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  • Raghav Sand

Provocative Arrogance and Ignorance

The Republic Day this time round was unprecedented for a lot of reasons. Apart from not having a chief guest after 55 years and curtailed tableaux and crowd due the pandemic, the scenes that took place at the various entry points of the national capital territory left the nation shocked and saddened. Political affiliations and preferences are obvious in a democracy, but complete disregard for rule of law during a show of strength rally has made the liberals question the means and ways of farm law protestors.

If the leaders of prominent farmer unions are to be believed, the instigators and perpetrators of violent protests were anti-social elements who operated on their own. Pretty standard remark and ultimately a lame excuse for not setting the house in order. Whosoever felt that it is alright to damage public property and disrupt normal life for millions of people, should be dealt with in a way they understand best i.e., unsympathetically.

If one glances through the timeline of the farm laws – which have been passed through processes laid down in Indian Constitution – the central government can be faulted for not following a consultative approach. The opposition is giving a masterclass in hypocrisy and doublespeak. They seem to have high regards for the conduct of parliamentary affairs, while they themselves have enacted laws when they had the numbers in both the houses of parliament. Opposition leaders have been trying to score points by visiting the protest sites and it has not yielded desired results. The ugly scenes at the Red Fort have drawn condemnation from one and all, but there are more than a handful people, who are smiling from ear to ear.

The scenes that took place in the national capital were more than just a show of unity – it was an orchestrated exhibition of muscle and money power. Firstly, the participants of tractor rally began the procession ahead of schedule and secondly, they deliberately defied the designated route. To make matters worse, the mob laid siege to important intersections deep inside the national capital. There was collateral damage and the blame game will go on for a while.

The central government’s olive branch to the protestors offered to suspend the farm laws for 12-18 months, but the stubborn unions are adamant on repeal of the laws. The offer to suspend the farm laws was hailed as a victory for democracy, while farmer unions’ not attending the meetings of committee set up by the Hon’ble Supreme Court is yet another sign of arrogance.

Protests are the outcome of disagreement and a review of law would have been carried out in the time period suggested by the government. By not accepting to have a rational discourse, protestors seem to aim for bringing the executive wing of the government to its knees. Those charged with governance are seasoned politicians and such pressure tactics and bullying will have no effect on their resolve.

One thing is now clear: the protestors are fighting the battle for their survival. The average income and acreage of a farmer in India varies drastically. In Punjab, the top three per cent of farmers have approximately 30 per cent of total farm land in the state. Successive governments in Punjab have practiced irresponsible fiscal policies by writing off farm loans. On the one hand farmers do not want to let go of minimum support price (MSP) and on the other hand, they do not like being told to pursue financial prudence. The apprehensions of most farmers are justified because MSP guarantees income. A major cause for farm distress in Punjab are tractor loans. As per media reports there are more than 3,50,000 excess tractors in Punjab.

Free electricity, guaranteed procurement price and most farmers living beyond means has made central government rethink its monetary support to the sector. No one is debating the contribution farmers make to the prosperity of the nation, but a better allocation of resources in a country like India is the need of the hour.

Every time farm loans are written off, the state government has to borrow additional funds to balance its fiscal arithmetic and the central government must recapitalise public sector banks and other finance institutions. Where is this money ultimately coming from? The consolidated fund of India gets squeezed and vital resources are diverted to sustain the excesses of select few.

Same could be said about poorly governed and managed business corporations. Though, in business operations, poorly run companies are either taken over or they are declared bankrupt. An attempt for revival is made so that blocked funds may be monetized. Why should there be double standards for similar things? Aren’t ill-managed farm operations getting away due to sympathetic reasons? Is the ann daata (food provider) above all scrutiny and accountability?

Whenever funds are allocated in a country’s budget, it is invariably done at the cost of not doing something else. The opportunity cost of not implementing farm reforms is high and now is a good time to let the market economies lead to price discovery. Before every other thing, let us agree that civility is the foundation of democracy and any attempt to sow the seeds of disharmony and fear in society will be counterproductive.

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