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Laws not binding on farmers, says Indian PM; repeats offer for talks

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FEBRUARY 11, 2021

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (ANI Photo/ RSTV Grab)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi stressed on Wednesday that the new farm laws passed in September were optional and not binding on farmers, who, he said, can still sell their produce wherever they earn more profits and not necessarily to corporate entities.

The PM invited protesting farmers to resume a dialogue, saying changes could be introduced in the legislation if any problems indeed existed, even as he supported the agricultural reforms and told the Lok Sabha: “As long as our small farmers don’t get empowered, full freedom will not be achieved.”

Thousands of farmers have massed on the borders of Delhi since November 26 to press their demand for a repeal of the three laws that ease restrictions in farm trade, allow traders to stockpile large quantities of food, and lay down a national framework for contract farming.

The farmers say the laws will erode their bargaining power, leave them at the mercy of big corporations and could lead to the dismantling of government-run agricultural markets, called mandis, and a system of MSPs for agricultural produce.

“After the enactment of the new laws, neither the mandis have closed nor MSP has stopped, but more crops have been bought under MSP,” Modi said in his reply to the motion of thanks on the President’s speech to Parliament.

He also lashed out at “andolanjeevi” (people who live off protests) for “maligning the sanctity” of the farmers’ protests and maintained that the long-pending agricultural reforms will usher in new opportunities, investments and help open up new markets for farmers.

“I want to ask all the farmers whether the new law has taken away any right, any system from them? I can understand the Opposition protest if these laws were compulsory. But the new laws are not compulsory for anyone. This is optional and farmers should go where they get more profit. So, there is no reason to protest,” Modi told lawmakers as Congress MPs staged a walkout.

Congress MPs including their floor leader Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury repeatedly tried to counter the PM during the speech as former party president Rahul Gandhi stood quietly. This is the second time Modi spoke at length about the farm bills after his reply in the Rajya Sabha on Monday in which he emphatically said, “MSP was there, MSP is there and it will be there.”

In the Lok Sabha, the Prime Minister argued about the need for farm reforms. He maintained that the nation’s annadatas (food gviers) must prosper and not depend on government aid. Modi said agricultural reforms were “important and required” and the government will “continue to try to tackle the challenges in the farm sector”.

“The changes are required for small and marginal farmers. We are unable to invest as per requirement. When investments will increase, employment will increase, new opportunities will come. No one wants our farmers to be stuck in poverty. As long as our small farmers don’t get empowered, full freedom will not be achieved.”

Hitting back at Congress leaders who said the farmers hadn’t asked for the laws, Modi said status quo will ruin the nation and listed examples of social reformers Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Ishwar ChandraVidyasagar and his own government’s record to defend proactive measures.

“This country made a law against dowry even as no one asked for it. No one wanted a law against triple talaq but we did it. no one had asked for laws against child marriage or to give property rights to daughters, but these laws were made as they are needed for a progressive society,” the PM said.

“People didn’t ask for Ayushman Bharat or Swachh Bharat,” he said referring to the government’s health insurance scheme and cleanliness mission. “If farmers don’t want new system, they can stick to the old system.”

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi has alleged that the government had created monopolies in several sectors and the farm laws will help only a handful of industrialists close to the PM.

Modi didn’t mention Gandhi’s name, but countered the allegation. “We believe in progressive politics and not regressive politics. If the country needs a public sector, then private sector too, is important. We must trust our young people. And it is not correct to slam every entrepreneur. Will the IAS officers run everything,” the PM said, referring to the government’s decision to sell stakes in Air India and other public enterprises.

Modi referred to mythological characters such as Raja Janak to underline how even the kings had been involved in agriculture. But while he said that he “respects” farmers’ sentiments, he lashed out at people whom he has termed andolanjeevis. “…What is the relation of these demands to farm protests? Real protestors don’t do like this. This is how an andolanjeevi acts. This is a matter of concern for all who believe in democracy.”

Modi also narrated a story of an official who held a post of supplying cigars to late British PM Sir Winston Churchill and wanted a salary hike many years after Independence to underline how old systems often lose relevance and need changes.


Courtesy/Source: Hindustan Times

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