Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday replied to most of the questions raised by the opposition on the issue of new farm laws. He also nailed the lies that were being spread in the name of farmers’ agitation for the last several weeks.
Questions had been raised by his critics on whether minimum support prices (MSP) and agricultural ‘mandis’ would be abolished, on whether industrialists would gain an upper hand if contract farming was allowed, on whether small and marginal farmers will be completely marginalized, on whether farmers will lose ownership of their land and become slaves of industrialists, and similar other questions.
Questions had been raised on why farmers were sitting on dharna for the last 75 days if the laws were beneficial for them, on who are the forces who do not want the farmers and the government to reach a compromise, on why India’s name is being tarnished if the laws are pro-farmer. There were questions on why Sikhs and Jat farmers were unhappy with the PM, on whether the government’s stand was tyrannical.
Prime Minister Modi had been keeping a close eye on all these questions, and on Monday in Rajya Sabha, he came out with his replies. He raised questions about those who were pointing fingers at his pro-farmer bonafide.
The Prime Minister emphatically said (1) MSP was there, MSP is here and MSP will remain in future (2) the distribution of cheap foodgrains to the poor through Public Distribution System will continue (3) the fear that industrial houses will grab the land of farmers was based on lies.
Citing an example, Modi pointed out how farmers have been selling milk to corporates for the last several decades. He said, they were free to sell milk anywhere in India, and dairy farming constituted 28 per cent of agricultural sector. In a rhetorical flourish, Modi asked, has there been any case where a businessman forcibly took away the buffaloes of a farmer? Similarly, the farmers need not fear about their land, if they start contract farming for corporates.
Modi said, the new laws will also benefit the small and marginal farmers, who constitute 86 per cent of the farming community and own less than 2 hectares of land. Is it not my government’s duty to help the small farmers?, he asked.
Since a bulk of the protesters are Sikh farmers from Punjab, Modi sought to reject the charges being levelled by Khalistan supporters that his government was anti-Sikh. He said, the nation is proud of the brave Sikh community and Sikhs have set shining examples in the fields of humanitarian service and defence.
Since both the Congress and the Left are supporting the farmers’ agitation, Modi targeted the Left and reminded what the Left parties had done when Lal Bahadur Shastri was Prime Minister. Shastriji, he said, wanted to usher in Green Revolution in India, but the Left parties opposed him and labelled Shastriji as “an American agent”. They are doing the same thing now, Modi said.
The Left frontal organizations are already active in the farmers’ movement in Rajasthan, Punjab, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh. The ‘tukde tukde’ gangs, which were active during the Shaheen Bagh, JNU and Jamia Millia agitations, are now active in the farmers’ stir. On Monday, Modi named these people as ‘andolanjeevi’ (professional protesters) and asked people to be on guard against such elements who believe in FDI(foreign destructive ideology).
After protesters caused mayhem with tractors and insulted the national flag at Red Fort on Republic Day, police had to set up barricades with concertina wires and cemented nails. Images of these barricades were circulated across the world to defame India. A wrong perception about “atrocities on farmers and dissenters” is being created with the allegation Modi is “crushing democracy”.
The Prime Minister replied to these charges by quoting Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose. He said, India was not only the world’s most populous democracy but is the “mother of democracies”. In India, democracy is not only a system, but it is also a part of lifestyle and ethos of the Indian people, Modi said.
Overall, Modi, through his convincing replies, laced with sarcasm, answered most of the questions that were raised by the opposition and farmer leaders in recent weeks. But nobody can help, if the other side is unwilling to listen to reason.
I am surprised when some people allege that the farmers’ agitation was mishandled. These include some of Modi’s supporters who said the issue could have been handled in a better manner.
My questions are: If Modi’s ministers discussed the issue with farmer leaders 11 times, was it mishandling? Even on Monday, Modi said the road for talks is still open. Is it mishandling, if Modi promises no abolition of MSP and ‘mandis? Will you call it mishandling if Modi offers to amend the farm laws if required? Was it mishandling to offer the farmers 18 months to give the farm laws a trial? Was it mishandling when Modi told farmers not to believe in hearsay and rumours and go through the fine print in the farm laws?
Was it mishandling to tell police not to fire a single bullet at protesters? Was it mishandling when more than 300 policemen were injured and the police did not use force when the national flag was being insulted at Red Fort? Was it mishandling when Modi recalled the great sacrifices by Sikh gurus and leaders when lies were being propagated about the government being anti-Sikh?
I have watched history unfolding in front of my own eyes. It was grave mishandling when several thousand Sikhs were killed in Delhi during 1984 after Indira Gandhi’s assassination. It was mishandling when Delhi police in a midnight swoop on Swami Ramdev’s dharna, lathicharged his supporters on June 5, 2011, when they were sleeping. Blood of innocent people were shed.
The surprising part is that every other issue is being raised in connection with a farmers’ agitation except their core issues relating to farm laws. Questions are being raised about why cemented iron spikes and concertina wire were placed to block highways. Questions are being raised about why farmers are being labelled as Khalistanis. Questions are being raised on why a handful of people were allowed to enter Red Fort and insult the national flag. Questions are being raised on why Modi used the word ‘jamaat’ for farmers.
Here too, the surprising part is that the farmers themselves are not raising these questions. The moot point is that some people with vested interests inimical to India, are using the farmers’ agitation to sully the nation’s image in the international arena. They are those who are levelling baseless allegations that democracy and open dissent are being crushed during Modi’s rule. It is for the people of India to decide who is speaking the truth.
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