Updated: February 7, 2021 8:27:37 am
Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) leader Jayant Chaudhary wants the Narendra Modi government to repeal its three farm reform laws, just like the previous UPA regime did in November 2009 – by withdrawing an ordinance that virtually took away the powers of states to fix sugarcane prices.
The UPA’s ordinance, promulgated on October 21 that year, provided for a fair and remunerative price (FRP) of sugarcane to be determined by the Centre. If any state government declared a price above the FRP, sugar mills weren’t obliged to pay it. The states could, at best, foot the price difference to growers from their own coffers.
“Sharad Pawar-ji was the (Agriculture) minister and the FRP ordinance also came when Parliament wasn’t in session,” the RLD vice-president told The Indian Express. “On the first day of the new session (on November 19), we brought 25,000-30,000 farmers (from western UP) to New Delhi. Even BJP leaders, including (LK) Advani-ji, were invited at our rally.
“Within 3-4 hours of the farmers sitting at Jantar Mantar, the government announced replacing the ordinance with a Bill that effectively undid the law.”
Drawing parallels between the farm laws and the FRP ordinance, which sought to impose a Centre-determined uniform sugarcane pricing model similar to the current bypassing of state government agricultural market regulations, Chaudhary claimed that the country had a real “mazboot sarkar (strong government)” then: “It was mazboot because it was responsive. This government is ignorant, not mazboot. They are blissfully unaware of what the undercurrent is and living in a cocoon.”
On Friday, the RLD organised a well-attended kisan mahapanchayat at Bhainswal village in Shamli, in western UP, despite the district administration denying permission for the meeting. The party, which won a solitary seat in the 2017 UP Assembly election and was wiped out in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, is eyeing a comeback by riding on what it sees as farmer discontent against the Centre’s reform laws as well as mounting sugarcane payment arrears.
Chaudhary stressed that the mahapanchayat at Shamli – and an earlier one in Mathura and those scheduled at Amroha, Aligarh, Bulandshahr, Agra, Hathras and Rajasthan’s Bharatpur in the next few days – was of RLD and not the Rakesh Tikait-led Bharatiya Kisan Union’s.
“This is a genuine grassroots movement. But how do you sustain it, if the government doesn’t accept the demand to repeal the laws and farmers lose hope? As a party with some standing here, I need to communicate to them that even if the government isn’t listening today, they should be mindful of their own social and political power to vote it out. The political system can offer a way to manage their frustration, which is how it is in a democracy,” said Chaudhary, defending RLD’s attempts at giving the ongoing protests an openly political colour.
Chaudhary, 42, whose party has seen its traditional support base among the Jat peasant community and Muslims of western UP suffer erosion in recent times, said the Modi government was mistakenly thinking it can tire out the protesters: “I think they are not mindful of the temperament of this region or of the people sitting at Delhi’s borders.”
Chaudhary also said the government’s angry response to criticism of its handling of the farmers’ protests by global celebrities such as Rihanna and Greta Thunberg does not send positive signals to the global investor community. “These are people who are fascinated with our soft power and cultural history,” he said. “They don’t want to see an overbearing state similar to Russia and China that clamps down on all dissent and goes after anybody, whether you are a citizen or not. And here the issue concerns our own farmers.
Chaudhary asked: “Who’s bringing down India’s international image: farmers or the government itself?”
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