A month of defiance by Indian farmers against agricultural reforms
By Moncho Torres
New Delhi, Dec 26 (efe-epa).- Protests by thousands of Indian farmers outside New Delhi against three laws liberalizing the agricultural sector completed a month on Saturday, presenting a challenge for the Indian government with no side willing to give in.
In Ghazipur, one of the several access points to the capital that has been cut off since a month by protesters, the farmers’ spirits remained unwavering, with a determination to remain camped on the highways for as long as it took to get the government to repeal the farm reforms.
“From last one month, I am here, and until the laws are not changing (rolled back) we are here. If it will change in 15 days we will go back, if is not changing (…) in a month, or two months, or three months, we all are here, we will stay here,” Jaideep, a burly farmer from the neighboring northern state of Uttar Pradesh, told EFE.
Jaideep, who cultivates “everything” from wheat and rice to sugar cane and legumes, underlined – as farmers’ unions have been demanding for months – that the new laws must change.
He spoke of the need for a guarantee, like before, that the MSP (the Minimum Support Price) subsidized by the Indian authorities stays so that they do not have to face the uncertainty of free market fluctuations.
The same demand is repeated by farmers sitting in a meeting area in Ghazipur, where different agricultural associations and trade union leaders, surrounded by Communist flags, speak of the need to continue their defiance against the all-powerful government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
And they have come prepared, with mountains of firewood to deal with the cold at night, stalls for distributing food and medicine, storage of hundreds of sacks of potatoes and legumes,
They have pitched tents on the ground or even inside trucks, escorted by the dozens of tractors to prevent any attempt to dismantle the protest.
Last week, the Indian Supreme Court said the farmers were within their rights to continue their protest in a non-violent manner, and that police should avoid using force against against them, thus rejecting a petition by the Attorney General’s Office against the blockade of several entry routes to the capital.
However, the Indian government has insisted that these laws are necessary and long overdue, and would be a turning point in the sector, allowing the country’s around 100 million farmers to negotiate with intermediaries on their own terms.
Moreover, on Friday, Modi, addressing farmers from all over the country via video conference, said the government would ensure that farmers get a fair price for their crops, and that the MSP would not disappear but would cover more crops.
“Through these agricultural reforms better options are provided to the farmers. After these laws farmers can sell their produce to whomever they want. They can sell their produce wherever they get the right price,” Modi said in his address, according to a statement.
The question then arises as to why are the farmers protesting then.
The government claims that it is all part of a disinformation campaign by opposition parties, all of whom used to support these reforms in their election manifestos, and blamed them for the several rounds of fruitless negotiations.
Several unions met on Saturday to draft a response to Modi’s speech, according to Avik Saha of the AIKSCC union, which is a part of the discussions.
“Our position remains the same: this laws need to be defeated because they do not give (…) income assurance to the farmers,” Saha told EFE.
While the government and farmers associations are unable to reach an agreement, renowned economists too seem divided about whether the three new contentious laws would benefit farmers.
International Monetary Fund’s Executive Director for India, Surjit S Bhalla, has become a regular face in the Indian media, defending the new laws and claiming they would mark the end of a colonial system that benefited only a few rich farmers.
World Bank’s former Chief Economist Kaushik Basu sees it differently.