By Nageshwar Patnaik in Bhubaneswar, February 13, 2021: Peaceful protests are the hallmark of democracy, as citizens have the right to raise myriad issues and seek resolutions. India is the largest democracy in the World. Democracy means government of the people, by the people and for the people. If democracy has to really succeed then government by the people is very important which was missing all these years.

India has slipped in its global ranking by 10 ranks below the 51st position out of 165 independent countries in the 2019 Democracy Index. This is clearly a major downgrade and the primary reason for this demotion was “erosion of civil liberties”. Similarly, The Economist’s Intelligence Unit (hereinafter EIU) released its Annual Democracy Index. India, this year, slipped two places and reached 53rd position and as per the index, India is a ‘flawed democracy’.

As farmers’ protests in India become the global talk, the Narendra Modi government ought to see the writing on the wall and resolve the issue through dialogue. Even though the government agreed to finally hold back farm laws for a year and a half, farmers refused to back off on their demand for repeal. And the stalemate continues.

Farmers have been protesting against three new farm laws since November 2020. In the past two weeks there were support for the protest from foreign celebrities and media. The debate has now gone beyond the country and the Modi government has the onerous responsibility of restoring the democratic ethos in the World’s largest democracy by listening to people’s voice.

More so the NDA government cannot by insensitive to the farmers’ protests. NCP President Sharad Pawar, who was Union Agriculture Minister from 2004-2014, has rightly said if farmers leave peaceful means of agitation it would lead to a major crisis in the country. The government has gone a step further by erecting multi-layered barricades, concertina wires with iron nails studded on roads to prevent farmers mass gathering which ever did not happen even during the British rule.

Meanwhile, Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader Rakesh Tikait said the Central Government’s conspiracy against farmers has strengthened their protest against the newly-enacted farm laws. Farmer unions held a mahapanchayat in Charkhi Dadri on Sunday where thousands of farmers gathered.

The battle-lines are sharply drawn. Modi’s carefully cultivated image as a world statesman has been damaged for his mishandling of farmers’ agitation. Instead of trying to shut down dissenting foreign voices, Modi should leave no stone unturned to win back the trust of our farmers.

Farmers in Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan and some other states blocked highways and squatted on key roads on Saturday, during a three-hour ‘chakka jam’ called by agitating farmer unions which are demanding scrapping of the Centre’s new agriculture reform laws. They also protested the internet ban in areas near their agitation sites and harassment allegedly meted out to them by authorities.

The ongoing farmers’ protest at Delhi borders still remains a peaceful agitation held for the first time in decades. The Modi government would go in the annals o history if he calls a dedicated parliament session to address the rights and entitlements of disenfranchised groups of farmers. This will facilitate ways and means to address a broader agrarian crisis and allied issues persisting since decades with shrinking farmers’ income.

The farmers’ unions have two major demands: Firstly, that all three farm laws must be altogether scrapped and secondly, that the MS Swaminathan Commission Report be implemented in both letter and spirit.

If the government has decided to finally hold back farm laws for a year and a half, why cannot it repeal and come out with new farm laws in consultation with the farmers and then hold a special session of the Parliament to discuss the entire gamut of primary sector and agrarian crisis. Secondly, it must implement the recommendations given by the National Commission on Farmers’ report, better known as Swaminathan report. Even a special such session must also be held at every state legislature to resolve the firm issue resolutely.

The MS Swaminathan Commission, constituted in 2004, had submitted five reports, with recommendations on alleviating distress of farmers and provided a framework for a sustainable and profitable agricultural system.

The Swaminathan Commission had recognised the problem of cartelisation among traders in a particular Agricultural Produce & Livestock Market Committee (APMC) and thus recommended the establishment of One Nation-One Market. The report vouched for “development of domestic and international markets for local produce, and move towards a Single Indian Market.”

The Swaminathan report also sought the facilitation of direct farmer-consumer link and suggested value addition and marketing, for leveraging institutional support. While espousing for contract farming, the committee also highlighted the importance of developing a comprehensive model agreement which cannot be used against the farmers. It underscored the need for developing a comprehensive, clean, equitable and farmer-centric model agreement, which cannot be abused against the farmers.

“Special care needs to be taken regarding clauses dealing with quality standards, withdrawal conditions, pricing standards, paying arrangements, natural calamities, and arbitration mechanisms,” the report said.

The Swaminathan report also batted for enforcement of MSP throughout saying that it is essential for imparting dynamism to agriculture. It recommends this safety net to safeguard the interests of the crops, people and regions which are likely to be affected in the process of globalization.

True, the new firs laws enacted by the Modi government do not explicitly state that MSP will be discontinued or that the mandis of the Agricultural Produce Market Committee where most of the commodity is sold under the MSP regime will be abolished, this seems to be the underlying intent. But there has been a constant fear among the protesting farmers that the government, through the farm laws, would do away with MSP for crops.

The Modi government must act before it is too late and win the confidence of the protesting farmers in enriching India’s democratic ethos over the decades.

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