Reforms are a rare sight in India, especially when they impact masses. Often those who occupy positions in power corridors are well-aware of problems in general or with a particular sector of the government but they avoid taking steps that will impact a significant section of the population.
Generally, people don’t like disruptions in the status quo unless it is not possible to survive otherwise. So, governments tenaciously cling to the status quo even when it is dangerous and if it doesn’t annoy the majority of people. Because, ultimately, democracy is the appeasement of majority.
What happened with farm bills could be called an example of the same. Year after year, agricultural experts like Ashok Gulati have maintained that some laws concerning agriculture are seriously problematic and outdated. For example, let’s consider the Essential Commodities Act, 1955. Under this act, the government can set limits on the quantity of agricultural products to be stored by any private party. This provision was framed after a while our nation got independence. At that time, there was a scarcity of food and the government wanted to ensure that nobody stores food grains and then sell it at a higher price to people.
It has been many decades since that unfortunate era when India was suffering from a shortage of food grains. Now, the nation produces surplus food grains than it can not only consume but also export to other nations. Still, the outdated act remains applicable and many people are being convicted of the same. According to the economic survey 2019-20, 2900 people were convicted under this law. The other two amendments provide farmers freedom to sell their products outside APMC markets and engage in contract farming with firms.
In these amendments, the government is not giving farmers freedom but rather returning them what is rightfully theirs. It should not be of any government’s concerns if any farmer wants to trade with a corporate or sell his products outside government-sanctioned marketplaces. The popular perception about farmers is that they wear dirt-ridden white clothes with a turban of the same colour and are illiterate, compassionate and can’t think what is good for themselves.
This last part is what has propelled governments to be extra-possessive about farmers and avoid them from the “evil hands” of corporates. Moreover, farmers themselves have been in a delusion that somehow more control of the government in their lives would improve their lives and the only thing that is keeping them away from prosperity and affluence is comparatively lesser control of the government over them.
When, somehow, the BJP government decided to amend these farm bills, a protest broke out in Punjab which started gaining momentum gradually. National media tried to ignore these protests as they were not of much significance and everybody thought that it will calm down after a while which, obviously, didn’t happen. Farm bill amendments and protests only became a part of general discussion when these farmer protestors reached border of the national capital. Suddenly, News Channels which were earlier busy hounding the food delivery boy outside Rhea Chakraborty’s house started explaining the intricacies of farm bills to their audiences.
Opposition parties like Congress and AAP started attacking the “anti-farmer” BJP and its new farm bills shamelessly forgetting that these parties themselves supported these amendments in the past. In its 2019 Lok Sabha manifesto, Congress wrote that “The Essential Commodities Act, 1955 belongs to the age of control. Congress promises to replace the Act by enabling a law that can be invoked in the case of emergencies”.
AAP promised in its 2016 Punjab election manifesto to amend the APMC act to let farmers sell in and outside the state and invite large-scale private investment. When Captain Amarinder Singh and Arvind Kejriwal were engaged in a Twitter spat to garner sympathies of farmers, it must be asked to them that if these bills were anti-farmers then why their parties supported them earlier. These political parties need to be called out for their hypocrisy.