In this world of things temporary, the shred of permanency that we can hold on to is Modiji’s surprise announcements.
Let us first take a moment to feel pity for the people working in the news industry who had to cancel their weekend plans because on a Friday morning we woke up hearing something we never expected we’d hear. Well, as a consolation, at least this time it’s not a famous dad’s brat snorting his way to jail but a real issue affecting the nation.
On a different note, I was planning to restart writing for a while but was wondering where to start, I thank Modiji for his marg-darshan.
Getting to the issue now...
It’s a simple guess UP elections are around the corner. Rakesh Tikait, the poster boy of the farmer agitation, comes from Western UP, it would have been an uphill task to make much headway in that region with the protests still going on, and let’s not forget UP is the largest state of the Union, a setback there will have an impact at the centre, too (UP se vaakae Dilli dur nahi).
Apart from UP, the BJP must be hopeful about Punjab. Perhaps not a win, they may be looking for a larger foothold. And after the unceremonious exit of Captain Amarinder Singh from the Congress and his willingness to side with the BJP, there is certainly a fighting chance.
We must appreciate the timing of this move. The government gave in to the farmer’s demands not when their protests were at their peak but when no one was talking about them, indicating that they haven’t been forced into this instead they did this on their terms. One would have expected the stir to intensify close to the elections, so catching everyone off their guards, this move from the Prime Minister came just like a Virat Kohli signature Cover Drive, timed to perfection.
Modi the strongman
Narendra Modi, among other things, comes with an image of a strongman, a man who never capitulates to the opposition, a man who never retracts his decisions. He has maintained this right from the time he was the CM of Gujarat. We as a nation have benefited and borne the brunt of this trait of his personality. He has been able to push through tough measures both nationally and internationally but at the same time, some of his unilateral decisions have caused us significant harm, the quintessential one being Demonetization.
It was this trait of his that the news came as a surprise to most of us. You don’t expect Narendra Modi to accept failure and take back his decision. It is to be seen how much of a hit that image takes now that he has made this exception.
My opinion on the bills:
The original bills showed all characteristics of one cleared in haste. For example, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance and Farm Services Act (the contract farming law) did not allow the farmers to go to a civil court in case a dispute arises. Dispute settlement was entirely the Sub-District Magistrate’s (SDM) responsibility. An officer of SDM rank is well out of reach for a small farmer. This problem may not have existed if the bill went through the Parliamentary Standing Committee and subsequently through a debate on the floor of the house.
This and many other issues got ironed out when the government proposed amendments to the bills. Post that the acts were in fine shape and, in my opinion, would have been beneficial for the farmers.
One could envision the creation of startups that would have facilitated the sale of agricultural produce across the country, an Amazon-Flipkart like marketplace for farm produce. Or farmers being able to sell their produce at pre-determined prices, saving them from price fluctuation, a major cause of agony for small farmers.
The precedent counts
Let’s recollect how these bills came into being. In June 2020, when the nation was enduring the pandemic, there came the ordinances that brought these bills into existence. Later, these bills were shoved down the throat of the parliament with the brute majority that the ruling coalition has. There was no scrutiny, no debate. This was the problematic part, the ruling coalition, no matter their strength, must never resort to such methods to push their agenda, especially when their actions are about to directly impact half of our population.
The merit of the bill itself should not be judged on the method of its passage, but we cannot afford laws with this kind of an impact to go through without scrutiny. We were setting some dangerous precedents.
An opportunity squandered
Agriculture reforms have been long pending in our country though we are in dire need of them. It has always been seen as an issue too sensitive to touch. It doesn’t happen every day that a government picks up something like this. Now we have not just obliterated this particular set of reforms, we have made it exceedingly difficult to bring in any reforms whatsoever in the future. We now have hostility instead of trust between the establishment and the farmers. All actions in this area will now be seen through a lens of mistrust and suspicion. This is the chief problem that this episode is going to leave us with.
Nevertheless, if we see scrutiny and debate making a comeback in our Parliament then this loss might still be worth it.
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