Indian farmers protest and the Case for Reinvigorating Agricultural Sector of Pakistan – Part 1 (Podcast) Rationale-47

Hassan Rizwan Chattha

Since November 2020, Indian protesting farmers are demanding retraction of three controversial farm laws that were enacted in September 2020 without public or parliamentary debate. Protests against controversial agriculture laws turned into violent clashes on January 26, 2021 when clashes with police and storming of Red Fort. At least 67 people died in protests stretching over six months.

The protests are mainly due to changes in Indian agricultural economics or mandi. Indian agricultural marketplace or mandi is a symbol of state’s contract with its farmers. Only licensed traders are allowed to operate in mandi and often government purchases entire stock of wheat and rice in mandi at a fixed rate or minimum support price.

Indian farmers over the last two decades remained under tremendous financial distress especially the small landholders owning less than 2.5 acres of arable land and these farmers make 70-80% of the total farmers. More than a dozen farmers commit suicide daily; the problem existed largely on part of government of being inefficient in agricultural exports that were uncompetitive at world level.

In order to address the issues in Indian agriculture sector, three farm laws were directed to extend the economic modernization campaign to agricultural sector that is considered crucial for poverty alleviation as farming employees nearly 41% of Indian workforce, but only contributes 15% to Indian national GDP.

The three farm laws introduced by Modi led BJP government without due deliberation and consultation in parliamentary committees had a very capitalistic logic and their essence was not very difficult to understand. First law allowed private mandis (unregulated mandis or marketplaces), second law enabled contract farming, and third law permitted traders for stocking agricultural commodities and government was only to intervene in emergency situation when there is a chance of hoarding.

the problem existed largely on part of government of being inefficient in agricultural exports that were uncompetitive at world level.

The logic that was presented for the new laws was to make agriculture procurement more efficient and minimizing the role of middle man so that farmers were to benefit most in the food chain. These deregulations allowed companies to engage in contract farming and buy directly from farmers, and hence offering assured stream of income.

Farmers remained unconvinced and protested that these laws will ultimately result in an erosion of mandi system, elimination of minimum support price and end of agricultural support by Indian state. The fear among farmers; mainly small landholders of Punjab and Haryana, was that these changes in agricultural sector made farmers vulnerable to big corporate who are ready to try their luck in corporate farming now. They can join hands for cartelizing and squeezing farmers by forcing pricing down for accumulating their own profits. These laws magnified unjust imbalance of power between farmers and big companies. The concerns of farmers are genuine as the patterns of World Inequality Database also suggest that 1% of the richest Indians control 21.4% of country’s income and if big companies are allowed to gain foothold in corporate farming also, India will become a country with greatest economic centralization.

The fear among farmers; mainly small landholders of Punjab and Haryana, was that these changes in agricultural sector made farmers vulnerable to big corporate who are ready to try their luck in corporate farming now.

Misjudging Economics and Politics

Inducing transformations through reforms need economics but also politics. Indian government with farm laws misjudged both economics and politics. As British historian EP Thompson discussed about moral economy to understand 18th century food riots in England which describes the idea that poor operate in binaries of just and unjust, right and wrong and refuse to obey rationality of market forces. James Scott extended the concept to understand peasant rebellions in Southeast Asia against colonial authorities. The system of agriculture introduced by colonial powers was unacceptable to peasant, so these changes resulted in organized acts of resistance (sometimes violent) against colonial powers. Peasant demonstrations in India largely followed the script of a democratic protest. Some similarities can be drawn between current upsurge of the farmers and the 19th century peasant rebellions. Farming is becoming undignified and uncertain and attempt to disrupt existing agrarian arrangements made things worse. The way the bills were passed in Parliament without consultation with farmers unions depicted the condescending attitude of system against farmers, and insinuated a sense that government is abandoning farmers, and leaving them at the mercy of market forces exacerbated their worst fears.

The moral outrage made the differences unbridgeable, as by BJP spokespersons and biased media personnel’s served their role as propagandists and started demonizing and throwing indiscriminate allegations about farmers being Khalistanis or foreign agents secessionist parties. This strategy of playing insidious games was counter-productive and it became an emotional issue in Punjab and Haryana. These allegations removed any possibilities for farmers to anticipate gains from contract farming and such ventures.

Farming is becoming undignified and uncertain and attempt to disrupt existing agrarian arrangements made things worse.

Opposition parties on their part also accused Modi and the BJP of using excessive force, and being “arrogant, adamant and undemocratic in their response.”

This attitude of Indian government mobilized the whole network of community where every member of the community from lawyers, doctors, teachers to sportsmen took an active role in upsurge. The slogan “No farmers, no food” became a popular slogan for protestors and their sympathizers. The community kitchen and other cultural values of especially Sikh community also made the protests sustainable.

Negotiation process

Even after the negotiation process constituting of several months, Government was unable to reach an agreement with farmers union, as farmers rejected insincere efforts and delaying tactics of government. In mid-January, India’s Supreme Court temporarily suspended the three laws, in the hopes the farmers might “come to the negotiating table with confidence and good faith.” Government offered to suspend the laws for nearly 18 months and in the meantime vowing to reach an agreement with farmers union, but farmers demanded that laws are to be fully repealed in order to end the protests

In recent days, the protests are resuming with similar energy where farmers are blocking highways and police is arresting the protestors. Government wants to tire the farmers but the longer it takes to put this to an end the more losses will be incurred upon government and Indian state.

To be continued in part 2.

About The Author
Hassan Rizwan Chattha is a student of International Relations at Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad. He is focused on changing global Political and security dynamics and their widespread implications. He can be reached at hassanrizwanchattha@gmail.com.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the original author and do not necessarily reflect or represent the views of Rationale-47.

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