Almost the entire opposition is presently engaged in politics over the issue of new farm laws being opposed by farmers’ unions of Punjab, Haryana and western UP. Most of the opposition parties like the Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena, Akali Dal, Samajwadi Party, Trinamool Congress and Left Parties, supported Tuesday’s ‘Bharat Bandh’ call given by farmers’ unions demanding repeal of the new laws. Several leading opposition leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Akhilesh Yadav, Arvind Kejriwal have jumped into the fray.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in his tweet on Monday demanded that the ‘Ambani-Adani farm laws be repealed’. Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee sent her lieutenant Derek O’Brien to meet the agitating farmers in Delhi. Akhilesh Yadav set out to join the ‘kisan padyatra’ in UP, but was detained. Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal met the agitating Punjab farmers at Singhu border and said, he had come there not as a CM, but as a ‘sewadar’.
In a nutshell, almost all the major opposition leaders from Sonia and Rahul Gandhi, to Sharad Pawar, Uddhav Thackeray, Mamata Banerjee, Akhilesh Yadav, Mayawati, and K. Chandrashekhar Rao have joined the bandwagon of leaders extending support to the agitating farmers. The farmer leaders are stumped. Till now, they had been consistently refusing to give platform to all political leaders because their grouse had been that political parties sing different tunes when in power and in opposition, on issues relating to farmers. Farmer leaders had been saying that these leaders, when in power, supported the same provisions that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has included in the new farm laws.
In my prime time show ‘Aaj Ki Baat’ on Monday night, we showed how these political leaders who are now opposing the farm laws, had been speaking in favour of abolition of ‘mandis’, allowing private investment in agriculture sector, and doing away with stock limits for foodgrains and vegetables.
By watching their previous statements, one can easily conclude that political leaders are instigating and inciting farmers in order to score political brownie points. They are resorting to crass political opportunism. Their only aim is to fan the flames of farmers’ agitation and put Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the dock. Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Monday mentioned excerpts from the Congress election manifesto in which it was promised that the APMC Act would be repealed or amended, but when Modi government tried to implement the promise, it is being opposed.
Six years ago, on December 27, 2013, when Manmohan Singh government was in power, Rahul Gandhi, several Congress leaders and chief ministers, addressed a joint press conference, where party spokesperson Ajay Maken announced that the Congress governments in states would allow farmers to sell their produce outside the APMC ‘mandis’. I remember, when Dr Manmohan Singh became PM in 2004, he wanted to bring agricultural reforms, but was stalled by his Left party allies. His minister Kapil Sibal had said in Parliament that middlemen fleeced the farmers, and they should be allowed to sell their produce outside the APMC markets.
A similar U-turn has been made by NCP supremo Sharad Pawar. It was Pawar, who, as Agriculture Minister in Dr Manmohan Singh’s government, had advocated reforms in APMC Act. He had written a letter in 2010 to state chief ministers supporting reforms in APMC Act. India TV has showed two letters written by Pawar to the then Delhi CM Sheila Dixit and MP CM Shivraj Singh Chouhan. In these letters, Pawar had called for entry of private sector in cold storage and marketing of agricultural produce, the need for a well coordinated market with a regulator. Pawar had then called for private sector marketing options for farmers.
Now that Modi government has incorporated these suggestions in the new laws, Pawar and his party are opposing them. In an interview in 2005, Pawar had gone to the extent of threatening to withdraw Central assistance if states refused to implement the agricultural reforms. Even today, Pawar’s chief lieutenant Praful Patel is not opposing the new farm laws. He is only demanding that the MSP system, an administrative policy decision, be incorporated in the Act itself.
But nobody is replying to a vital question that desperately needs an answer. If the Centre starts announcing MSPs for 22 crops every year, then, according to experts, the Centre would need Rs 17 lakh crores to procure all these 22 crops. The Centre’s present annual revenue is Rs 16.5 lakh crores. If the entire revenue is spent on procuring all the crops, where will the money be left for health, education, defence?
Both the NCP and Shiv Sena had given ‘silent support’ to the government on these three new farm laws when they were passed in Parliament. Shiv Sena leader Arvind Sawant did not the oppose the laws. He only gave suggestions on fixing MSPs and provisions to ensure that farmers are not cheating by contract farming. When he was asked outside Parliament about the new laws, Sawant had said, if somebody is doing a good work by bringing new laws, why should we oppose? The same Shiv Sena, today, is supporting the Bharat Bandh call.
Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav who was to join the ‘kisan padyatra’ must know that it was his father Mulayam Singh Yadav was a member of the Parliament Standing Committee on Agriculture. The committee report submitted in last year’s winter session of Parliament carried Mulayam Singh’s remarks that APMC markets should be freed from the clutches of middlemen. UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath pointed this out on Monday. He alleged that the parties that are opposing agricultural reforms had supported the same reforms in the Standing Committee meeting. Yogi clearly said that the efforts of opposition leaders to use the shoulders of farmers to train their guns at Modi would not succeed.
Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal who met the farmers at Singhu border on Monday as a “sewadar” and opposed the new farm laws, did not tell them that it was the Delhi government which notified all the three farm laws in its Gazette on November 23 this year, in order to implement them.
The political leaders whom I have named in the preceding paras had supported most of the provisions of the new farm laws enacted by Modi government. When these facts are brought to notice, their standard reply is: these laws were framed in a hurry and farmers were not consulted. They demand, these laws should have been sent to the Select Committee. They argue why these laws were passed in a hurry, during pandemonium, in Rajya Sabha.
The bottomline is this: the parties of most of these leaders like Rahul Gandhi, Sharad Pawar, Mayawati, Akhilesh Yadav lost the parliamentary elections, and they do not want to miss any chance to corner Narendra Modi. They even tried to forge a grand alliance of opposition parties but failed. They tried to corner Modi on issues like religious intolerance, CAA, NRC and anti-Muslim policies. All these efforts failed.
The opposition is now trying to mobilize the farmers against Modi and force him to withdraw these new laws. These leaders are least bothered about the betterment of farmers. The farmers should now ponder whether their agitation is being hijacked by self-serving political leaders. They must also realize how Pakistan and anti-national outfits supporting Khalistan are trying to gain advantage because of their agitation. Clearly, the farmers’ agitation has now been politicized, and foreign powers, inimical to India, are trying to gain advantage. All these will ultimately be detrimental to the national interest.
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