The solution to the standoff between the farmers and the government lies in changing perception along with policy. The intense protests reveal the concerns that the farm bills will be the end of the farmer in India. The confidence of the people, including the non-farmers and the middle class, has to be regained by the government to ensure that reforms are meaningful and have democratic consensus.
The fears of the farmers are based in a long history of neglect. Every farmer has paid the price for state indifference towards rural distress.
Successive governments have ignored over 3.6 lakh farmer suicides, the lives of their widows and their households for over 20 years. The government expects farmers to have faith in a system that does not want them.
What Are The Reasons For The Anti-Farmer Perception?
Following are the reasons for the anti-farmer perception, and possible solutions:
- One, and the most important, the Minimum Support Price (MSP). The government assurances on MSP do not convince the farmers because they are witness to the dismantling of the APMC mandis as the bills came into force for the last few months. For example, out of 259 APMC mandis in Madhya Pradesh, 47 have recorded zero business in October and 143 have seen trading drop by 50 percent in the last 6 months. The solution is a legally mandated MSP at higher rates, irrespective of whether or not it was addressed in the farm bills.
- Two, the role of corporates. The farmers fear that there will be a corporate take-over of agriculture, agricultural trade and transactions. The middle class fears that this will lead to comprehensive corporate control over all aspects of food – from production to pricing, from availability to shortage. The solution is to immediately operationalise regulations of the private trade space with safeguards in favour of the rural producer and the urban consumer. For this reason alone, it is best to repeal the farm bills and redraft them this time with a farmer-friendly approach.
Fate Of The Public Distribution System, Risks Of Contract Farming & Fear Of Exploitation
- Three, the fate of the Public Distribution System (PDS). The food security in future will be affected due to weakening of procurement without fully operational mandis, unless the government plans to purchase from private market. Increasingly, the private buyers will own the stocks that were originally meant for thousands of ration shops across the country. The solution is not more Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) or cash transfers, but to ensure that the right to food of every Below Poverty Line (BPL) citizen is met. After all, that is the minimum promise every political party in power and every political leader should keep.
- Four, risks of contract farming. In the past, farmers as well as rural land owners have lost fertile lands to corporate projects. Even elected governments have been indifferent to the interests and demands of citizens in land acquisitions. Contract farming is perceived as yet another way of letting big companies take away land from the poor farmers, their only source of income, and identity. The solution would be to level the playing field between the corporates and common man, and activate a complaint redressal system that favours the farmers and rural land-owners.
- Five, fear of exploitation. Farmers and small agri-businesses perceive that the government sides with larger companies. The solution is to create incentives from private players as confidence-building measures towards farmers. Further, through targeted subsidies, farmers must be supported until they survive the competition of open markets. There is only a fine difference between choice and exploitation, and the weak farmer will have no choice.
Govt Should Know That The Strategy Cannot Be To Tire Out The Protestors
Besides this, the government must also restrain the propaganda against the farmers. First, farmers should not be labelled ‘anti-national’ when they demand to be consulted on farm bills. Not only is it their right, it is their subject.
Second, there should be an end to the campaign that farmers are ‘enjoying’ their protest. This author has been to the protest sites on the Delhi borders and the conditions are severely adverse. And the government knows it.
Third, the strategy cannot be to tire out the protesters. Fatigue with governments does not turn out nicely in a democracy. Fourth, and last, politicians have failed to represent the farmer. Now, the farmer represents the farmer. All governments must learn to consult the farmer as an equal sitting across the table.
(Dr Kota Neelima is Author and Researcher with Institute of Perception Studies, and writes on rural distress and farmer suicides. Recent book, Widows of Vidarbha, Making of Shadows. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)