In the recent negotiations of the farmers movement with the government spread over several rounds, the non-acceptance of the farmers’ demand for the repeal of the three controversial farm laws was presented as the most important reason for not reaching an agreement, while the truth is that this should be an easy demand to accept by any sympathetic government. Acceptance of this demand involves no expenditure on the part of government, and the fact that the immediate implementation of the three controversial laws is not on the cards makes it all the more easier to accept the demand of repealing the laws.
Even a quick reading of the three controversial laws will convince most unbiased observers that these are not needed at all and will worsen the existing farming crisis if implemented. The fact that that the government is so adamant regarding these laws is indicative of the fact that it is committed to a larger and related agenda of farm development ( very wrongly described as reform )based on crony capitalism which is very harmful for sustainable livelihoods and food security, as well as for biodiversity and environment.
In fact there are powerful interests which propagate an even more aggressive shift towards corporatization, driven not just by two oft named billionaires by even bigger MNCs as well, as seen in the strong pressures to introduce GM food crops . Some knowledgeable people believe that these efforts were quite near to succeeding but for the determined resistance put up by certain groups, including a relatively small but honest part of the Sangh Parivar. Moreover such efforts at pushing GM crops may be revived again, as the opposing elements in the Sangh Parivar appear to have become more subdued for now.
However the union government is right when it says that its keenness on corporatization is in fact shared by several opposition parties, or at least by some important leaders within these parties. It is not difficult to find instances of present day opposition leaders who made strong statements in favor of promoting corporatization of farming in the past. The first big boost for corporatization in farming and reduction of rural self-reliance was in the form of the introduction of the green revolution and by and large the Congress party still sees the green revolution as a big achievement. Left to his own devices, it is likely that the former Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh would also have favored an agenda of greater corporatization of farming including, in all probability , the introduction of GM food crops as well.
As far as the pro-establishment experts of farming who dominate the media discourse are concerned, they take the green revolution for granted, would be happy to see entry of GM food crops and react with shock if anyone suggests any alternative to a corporatization led path of agricultural development. As far as land reforms and land redistribution in favor of the landless is concerned, the establishment experts would rather not mention it at all ( except to oppose it).
The leading political parties also prefer to avoid this subject of land redistribution altogether and in fact , let us face the reality, some of the farmer organizations (not all) are also not keen about this at all, they may actually oppose this.
The overall situation is that most of the influential forces are likely to follow a farm development path which is not capable of resolving the farming and rural crisis in the sense of paving the way for sustainable livelihoods and sustainable food security. A very firm commitment to land reforms , ecologically protective farming and rural self-reliance is needed for this but this agenda is not accepted sincerely by any of the most influential forces today. There is no compelling evidence of the full and firm commitment of even a major section of the farmers movement and the left movement to this.
This is why a satisfactory resolving of the farming and related crisis at present is very difficult but still we are grateful to the farmers movement for firmly opposing the three controversial farm laws which were planned by those powerful forces which for their profits want to follow a path which is sure to aggravate this crisis.
At the same time it is extremely important at this stage of human history to resolve this crisis. India faces this challenge in the most serious way and on the largest scale compared to almost any other country. Saving sustainable livelihoods based on farming and related activities here is more important than in any other country. The challenges of malnutrition, rapid loss of soil health and water resource, biodiversity loss, loss of natural pollinators and organisms important for healthy farming, worsening disasters and weather extremes in times of climate change, all are massive here. Very significant changes in farming are needed from the point of view of checking climate change as well as adapting to it.
In fact resolving the farming crisis in the best possible way here will be extremely beneficial not just for India but also for the entire world, as a role model of protecting sustainable livelihoods and sustainable food security in times of climate change, adapting as well as contributing to checking climate change in a big way.
Surely this is a most urgent task of the greatest importance, but firm commitment for this is difficult to obtain from any of the currently most influential forces in the country ( some of whom are keen instead to march in the opposite direction, more or less). In this overall depressing situation, nonetheless efforts to promote initiatives in the right direction should continue, and the efforts aimed at checking the aggravation of the crisis should also get wider support. At the same time continuing efforts should be made towards increasing the support base for ecologically protective farming as well as for land reforms in favor of the poor.
Bharat Dogra is a veteran journalist and author. His recent books include Man Over Machine ( Gandhian Ideas For Our Times ) and When the Two Streams Met ( Freedom Movement of India).