The Farmers’ Protests: A Tale of Two Nations

Farmers protests

The bond between the Agrarian Worker and the land they till is largely inexplicable. To the layperson, we merely see fields upon fields of ripe harvest. However, a popular revolutionary once succinctly explicated such a bond, that for the Agrarian Worker their land is what “constitutes their life and will also serve as their cemetery” [1]. 

What better example to use than the ongoing Farmers’ Protest in India? A non-violent direction action campaign that has exceeded a year, claimed 750 lives [2] and, at its peak, was purportedly the world’s largest protest in history [3], which did not confine itself to just India, but went global [4]

Thus, it would be remiss of us to not explore this matter further, and ask how did nascent agrarian dissent, conceived in India’s northernly state of Punjab, snowball into a movement of widescale revolutionary clamour in what is, ostensibly, the World’s Largest Democracy

 

Where Is The MSP?

Though the economic intricacies are complex, in the interest of simplicity and brevity – I will provide a rudimentary overview of the potential ramifications the now repealed decrees would have had. Amongst the litany of grievances – one is particularly prevalent amongst all farmers; the Minimum Support Price (MSP), or the absence of it. 

What is the MSP? The MSP acts as a ‘safety net’ for farmers. When farmers harvest their crops to then sell onto wholesalers, they are safeguarded by the MSP in the instance that if crop prices fall dramatically, there is a minimum threshold they are owed to be paid, which is guaranteed by the government. In layman terms – imagine an agricultural equivalent of the national minimum wage. None of the proposed laws stipulated, or referred to, the MSP – an executive order enacted during the 1960s at the peak of India’s Green Revolution [5]. Farmers have now demanded the MSP be enshrined legally through a parliamentary act to preclude future precarities. 

Farmer x and the MSP
Break Even (per kg) With MSP (per kg) Without MSP (per kg)
1.25 1.35 1.20
= +10 -5

With an overwhelming 82% of India’s farmers being small/marginal, the threat of not having the MSP to cover expenditure and expenses for mere subsistence poses a significant risk to their existence [6]. As of recent, the state of Punjab in India, which has gained the nickname of ‘India’s Breadbasket’, has witnessed farmer suicide rates increase more than 12 times [7]. Crippling debt and a lack of institutional support has hastened an industry on the descent. The absence of the MSP would only further exacerbate India’s deteriorating agricultural sector. 

 

A Free-Market Fallacy

Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised that these new agricultural laws would unlock a sense of autonomy and liberty for farmers. They could negotiate freely, and openly, in a completely deregulated free market; whilst fostering good healthy competition. 

However, these promises were largely rebuked based on the experience of India’s Bihar state. In 2006, Bihar adopted a laissez-faire approach to the agricultural sector, deregulating crop procurement. 

One farmer commented on the deregulatory reforms – adding that he sold 10 quintals of paddy at 1,050 Indian rupees a quintal against the MSP of 1,868 – a loss of 818 [8]. With Punjab being a bastion for agriculture, and with Bihar’s free market agricultural collapse, it is quite self-explanatory as to why Punjab now has one of the largest migrant populations from Bihar – with many engaged in agricultural work [9]. One economic professor warned that the Bihar experiment proves a good example of “what is going to happen in the country after the free-market farm laws” [10]

For the farmers, agriculture is a source of sustenance and survival. What it is not, and cannot be, is a source of Capitalist commodification and ‘entrepreneurship’ [11]

 

What Next?

Many believe that the abrogation of the agricultural laws is merely a political stunt – an attempt to appease popular dissidence and regain electoral momentum ahead of the forthcoming state elections in key seats, like Punjab, in 2022. Opposition MP’s have added that the repealing of the laws was not a change in policy or ethics, but rather one premised “by fear of elections” [12]. 

It remains to be seen whether the farmers victory, over a stalwart right-wing nationalist BJP regime under Modi, sets a precedent for future democratic resistance. Is this the beginning of the end of Modi’s electoral demise? Or is this merely the end of the beginning with something far more ominous ahead? 

Ultimately, what we can establish for certain is that, when united, the people can overcome the imperium of elitism and autocracy. We should use the indomitable spirit of the farmers to galvanise global democratic dissonance for greater equity, equality, and egalitarianism. 

Simrandeep Sunnar is a SOAS Law alum and currently works in the legal sector, with a specialism in international advocacy of civil liberties and human rights.

 

References

[1] Guevara, Che Ernesto, Guerrilla Warfare (First published 1960, BN Publishing U.S.A 2007), p10.

[2] Indian Express, Modi Should Express Grief Over Death Of 750 Farmers, 2021,  <https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2021/oct/09/pm-modi-should-express-grief-in-parliament-over-death-of-750-farmers-during-protests-rakesh-tikait-2369732.html> Accessed 30th November 2021.

[3] Mandeep Rai Dhillon, The World’s Largest Protest You’ve Probably Never Heard Of, 2021, <https://edition.cnn.com/2021/03/06/opinions/india-farmer-protests-mandeep-rai-dhillon/index.html> Accessed 30th November 2021.

[4] Reuters Staff, Thousands Protest In London Against India’s Farming Reforms, 2020, <https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-india-farms-protests-britain-idUKKBN28G0O2> Accessed 30th October 2021.

[5] Vivek Gupta, Why The Farmers’ Demands To Legalise MSP Is Justified, 2021, <https://thewire.in/agriculture/why-the-farmers-demand-to-legalise-msp-is-justified> Accessed 30th October 2021.

[6] FAO of the U.N, India At a Glance, <https://www.fao.org/india/fao-in-india/india-at-a-glance/en/> Accessed 1st December 2021.

[7] Karandeep Singh, New York Times, Farmer Suicides Add To India’s Virus Misery, 2020 <https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/08/world/asia/india-coronavirus-farmer-suicides-lockdown.html> Accessed 1st December 2021.

[8] CK Manoj, Down To Earth, Bihar Scrapped APMC Act, 2020, <https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/agriculture/bihar-scrapped-apmc-act-mandi-system-14-years-ago-here-s-what-it-did-to-farmers-74534> Accessed 1st December 2021.

[9] Amarnath Tewary, The Hindu, Bihar Migrants Going Back To Other States For Livelihood, 2020, <https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/bihar-migrants-going-back-to-other-states-for-livelihood/article31755553.ece> Accessed 1st December 2021.

[10] Akhilesh Panday, The Caravan, Bihar’s Failing PACS System Shows What Could Happen, 2021, <https://caravanmagazine.in/agriculture/bihars-failing-pacs-system-shows-what-could-happen-after-the-farm-laws> Accessed 1st December 2021.

[11] Ibid, Down To Earth, Accessed 1st December 2021.

[12] Hannah Ellis Petersen, The Guardian, Indian PM Narendra Modi To Repeal Farm Laws, 2021, <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/nov/19/indian-pm-narendra-modi-to-repeal-farm-laws-after-year-of-protests> Accessed 1st December 2021.

 

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