Bid farewell to farcical Farmers Day

Small steps not big words are the need of the hour

Politics

December 23, 2020

/ By / New Delhi

Bid farewell to farcical Farmers Day

Even while it marks the Farmers Day with big words, the government continues to ignore their plight on the ground (MIG photos/Aman Kanojiya)

Almost by rote, all political leaders, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wished Indian farmers on the farmers day. Even as over 200,000 farmers continue to stage a sit in at Delhi’s borders for nearly a month, neither Modi nor his ministers have made any attempt to go and talk to farmers, let alone resolving the issue. It is time to abolish farcical, meaningless occasions like the Farmers’ Day in a country that does not really care about them.

For a Prime Minister who is apparently never short of the right word to say in any situation, Narendra Modi has yet to find something appropriate to assuage the millions of Indian farmers who have been protesting against the ‘ground-breaking’ agricultural reforms that his government had rushed through without any discussions in the Parliament.

Since that day in September when the three farm bills were bulldozed into laws, tens of thousands of farmers have been protesting in various states, notably Punjab and Haryana. However, for over two months, the government pretended that it was unaware of the protests and instead its hyperactive social media handles tried to portray an image of millions of farmers throughout India thanking the government for the ‘bold and much-needed’ reforms.

The attitude did not change much even when tens of thousands of farmers began moving towards Delhi in their historic Delhi Chalo march last month. In order to hinder the march, the government resorted to several draconian measures, erected barricades, dug up roads and also resorted to firing tear gas shells and using water canons in an attempt to stop the farmers from advancing towards Delhi.

When they failed even at that, they blocked them at various borders of Delhi, having called in thousands of security forces, including Indo Tibetan Border Police, which is specialised in patrolling the borders with China, even while the tense and unprecedented standoff with the northern neighbour continues in Ladakh and other border areas. It almost seems that for the government, unarmed farmers protesting peacefully at Delhi’s doors presented more of a threat than the heavily armed Chinese Army with whom our own forces have been engaged in a show of strength.

Instead of recognising that the farmers had a serious issue which needed to be addressed and reaching out to the farmers sincerely, the government resorted to its well-known tactics of trying to split the farmers and spreading fake news through its pet mainstream national media outlets that the protestors were Khalistanis or that they were financed by China and Pakistan and that the opposition had misled the farmers.

The government and the ruling party also tried to portray, fallaciously, that the protests were limited to Punjab and Haryana and that the farmers across the country were very happy with the reforms that had ‘finally liberated them from vested interests’. In an attempt to make this narrative more believable, agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar began holding meetings with various persons, claiming to represent large organisations of farmers in different states.

Modi himself had his photographs taken by with various Sikhs, including some on his recent visit to Gujarat, in order to portray that the government was meeting with the farmers and that it was sincere in its efforts.

However, the ruling party’s tactics have flopped. Seeing that the government was trying to split their unity, the farmers got even closer together and resolved not to break or bow in front of a manipulative government.

The name-calling that the BJP and its lapdog media organisations have been resorting to has only strengthened the resolve of the farmers to continue their protest against the new laws, even though it means enduring extreme hardships of living in the open on a roadside in the severe cold. The harsh conditions have already claimed nearly 30 lives, but the farmers say that they will not move from there or end their protest unless they win the battle with the government.

The farmers are also extremely upset that even though Modi has been travelling all over the country and addressing all kinds of gatherings, including electoral meetings, he has not yet found time to travel barely 25 km from his office to the Singhu border where a mass of about 120,000 farmers have been staying since November 26.

Even though Modi and Tomar have been talking of European or American model for the Indian farmers, there is no comparison between an Indian farmer and them. While there are hardly a few million farmers in both the EU and the US, in India over 800 mn people depend largely on farming for livelihood. Indian farmers also have the dubious distinction of being the smallest landholders in main farming countries. The average landholding for an Indian farmer is just 1.15 hectares while an average farming family in the US holds 180 hectares and its European counterpart 50 hectares.

Moreover, farmers in the developed nations have reached their current status and wealth only due to decades of enormous subsidies and protectionism by their governments. But even now many of them feel threatened by imports even from the world’s poorest nations and are regularly out on the streets demanding financial aid or action against large buyers. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has called the farm bills as a moment of the freedom of Indian farmers. But let alone liberation, most Indian farmers fear that they may soon end up being enslaved by large companies, Indian or overseas that are bound to dominate the Indian marketplace unless the farm laws are annulled.

Besides empty promises such as doubling farmers’ incomes or ‘writing off their loans’, the government has failed to do anything to help the farmers. As a result, well over 10,000 farmers continue to resort to suicide each year, unable to manage the enormous debts that they run-up due to failed crops or poor prices that their produce gets.

The common refrain of the farmers is that why has the government not tried to reach out to them and engage in a serious discussion, instead of spreading fake news, defaming or trying to split the movement.

If neither the prime minister nor his agriculture minister has the time or the moral courage of facing the protesting farmers or even addressing their issues directly and point by point in a transparent and open manner, then is there any point in marking farmers’ day? It’s time to end this farce and let the hundreds of millions of Indian farmers know where they really stand in the eyes of politicians.

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