More than 5,000 farmers reached New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar on Monday, more than eight months after ending their year-long unrest following the withdrawal of three farm bills. Waving banners and flags and shouting slogans, the demonstrators broke through the barricades to reach the site of the “mahapanchayat”.
Besides northern India, farmers from states such as Karnataka, Maharashtra, Odisha and Kerala have arrived in Delhi to protest what they say are broken government promises.
The farmers ask for a legal guarantee for the minimum support price based on the recommendations of the Swaminathan committee. The panel had suggested a minimum support price at least 50% higher than the real cost of farming, including the price of seeds, fertilizers, hired labour, wages for family workers and ground rent.
Monday’s protests were called by a breakaway faction of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella body of farmers’ unions that had spearheaded the year-long unrest in Delhi. The protesters called themselves SKM-apolitical.
They also demanded a waiver of farm loans and demanded the withdrawal of the Electricity (Amendment) Bill 2022, which farmers say will end subsidies. After being presented to the Lok Sabha on August 8, the bill was sent to a standing parliamentary committee for consideration.
Union Energy Minister RK Singh assured that the provisions of the bill do not affect farmers and that states can provide any amount of subsidy, even free electricity, to any class of consumer.
Apart from this, the protesting farmers demanded an increase in the sugarcane MSP, the scrapping of the Agneepath scheme, the release of jailed farmers and a speedy trial in the Lakhimpur-Kheri case, in which four farmers were allegedly run over. by the son of Union Minister Ajay Mishra. in October last year.
Devinder Sharma, an agriculture expert, mainly calls for the legalization of MSP for public and private markets. Farmers believe this is necessary for income security. Estimates of the impact on supply costs are overestimated.
Even as farmers protested, the government-appointed high-level panel on MSP following the repeal of the Farm Bills formed four sub-groups to tackle various issues at its first meeting on Monday. Three of the 26 committee seats were reserved for Samyukta Kisan Morcha, who rejected this panel and decided not to nominate its representatives.
Now the question remains, will the latest protests snowball into something bigger along the lines of the opposition seen in the Farm Bills case?
Sharma says the issue could snowball if the government wavers on the MSP issue. Farm leaders are trying to win support. Making MSP a legal right is the reform that agriculture seeks.
The most important message here is that the trust deficit between the government and a significant portion of farmers that exploded during the Farm Bill protest is alive and well. Left unaddressed, this will not only have political implications, but will also ensure that large numbers of Indians will not buy into any major reforms the government may attempt.