Ongoing farmer protests that turn into an encirclement of New Delhi, the power-center are no longer confined to the securing of assurance of Minimum Support Price (MSP) for wheat and rice in Punjab and Haryana. They have sharpened the sting against Indian policies of neo-liberalism. These policies have already led to the finance-capital control and privatization of health and education sectors of the country. And the extent of deterioration of these two sectors causing untold miseries and hardships to a majority of Indian people, particularly the unprivileged ones is now fairly known and written about.
Now neo-liberal policies enter the agriculture sector with the Modi government surreptitiously enacting Farm Ordinances in June this year to be converted into Farm Acts in Parliament after three months. The Acts are out to deliver death blows to the prevailing and officially regulated farm markets, known as APMC marketing yards. Also the Acts would provide free access to agri-business corporations which ultimately control and manipulate farm produce markets to maximize their profits. Under the neoliberal regime, the state withdraws from public spheres giving a free hand to the market forces to exploit the situation at their sweet will.
The Modi government succumbs to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) dictated policies and it out to deliver systemic destruction of the agriculture sector which now sustain nearly 60 percent population. What happened to Ukraine farming in the last decade is quite illustrative in this regard. Small farmers of Ukraine holding 16 percent of farmlands were providing 55 percent of farm produce before hedge funds, private equity, and pension funds including agrochemical giants Cargill reached Ukraine. As they were not interested in food security turned the country’s farmland into ‘financial assets’. The financialization process led to the uprooting of local communities replacing the local agriculture with industrial and export-oriented model and finally leading to degradation of soil, poisoning of water with excessive use of pesticides and destruction of the environment.
The Indian farmer leaders are now quite aware that the small and marginal farmers, 86 percent of them having 2-acre holdings, cannot stand up before sweeping financial power of agri-business corporations. Hence they face existential problems. That is why they are out to wage ‘do or die’ struggle now. The three Farm Acts plus amended Electricity Laws are a recipe for the liberalization of the agriculture sector. But the Modi government chose the wrong time for implementing policy-changes. It did not bother that agriculture cannot survive without state subsidy or support anywhere in the world. The USA gave a huge subsidy of 46 billion dollars to her farmers last year which amounted to 40 percent of the total farm income in the country. Similarly, European Union subsidy to the farmers amounted to 56 billion dollars.
India State cannot follow the neoliberal policies in the farming sector as it has too small industrial and service sectors to accommodate the working hands expected to throw idle by the operation of agri-business corporates, private players, and seed and grain giants. Employees and stakeholders of the health and education sectors resisted the onslaught of privatization for some time before falling flat before the powerful financial players apparently enjoying the patronage of the Indian state and political elite. The hardships of those sectors have already traveled to the small farmers and have accentuated the sufferings of the rural people who have lagged behind in economic development as achieved by their urban counterparts.
All these factors collectively led to the shaping of the injured psyche of the farmers currently protesting against the Farm Acts. All this led to the heavy public response and support of protesters in Punjab and Haryana. And farm protests have now taken up an All India farmer dimension with farmers from other states joining the Delhi agitation.
During the last eight-day protests at Delhi borders, the Central government had three rounds of inconclusive talks with the farm leaders. The Modi government and its “Godi” (embedded) media has so far failed at its political game of polarising the people on communal lines. Old New Delhi’s strategy of painting the Sikh farmers, the originator of the protests, as Khalistanis, separatists’ and terrorists’ failed to stick. And it is left with no other choice but to talk to peaceful protesters who are poised to stay for weeks together in the open braving the chilly nights.
With the support coming from the Canadian Prime Minister, MPs from England, and the USA, the temper of protesters got toughened and they are not ready to move away with less than the withdrawal of three Farm Acts. The farmer leaders too caught in a catch -22 situation as they cannot settle with the government ready to amend the Acts. The farmer protests have become wider resisting the entry corporates in other economic spheres too. Hence the Indian government’s liberal policies are under attack. Let us see how far the resistance could succeed in stalling the march of neo-liberalism of which the Modi government is a willing ally.
Independent journalist Jaspal Singh Sidhu could be reached at email@example.com