed at reducing input costs. It is yet to be translated into action for the benefit of the farmers. There is no talk of doubling the farmers’ income either.
The government must realise that the farmers might forget the proactive promises it had made to them, but are unlikely to drop their demands which are key to their sustenance as farmers. The other demands relating to cases call for purely political and administrative decisions, not policy decisions.
The Modi government has faced several agitations on key issues such as the Citizenship Amendment Act, 2019, the hollowing out of Article 370 of the Constitution and the trifurcation of Jammu and Kashmir and lynching in the name of cow vigilantism but remained unfazed as the protests fizzled out. The farmers, however, were able to persist with their movement for an incredibly long time and so that the government had to concede their points. This shows that they have the ability to plan, sustain and withdraw an agitation against a government which otherwise refuses to reconsider its decisions. It will be unwise for the government to drag them back to the agitating front. Some battles are better lost if the outcome of the war looks promising, especially if it’s an election year.