by BA and Venkatesh Sundaram
Photo caption: Farmers coming from Muzaffarnagar, pass through Meerut road as they move towards Ghazipur border to support fellow farmers protesting against three farm reform laws in Ghaziabad.
Photo credit: https://www.indiatvnews.com/news/india/independence-day-kisan-mazdoor-azaadi-sangram-diwas-tiranga-march-protesting-farmers-726298
In a few weeks it will be a year since three farm bills which were tabled in the Lok Sabha and passed with practically no debate, and subsequently in the Rajya Sabha and signed into law by the President of India. These bills had been promulgated as ordinances earlier, as the covid-19 season was setting in in 2020, with various lockdowns and curfews and complete disruption of normal life across the length and breadth of the country.
There were widespread protests in many parts of the country, and particularly in the states of Punjab and Haryana which were to be affected the most. For a long time, the farmers of these regions were considered model farmers, the forces responsible for the success story of the Green Revolution and were held up as role models for the rest of the country. From the slogan `Jai Jawan, Jai Kaisan’ of several decades ago, farmers were considered amongst the most important of the citizens of the country as they feed the population. Overnight, as the protests started, they were portrayed as selfish and self-centred, prosperous, and ungrateful, accused of eating pizzas and puris, and wearing blue jeans. Roads and entries were blockaded to prevent them from travelling to Delhi to protest and to organise themselves.
The protests which had become large-scale by the end of 2020 and continued into 2021 and continue until this day enjoy the sympathy of the people of the country. The people of India have been shocked by the extreme manner in which the protests have been dealt with, and also with the unexplainable enthusiasm with which the bills were moved through parliament. It is as if the Government was using the pandemic environment as a safety shield to carry out its obviously unpopular activities. Alarmed by this, the Supreme Court on its own constituted a four member expert committee and suggested a moratorium of some months during which the laws would not be enforced for discussion to take place. The Government for its part has stated time and again the laws would not be repealed under any circumstances. The impasse continues until this day.
The facts above bring to light the extremely arbitrary nature of governance of the country. The parties most affected by a law are those who are neither consulted before their passage nor after the passage to ask how, if at all, there could be mitigation of adverse effects of the law. It seems that there are virtually no avenues, judicial or legislative to curbs the powers of the Government to pass any law. The mere existence of a majority, or an absolute majority in the houses of parliament, at least in the Lok Sabha is taken as a license to pass any law. The lessons of the Farm Laws need to be drawn and a wide ranging discussion must take place on the nature of power and of governance in the country. It is clear that these will not be the last of such unpopular laws to be passed. Even as this is being written the Essential Defence Services Bill has been passed in both houses and will soon be law to name an example. Thus, on the first anniversary of the passage of the anti-farmer Farm Laws, we must not only continue to support the farmers in demanding their repeal, we must also think seriously as to what kind of political system will actually serve the interests of the toiling people.