Battlelines drawn, the Opposition, for the second day in Rajya Sabha, slammed the government Thursday for its handling of the farmer protests, with members warning that no lessons were being learnt from Punjab’s troubled past, that the Centre was failing federalism, and that the protesting farmers should not be punished for the Republic Day violence in Delhi by some “anti-social elements”.
The ruling BJP hit back, especially targeting the Congress for its “hypocrisy” on agricultural reforms and questioning the party why it never felt the need for a law on MSP – one of the key demands of the protesting farmers – when it was in power for decades.
Alluding to the days of militancy in Punjab, RJD member Manoj Jha said the government should learn from history and mistakes made in the past, and look at the problems of farmers more empathetically.
“We have all seen how Punjab has suffered in the past. We didn’t just lose a Prime Minister, we lost many lives… But we don’t want to learn… We are calling them (protesting farmers) Pakistani, Khalistani, Naxal and anti-national,” he said.
Jha criticised the government’s “aggressive” approach towards protesters and said that the incumbent government believes in monologue, and not dialogue. Pointing to the concrete barricades, nails and barbed wires that have come up at the protest sites on Delhi’s borders, the RJD MP asked the government: “Who are you fighting? The farmers? …. I sometimes wonder what if Jayaprakash Narayan had held his andolan today? How would he have felt if he had seen the wires and nails coming up at the protest site? Is this the right attitude?”.
Swapan Dasgupta, a nominated member, urged his colleagues to not look at the country in terms of what the most successful have done, but to also look at places where there has been least success.
He pointed out that farmers in Haryana and Punjab are more prosperous than their counterparts in east India. “This is not to berate them. This is only to admire their hard work and integrity and their adoption of technology… unfortunately, this does not prevail in the whole country,” he said. The farmers in West Bengal, Dasgupta said, are marginalised and depend on subsistence farming, and it is this section of the farming community that the new farm laws aim to help.
BJP’s Jyotiraditya Scindia criticised the Opposition, mainly his former party Congress, for its “hypocrisy” on agricultural reforms. He drew the attention of the House to the Congress election manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha election that promised to repeal the APMC Act and make trade in agricultural produce “free from all restrictions”. He recalled NCP leader Sharad Pawar’s letter to all Chief Ministers about a decade ago in which he advocated private sector participation to promote “well-functioning markets” for agricultural produce. “Yeh zubaan badalne ki aadat bandh karni padegi (you have to drop this habit of speaking in different voices),” he said.
Scindia’s former party colleague and Congress member Digvijaya Singh, responding to the charge of hypocrisy, said: “You spoke of the Congress manifesto… Where does it say that there should be no consensus on introducing farm reforms or laws? We had asked for the Bills to be sent to a Select Committee. I was in my seat in this House when I asked for division (of votes), but there was no division” — he was referring to the passage of two key Bills via voice vote amidst ruckus in the Upper House on September 20 last year.
Former Prime Minister and JD(S) member H D Deve Gowda struck a more conciliatory tone. While he acknowledged that the government had worked for the benefit of farmers over the last seven years, he said they would be mistaken to think that the three farm Bills would help farmers avoid middlemen.
He condemned the violence that took place on January 26, but also said that it was provoked by a few “anti-social elements” and that the protesting farmers should not be punished for it. “Some anti-social elements brought a bad name on Republic Day. We all are unhappy over what happened. Those miscreants have to be punished, there is no dispute on this. But the farmer struggle is still going on. The government has decided to put concrete walls (at the protest sites). That is not going to solve the problem… Let the government call the farmers delegation (again). Some of the leaders of this House can also join to give suggestions. Otherwise, things are not going to run smoothly. The farmers were not responsible (for the events of January 26) and they should not be punished,” Deve Gowda said, adding that the opinion of the state governments should also be taken while trying to resolve the standoff since agriculture is a state subject.
TMC member Derek O’Brien said the NDA-III government had failed the country on many counts. Referring to September 20, 2020, the government, he said, failed to uphold the sanctity of the Parliament because of its “arrogance”. He said the protest registered by the Opposition inside and outside the House was “just a drop in the ocean” and that farmers have now taken over and made this their movement.
Union Minister Dharmendra Pradhan said the government will provide Rs 1 lakh crore additional income to farmers that will be generated by converting waste into energy.
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