Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Dec 15 Tuesday said that a conspiracy is going around Delhi. The PM was speaking at the inauguration of mega energy projects in Kutch, in his home state Gujarat. The PM’s statement came even as the farmers’ agitation across the country entered its 20th day. Five rounds of talks between the government and the farmers have failed to end the stalemate and, on December 9, the sixth round of talks was cancelled.
He also interacted with farmers from Kutch district of Gujarat, including those from Punjab who have settled there, and members of a local self-help group (SHG).
He said the trade of agricultural produce and dairy products is flourishing in Gujarat because government involvement is minimal. “Today Kutch is one of the fastest developing areas. Connectivity is improving here day by day,” said the PM.
Modi obviously conferred with corporates too. The CII and ASSOCHAM supported the three farm laws but wanted the stalemate to be ended soon. The CII said the current farmers’ agitation might impact economic recovery as the detours due to the blockade of highways have led to 50 per cent more time and distance for movement of goods and about 8-10 per cent increase in logistics costs.
Another industry body, ASSOCHAM, pegged the daily losses at around Rs 3,000 crore due to the prolonged blockade in the region that includes states of Punjab, Haryana, and Himachal Pradesh. It called for early resolution of the imbroglio.
SAD chief Sukhbir Singh Badal refuted and said on the same day Dec 15 it was the BJP that “has been resorting to dangerous conspiracy theories to sabotage the hard-earned atmosphere of peace and communal harmony just for the realisation of petty political goals”. ..it is splitting the country into pieces by setting one community against another. So desperate is it for power that is has no scruples in taking the communal polarisation route and setting the country aflame. .. the BJP is the real ‘tukde tukde’ gang in the country today”.
“The BJP remains so ungrateful to farmers that it is painting them as anti-national. Today it is the farmers. Nobody knows, the BJP might even say the same about soldiers tomorrow if it suits them.”
“The BJP first set Hindus against Muslims. Now, it is determined to replay that evil game and re-enact the same tragedy in Punjab. It is conspiring to set our peace-loving Hindu brethren in Punjab against their Sikh brethren, with whom they have shared strong bonds of blood for centuries. The BJP wants to replace those bonds of blood with bloodshed.”
Talking about the farm laws, he said, “These have been made by those who never did farming and now are teaching benefits of these laws to farmers.”
Modi’s ominous statement on conspiracy assumes importance as the agitation enters 20th day and a A Homage Day (Shraddhanjali Diwas) is slated for 20 December . It is to pay tributes to those farmers who have lost their lives during the ongoing protests. According to the Times of India, farmers leaders said around 20 farmers have died during protest so far. Farmer leader Rishipal said that one farmer has died every day on an average since the protest started in the last week of November. ” For all the farmers who lost their lives and became martyrs in the ongoing protest will be organised across the country in villages and tehsil headquarters on 20 December from 11 am to 1pm,” said another farmer leader.
“ Meanwhile, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said that his government is willing to hold talks with “genuine farm unions” to find a solution. Tomar also met Bharatiya Kisan Union (Kisan) from Uttar Pradesh in the national capital and said that the Minimum Support Price is an administrative decision and will continue as it is. Notably, Bharatiya Kisan Union (Kisan) extended its support to the farm Act, says another report. Modi also spoke to a farmers’ group, including some from Punjab brought to Gujarat.
The two statements indicate a carrot and stick policy of the govt. with their own options. Embedded in Tomar’s statement is a tactic to divide and split the farmers groups. And attempts to communalize the issue are there, say Punjab leaders, mainly SAD.
Various political aspects of the farmers’ agitation need to be looked into. The official claims that democratic procedures were followed by extensive and prolonged consultations also needs to be examined based on facts. Sangh parivar members as also NDA allies themselves refute these claims.
“People who are sitting in the opposition and misleading farmers today were in the favour of these farm reforms during their government. They could not make a decision during their tenure. Today, when the nation has taken a historical step then these people are misleading farmers,” said PM Modi… “The agriculture reforms that have taken place are exactly what farmer bodies and even opposition have been asking over the years. Government of India is always committed to farmer welfare and we will keep assuring the farmers and addressing their concerns,” said PM Modi.
His accusations against Opposition that they had once favored these reforms is true. Almost all ruling parties in India supported reforms and liberalization (LPG) policies. And they make noises while in opposition, as did BJP on many issues. But there is no conspiracy by them, opportunism is brazen.
Who is misleading farmers? Opposition or Modi?
Modi also accused the Opposition parties of using farmers’ shoulders to fire their guns and assured that farmers’ welfare has been a top priority for his government. It is not only Opposition parties that opposed but larger masses across India. His own parivar members of BKS said it was Modi who was misled:
In fact “these people ( the bureaucrats ) have even made the Prime Minister give wrong statements about the Acts,” says leader of BKS. Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS)-affiliate Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) has come out in strong support of the farmers, saying the Acts only serve the interests of corporate houses and big traders, not farmers. The Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM), another RSS affiliate, has also issued a statement opposing the laws, reported business-standard.com, December 3, 2020.
The laws, according to senior BKS functionaries, have many lacunae, none of which have been reviewed by the government despite repeated entreaties. BKS also lent moral support to the ongoing farmers’ agitation, but said it won’t participate physically as it has never taken part in any violent protest in its history.
“We were among the first organisations to voice our opposition to the three Acts long before anyone else and had sent memorandums collected from 3,000 tehsils across the country to the agriculture ministry to amend the Bills, but nothing was accepted,” BKS General Secretary Badri Narayan Chaudhary told Business Standard.
He said gram sabhas in around 15,000 villages across the country passed resolutions to amend specific provisions of the Acts, but none of these was considered by the government.
“We met the agriculture minister to voice our concern, but even if he seems convinced about our stand, as soon as he sits down with officers and bureaucrats, he begins to advance the same old arguments,” said Chaudhary.
In fact, he adds, “these people have even made the Prime Minister give wrong statements about the Acts”.
It shows how the State functions and ruling politicians have to toe the line and sell it to the public. It bulldozes any dissent, even if it is from its own camp.
The Govt was adamant on the farm laws, later relented saying it would give written assurances on MSP, but would not make it into a law as demanded. But his own parivar members, months ago 19 September, 2020, supported the demand:
In a media statement, the SJM urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ensure that MSP is made a legal provision, which is now the demand of the agitators.
The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) and the Swadeshi Jagran Manch (SJM) have urged the Modi government to ensure that MSP — minimum support price, which guarantees a certain level of returns on produce — is a part of purchases inside and outside mandis as well.
“We have suggested that the government should integrate MSP with the open market. That is, if the farmer sells his produce anywhere, then he should be assured a minimum support price. No one should be allowed to purchase below it,” he said.
“Now that new agriculture laws are being made, MSP should be made a legal provision whether a purchase is made inside or outside a ‘mandi’. Those who try to deny farmers this right should be punished as per law,” said SJM national co-convenor Ashwani Mahajan.
Dr Ashwani Mahajan who teaches Economics in Delhi is also a visiting professor and research guide at Pacific University, Udaipur and Mewar University. He is the the National Co-Convener of Swadeshi Jagaran Manch (SJM), affiliated with the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, Chief Editor of Journal of Contemporary Indian Polity and Economy since 2011. He works as a researcher and activist on World Trade Organization (WTO) and other international trade agreements, he has attended three ministerial conferences of WTO. He is an author and a writer who contributed to media and journals including Economic and Political Weekly, Mainstream.
“ So, you should put it in the law that anybody purchasing any produce from a farmer has to pay the MSP, and anyone purchasing below the floor price should be penalized,” the SJM Convenor repeated in an interview .(Rediff.com. October 07, 2020.). The organisation overall supported the Bills, but he said:
“ So, we feel that the laws should be with those who have less bargaining power, and those who are economically less privileged. And farmers come in this category. Therefore, we need to protect them.”
“Such an MSP is more egalitarian, pro-farmer, pro-poor and scientific. So, you should put it in the law that anybody purchasing any produce from a farmer has to pay the MSP, and anyone purchasing below the floor price should be penalised.”
“A redressal mechanism, an agricultural court, so to speak, can be set up,” SJM Chief had said. That was as early as September 22, 2020. It is now one of the demands of the farmers’ agitation.
(See Countercurrents December 8, 2020 : RSS affiliate backs protesting farmers, says new Acts only favour companies
Communalizing the issue? It started from Delhi says Badal
Conspiracy if any is on the part of the Union Government if one considers what Sukhbir Singh Badal said on the previous day, Dec 14 Monday. Shiromani Akali Dal president, and BJP’s ally for decades Badal said “attempts are being made to drive a wedge between Hindus and Sikhs for disrupting the agrarian protest against the central agri legislations.”
These attempts are being made to turn the farmer agitation into a Sikh versus Hindu conflict. This has started in Delhi and now the forces behind this move want to replicate it in Punjab. The Akali Dal is committed to maintaining peace and communal brotherhood,” Sukhbir told a dharna in Amritsar.
“Unitary and dictatorial tendencies in the country”, Badal
Badal diagnosed one aspect of the problem and sharply said:
“The alarming crisis following the passage of three anti-farmer Acts would not have arisen if the government had followed a federal approach through consultation, conciliation and consensus,” Shiromani Akali Dal chief Sukhbir Singh Badal said in a statement.
“The farmers’ crisis cannot be de-linked from the ill-advised unitary and dictatorial tendencies in the country. The problem could have been averted through an approach based on federal principles,” said Badal after offering prayers at the Akal Takht Sahib complex.
Badal lamented that under the BJP-led government at the Centre, “the country has seen a dangerous slide into an increasingly autocratic and unitary system with growing centralisation of power in a few hands”.
PTI also reported from Amritsar, December 14. He also gave his solution to the crisis : genuine federalism as opposed to co-operative federalism :
He said his party would work in tandem with like-minded regional and national parties to make India a genuine federal country.
“This alone is the ultimate and durable guarantee against the social, political and economic turmoil which the country has been witnessing in recent years,” he said.
He reiterated that his party fully supports the farmers’ demand for total revocation of the farm laws.
The PM said: “People who are sitting in the opposition and misleading farmers today were in the favour of these farm reforms during their government. They could not make a decision during their tenure. Today, when the nation has taken a historical step then these people are misleading farmers,” The PM was speaking at the inauguration of mega energy projects in Kutch.
How “the nation has taken a historical step” could be seen in Badal’s words:
Badal alleged that the NDA government had “violated” the principle of federalism and “usurped” the powers of the states to institute three laws on agriculture which was a state subject. The government is working “against the interests of the states by concentrating all power in its hands”, Badal said, adding that the SAD was the first to talk about the need for a true federal structure.
“Then we were branded as separatists. However, today all the states are in favour of a federal structure and feel that if this had been in place the farmers would not have been agitating for their rights,” he said.
Call the dog mad and kill it?
“They are calling farmers as naxalites and terrorists” : Former Minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal
Who is ‘desh bhakt’, and who is desh drohi’ (traitor)?
Badal said: “Things had taken such a turn that if one was in agreement with the central government, he was a ‘desh bhakt’ (nationalist) but if one spoke out against it, he was branded a ‘desh drohi’ (traitor), he alleged. (PTI )
“Is Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who resigned from the union ministry in protest against the three farm laws, a desh drohi? Can anyone term Parkash Singh Badal, who returned his Padma Vibhushan, a desh drohi?” he asked.
“The agriculture reforms that have taken place are exactly what farmer bodies and even opposition have been asking over the years. Government of India is always committed to farmer welfare and we will keep assuring the farmers and addressing their concerns,” said PM Modi.
The farmers are being called extremists solely because they did not agree with the government narrative on the farm laws, he said. “The Akali Dal was the first to talk about the need for a true federal structure. Then, we were branded as separatists…”
At the same venue, Harsimrat Kaur Badal said it was unfortunate that the government had started calling farmers as naxalites and terrorists just because they were not relenting to its proposals. Such tactics would not help the Centre, the ex-union minister said. She resigned from the cabinet on Sep 17.
Releasing the party’s five-point mission statement on its centenary anniversary, Sukhbir announced commitment to Panthic ideals and values as the top priority… “We have a historic responsibility to perform this role,” he asserted.
The SAD initially vacillated, took an assurance on MSP at its face value, but developed doubts later whether they would really materialize. “Centre’s stubborn refusal to give statutory legislative guarantees to protect assured marketing of farmers crops on MSP,” forced it. And it sensed the widespread and mass opposition and saw it as a writing on the wall : The Akali Dal ruled Punjab for 10 years in a row until 2017 when it suffered it worst drubbing in the assembly elections.
Days later, when asked about whether the Akali Dal would continue being part of the NDA, Sukhbir Singh Badal said it would depend on the fate of the bills in the Rajya Sabha which, also was bulldozed, later passed the three contentious farm bills.
PM Modi in his Gujarat speech claimed : “The agriculture reforms that have taken place are exactly what farmer bodies and even opposition have been asking over the years. Government of India is always committed to farmer welfare and we will keep assuring the farmers and addressing their concerns.”
SAD leader Sukhbir refuted that, says a Dec 12 report : “It is unfortunate that Centre is trying to stifle the voices of the farmers, instead of listening to them. Farmers don’t want the farm laws. Why is Centre showing tyranny when the section of the society, for whom laws have been formed, doesn’t want it? I request the Prime Minister to listen to farmers,” he added.
“Centre is trying to defame agitation by calling it that of Khalistanis and political parties. It is unfortunate that if one disagrees with them they call them anti-nationals. Ministers giving such statements must apologise publicly. We condemn Centre’s attitude and such statements,” said the SAD chief.
Badal said the farmers are not happy spending their nights in the streets in this fierce cold but are helpless, and added “it has been the policy of the central government that anyone who raises voice against them is defamed by being called anti-national.”
Khalistani link was alleged by Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar, not any fringe element, as reported on Nov 28-29.
“SAD strongly condemns Haryana CM Manohar Lal Khattar”s statement terming our peasants who are agitating against the Anti-FarmerLaws as Khalistanis. This is a conspiracy to defame the farmers and their agitation to pave the way for its repression with brutal force,” Mr Badal said. Mr Khattar, a former RSS pracharak, while talking to the media on Saturday, was asked about “Khalistani elements” in the farmers’ protest. “We have inputs of some such unwanted elements in the crowd. We have some reports about it but will be disclosed once they are concrete. They raised such slogans. In videos they said “jab Indira Gandhi ko ye kar sakte hain, to Modi ko kyu nahi kar sakte“,” Mr Khattar said.
SAD chief Sukhbir accused Khattar of “maligning and insulting” farmers protesting against three farm laws and said the party formed a three-member panel to coordinate with like-minded political parties to support farmers’ agitation. “He should withdraw his statement immediately and tell the Centre to talk to farmers and resolve their grievances instead of raising the “Khalistan” bogey,” Badal said.
These are “ black laws…and a murderous assault” on all : SAD
A week after it walked out of the Narendra Modi government, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) on sep 26 decided to quit the BJP-led NDA over the three farm bills that it says are not in the interest of farmers. The Akali Dal was the oldest ally of the BJP and the two parties have shared power in Punjab and at the Centre for several terms. The Akali Dal’s decision to leave the NDA was taken at the party’s high-level meeting presided over by party president Sukhbir Singh Badal on Saturday.
Terming the Modi government’s decision to go ahead with the farm bills as a “murderous assault on the poor peasantry”, Sukhbir Singh Badal said, “The Shiromani Akali Dal has decided to pull out of BJP-led NDA alliance because of the Centre’s stubborn refusal to give statutory legislative guarantees to protect assured marketing of farmers crops on MSP.”
“If pain and protests of 3 crore Punjabis fail to melt the rigid stance of Government of India, it’s no longer the NDA envisioned by Vajpayee Ji and Badal Sahab. An alliance that turns a deaf ear to its oldest ally and a blind eye to pleas of those who feed the nation is no longer in the interest of Punjab,” Harsimrat Kaur tweeted.
Besides the three farm bills, the Akali Dal said it was also leaving the NDA due to the Modi government’s “continued insensitivity” towards Punjabi and Sikh issues like excluding Punjabi language as official language in Jammu and Kashmir.
“The government’s decision on farm bills is deeply injurious to the interests, not only of the farmers but also of khet mazdoor, traders, arhtiyas and the Dalits who depend on the well-being of agriculture,” the Akali Dal said in a statement.
While opposing the bills, Sukhbir said they will “sound death knell for 20 lakh farmers, 3 lakh ‘mandi’ labourers, 30 lakh khet mazdoor and 30,000 ‘arhatiyas’ besides destroying food grain procurement system established over 50 years” in Punjab.
Addressing reporters in Chandigarh, Sukhbir Badal said the decision to walk out of the NDA was taken after much deliberation. He said the farm bills that are being brought in by the Modi government are “lethal and disastrous” for farmers.
“These are black laws and the SAD had resigned in protest against these bills. It could not be a party to a government or alliance which stands opposed to the farmers, farm labourers, arhtiyas and other poorer and toiling sections of society,” he said. “But it seems the BJP is totally out of touch with ground realities.”
He said the SAD was the oldest ally of the BJP but the government and the main driving principle behind the alliance was the SAD’s commitment to peace and communal harmony in Punjab and the restoration of pride and dignity of Punjabis in general and Sikhs in particular in the country.
“But with successive decisions, the present government has shown its callous insensitivity to minority sentiments and been indifferent to the imperatives of peace and communal harmony in the country, especially in Punjab,” Sukhbir Badal said.
Three ordinances : “never consulted” says SAD
Modi tried to present it as if it is a creation by the Opposition today, for political reasons. Facts are it all started within NDA, on the farm Ordinances and that, three months ago. The Centre sought to bulldoze its way. See this report of September 17, 2020:
Union minister Harsimrat Badal’s resignation from the Cabinet signals an unusually strong stand taken by her party, Shiromani Akali Dal, against a move taken by its long-time ally BJP. Her resignation was in protest against three ordinances — The Farmers Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020; The Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement; and The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 — promulgated by the NDA government, which has now tabled Bills in Lok Sabha to replace these.
Akali Dal president Sukhbir Badal has said the party was never consulted on the ordinances, and that Harsimrat , his wife, had told the government about farmers’ reservations. Farmers in Haryana and Punjab have been agitating against the ordinances/Bills. The party voted against the Bills.
Ashutosh Kumar, a political scientist at Panjab University, said, “Every Cabinet member is bound by the Cabinet decision. Harsimrat’s resignation was inevitable as a vote against the bills would have violated Article 75.” However, Kumar doesn’t see any immediate threat to the alliance from BJP. (He however went wrong, and SAD walked out of the NDA soon after.)
Rajasthan and Haryana coalitions, and NDA under pressure
After Shiv Sena and the Telugu Desam Party, SAD is the third major party to walk out of the BJP-led coalition in the last couple of years. It is not Punjab and SAD alone but BJP-JJP alliance in Haryana also under pressure. Says a report: Dushyant Chutala , Dy CM is pressed by his MLAs. Seven out of 10 JJP MLAs ( 3 are of Chautala family ) have begun to come out in open support of farmers. Sources said there is a possibility that a few of them may quit if the ongoing deadlock between farmers and Union government continues. Dushyant said on Dec 13 that he expects the deadlock to be broken in two days. It did not happen yet. While one MLA Ram Kumar Gautam (Narnaund) has said that “it would be foolish if Union government does not repeal the three farm legislations”, another Ram Niwas (Narwana) has shown indications that he would resign, if farmers require it. Jogi Ram Sihag (Barwala) and Ram Karan Kala (Shahbad) had already participated in farmers’ agitation in Kurukshetra in September and are again speaking in farmers’ favour. The stakes are high :
“Simultaneously, the announcement on Monday by 90 powerful Jat groups i.e. khaps of support to the agitating Punjab farmers is certain to shake the support to Manohar Lal Khattar-led BJP Government in Haryana. In the 90-member Haryana Assembly, Chautala’s ten MLAs provide the majority to the BJP which had won 40 seats in the Assembly elections last year.” (thehindubusinessline.com, Nov 30)
The BJP’s minor ally , Hanuman Beniwal-led Rashtriya Loktantrik Party (RLP) in Rajasthan, also showed signs of unease : In a letter to Home Minister Amit Shah, RLP MP from Nagaur Hanuman Beniwal said the Government should immediately withdraw the three farm laws. It is “embarrassing for the Centre that the farmer is protesting in the harsh winter while the Covid-19 pandemic is still raging”.
Beniwal said his party will reconsider the decision to align with the NDA if the government does not immediately “Pave the way for a dialogue with the farmers by allowing them to stay where they want in Delhi, withdraw the three farm laws and implement the MSP regime according to the Swaminathan committee report… Beniwal is a prominent Jat leader from Nagaur.. (same report, thehindubusinessline.com,Nov 30)
RLP chief finally confirmed, Economic Times reported Dec 3, that he is going to be a part of the stir tomorrow. Beniwal took to Twitter to confirm his support. A call for the blockade of the Delhi-Jaipur highway has been given by the protesting farmers.
NDA’s tacit allies like TRS, YSR Party, TDP, who had voted with NDA in Rajya sabha on many issues earlier, supported the latest all India bandh call by farmers.
Earlier in the day, former Punjab CM Parkash Singh Badal had returned Padma Vibhushan to protest “the betrayal of the farmers by govt of India”. Badal condemned the Centre for not resuming freight trains despite farmers “clearing” all rail tracks. It is wrong to treat farmers agitating against the central agri-marketing acts as “enemies”, he told reporters here.
The SAD and the BJP had been allies since 1996 when both forged a pre-poll alliance which brought them to power. Now SAD moves for a joint political front against the NDA at Centre.
A Dec 6 Report by Indian Express says : Taking an initiative to form a joint political front against the NDA at Centre, the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) has started firming up support from regional parties. A delegation of the SAD, led by former MP Prem Singh Chandumajra met West Bengal Chief Minister and All India Trinamool Congress president Mamata Banerjee in Kolkata on dec 5 Saturday to seek her support for the joint front.
Chandumajra is also meeting NCP president Sharad Pawar and Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray on Dec 6 Sunday. “Another meeting with former UP CM Akhilesh Yadav is also scheduled in the next week,” Chandumajra said.
“All the regional parties have been feeling that we need to get together against the dictatorial attitude of the NDA government. This is the need of the hour to ward off the attack on the federal structure. Also, there is no strong opposition and the need to have a joint front has been felt by the regional parties,” he added.
The senior Akali leader had met leaders of Biju Janta Dal also few days ago. A joint statement on the current scenario prevailing in the country is likely, soon.
Thus BJP, Modi-Dhah duo, and NDA face their biggest challenge ever. The farmers struggle has opened new vistas in the polity.