Union minister and senior BJP MP Ravi Shankar Prasad speaks to Liz Mathew about the contentious farm Bills and the Opposition protests in Parliament.
There is a stalemate in Rajya Sabha, with the Opposition demanding changes in the farm Bills to enable the House to function smoothly. How do you plan to break it?
There is no stalemate. Rajya Sabha ran today and passed Bills. But what led to this situation? Four hours of debate happened on the Bills. Thereafter, as per the norm, consensus was taken to extend the House because the minister was replying to the debate. They started opposing it. The Chair made 13 requests to the Opposition to go back to their seats for moving the statutory resolution. Then what happened was unheard of — microphones were broken, wires snatched, some MPs jumped over the table, someone threw the rulebook on him and a leader tore the rule book. But for the intervention of the marshals, the deputy chairman would have faced physical harm. We have majority in the House and it was 110 against 72 on the Bill. They knew they would have lost. The most shameful conduct took place that day.
On the second day, Chairman Venkaiahji (Naidu) suspended the MPs under Rule 256 on which there is no debate. Once the order has been passed, the MPs would have to withdraw. But you did not do that. You humiliate, insult and try to physically harm the vice-chairperson and defy the chairman, who is the Vice-President of India. The most disturbing part is the Congress’s behaviour.
But the Opposition has raised demands on the Bills to return to the House.
The opposition to the Bill is for the sake of politics. The Congress in its 2019 manifesto had said it would rationalise the mandi Act, and create scope for farmers to sell their produce anywhere. The same is said in its Punjab manifesto. Contract farming was launched by its Haryana government in 2007. We did the same thing. Regarding MSP, we have made it very clear, it is already announced, and we are the first government to give 50 per cent raise as recommended by the Swaminathan Committee.
With these Bills, 86 per cent of the farmers have been given the freedom to sell their produce everywhere. We have launched e-Nam. Around 1.6 crore farmers have registered and done transaction above Rs 1 lakh crore. During the lockdown, the litchi of Bihar was sent to London, the pineapple of Tripura — for which they get Rs 5 here — are getting Rs 15 in Dubai and Mumbai. You want to deny this to farmers? The law is very clear in this Bill – they cannot be deprived of ownership of land, no mortgage nor lease. The sponsors will take responsibility. Is it not empowering the farmers?
The Prime Minister has said MSP will not be withdrawn, mandi provisions are not to be withdrawn. This empowers farmers, and the PM explained that the initial response to the ordinance was overwhelming.
You were talking about the Congress manifesto. In 2012, late BJP leader Sushma Swaraj fiercely argued for arhtiyas, saying there is a relation of trust between them and farmers, and that they have been the farmers’ ATM. You say you have done away with them?
Did you not see Kapil Sibal’s speeches? When we want to double the income of farmers, we want to have time-tested initiatives after good research. The research says 86 per cent farmers are small and marginal and they should be given exposure and good prices and that’s what we are doing.
Many Opposition parties have demanded that the Bill be sent to a Select Committee. Why could the government not agree to that? The government could use it to resolve differences.
We cannot agree to committees just to delay. We don’t want farmers to suffer.
But in Parliament, does the ruling party not have to try to take everyone along?
The reply is simple — we have had consultations. We cannot have Opposition parties playing politics.
Not just Opposition parties, your ally and RSS-affiliated groups are also not convinced?
The ally has its own state compulsions. We have already talked to the Parivar and our distinguished colleagues. There may be some compulsions in Punjab politics. But this initiative is for reforms to empower farmers. Let’s not deny the larger narrative.
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You talk about One Nation One Market that gives freedom to farmers. But will the farmers not benefit if there are many markets in small villages and towns?
One Nation One Market only means that farmers of Punjab can sell in Tamil Nadu and Bihar. That’s the access we are giving.
If the government is giving assurances on MSP, why can’t it be part of the Bill?
MSP is an administrative decision, as we took on Monday. The price commission recommends it and it is part of the commitment. The Prime Minister said it. Look at our record of past six-seven years. We are the first party that said the Swaminathan Commission recommendation would be followed.
But what stops you from making it part of the government? One demand was to make private parties pay at least the MSP?
If a farmer is getting more than the MSP, do you want to shackle it? No farmer will sell their produce at less than MSP. The farmers, for so many years, sell only if they get more than the MSP. We have given a commitment that MSP will stay.
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Another contention about the Bills is about the power balance when it comes to contract farming. Farmers fear that bureaucrats would favour the corporates.
Our commitment is to farmers. You should see our record — we have covered 10 crore farmers under PM-KISAN scheme. Haven’t we made fertilisers available to every farmer? See how we have freed farmers from the licence quota raj.
Do you consider calling an all-party meeting?
I cannot comment on this. The Bill was passed after elaborate discussion.
What is the party’s assessment about its impact on Bihar elections? Do you think the perception created would harm the BJP?
Look at the conduct of Harivansh, a respected leader, in the morning. He went to the protesting MPs to have tea with them. He is a Gandhian, a socialist and a man from a humble background from JP’s village. The way he was humiliated in the House has annoyed the people of Bihar.
Many protests are being sponsored by those who will be impacted, the Congress and the Opposition. But our commitment to farmers remains, and once people realise the reality, the Opposition will be exposed.
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