It is high time that either NDA government should convince the farmers about the utility of the three laws or withdraw them in larger national interest
The farmers agitation is going to complete three months after a couple of days. Several newspapers and other media reports suggest that it has lost steam and is going to end soon as the number of people on dharna sites are dwindling daily. It seems that media persons have forgotten the fact that these farmers also have their families to look after, have to plough their fields, irrigate their sown crops and similar other essential activities necessary for their livelihood. Sitting on dharna at various locations around Delhi is also a priority in their charter of activities but this is not the only thing on their minds. People need to remember that the current farmers agitation is unprecedented in many ways. Apart from being totally peaceful, except for the incident of 26th January, this agitation has shown the kind of patience unparalleled in the living memory of the present generation. The resilience, patience and perseverance shown by the farmers deserves to be commended despite the kind of ridicule, sustained negative media campaign and adverse weather conditions they were made to face. In every democracy every section of the population has the right to protest against any action of government which they perceive to be against their interest. This is exactly what they are doing at present to draw the attention of the ruling dispensation towards their demand , and they are well within their rights to do so.
We are a republic and people have been given the right to choose the government through their vote. Hence the government has the legitimate right to say that they have the mandate to pass any law in the larger interest of the population and any such decision is bound to have varying impact, adverse or favourable, on various sections of the society. Yes, people have the right to raise their voices and concerns through legitimate means, and the government is not bound to accept every agitating section’s demand. The problem arises when the “Jantantra” moves towards “Dhantantra” with billions and billions of rupees being spent by political parties and candidates to win election by any means. Over the years, criminals of all hues and people with ill-gotten wealth were preferred by every political party as their candidates in the election fray. Naturally those who spent billions to win elections do not do that to serve people. Their first task is to get hefty returns on their investment and to collect enough for their future ventures.
Here starts the problem. The actions taken and decisions made by those in power are now no more above suspicion. People have to be on guard always and keep a vigil on every law that is made, every policy that is announced, every move that is made in the name of helping the poor and needy. When the ruling dispensation loses moral ground, their promises, words and utterances cannot be trusted. People need to examine every policy decision by putting them under the microscopic lens to satisfy themselves that they are really in the nation’s interest in general. This is what happened with these three farm laws. In the midst of the corona pandemic, the central government chose to enact these laws through the ordinance route. Immediately afterwards, farmers in Punjab started agitating, squatted on railway tracks, started dharna etc. and demanded withdrawal of these ordinances . In September , the government pushed these through Parliamentary scrutiny and succeeded in getting the three laws passed. By now the farmers agitation had spread to other states leading to “Dilli Chalo” call. Now farmer’s dharna is continuing peacefully on all the major highways leading to the national capital, Delhi, for past nearly three months. Farmers have given many strong reasons for their opposition to these three farm laws whereas the government has stuck to its stand that these farm laws are going to unshackle the agricultural produce markets and help farmers get better price for their produce.
In democratic system, the elected governments do have the right to make laws but since all their actions have to be only in the public interest , the responsibility lies on the government to convince those affected by the legislation that they are for the larger good of the masses. This is where the government seems to have failed which led to the present impasse. Firstly , there was no wider consultation with the farming community before bringing these laws in existence. Secondly , the farmers have been in distress for many years and have not been getting remunerative prices for their produce barring a miniscule minority. Hence their demand for some kind of law to ensure that they at least get minimum support price to survive. This long pending demand was totally ignored , instead these three laws were enacted, which farmers had never demanded.
For several decades now, we have been dangling between welfare state versus market driven debate with politico-bureaucratic class failing to chalk out a clear economic policy to take the country ahead. Naturally every country has a different history, culture, social ethos and state of economy , hence one set of prescription is not going to help every country. We need to decide whether we want to pursue free market economic model or not. We have shown the tendency of one step forward and two steps backward kind of approach while deciding our economic growth model. This lack of clarity has caused the nation dearly. With nearly seventy percent of the population, numbering eighty crore people ,still dependent on agriculture and related activities, any policy prescription concerning them should be carefully weighed and views of various cross section of the society incorporated before embarking upon a new path.
There is a feeling prevalent that if the government is made to withdraw these farm bills , then it will be difficult to carry out any other major policy reform in the future. Nothing can be farther from truth that this. Any government , till such time its intentions are honest , can take any action or make any law because people then have the trust that the government has only the people’s interest in its mind. However , as far as farmer’s agitation is concerned ,there is only one way through which the present impasse can be resolved, and that is, either the government succeeds in convincing the farmers or the government withdraws the three laws , sits with the farmers , discusses the contours of the proposed laws and arrives at a consensus. Democracy is all about this. The time has come to resolve the issue now, any further delay is going to cost the nation dearly.
(Vijay Shankar Pandey is former Secretary to Government of India)