On Friday, the government and protesting farm organisations will have the eighth round of talks to find a resolution to the standoff over the new farm laws. The agitation, led primarily by farmers from Punjab and Haryana, at Delhi’s borders, is now in its second month — and they have continued in severe cold, facing unseasonal rains, and at great cost to human lives and comfort. And the farm unions have a singular demand — repeal the laws. This maximalist approach, however, could be counterproductive.
This newspaper believes that the government erred in not ensuring a process of adequate consultation and legislative scrutiny before the passage of the laws. It also should have read the mood on the ground in Punjab, refrained from a coercive response at the beginning, and understood the spirit behind the movement. But it must be acknowledged that the government, after its initial missteps, has consistently reached out to the farmers; it has shown flexibility in offering a set of amendments to the laws which would allay a set of apprehensions of the farmers; it has even agreed to roll back certain provisions on penalising farmers for their ecologically harmful practices. Yet, the farm unions have adopted a hard stance — in other words, my way or the highway.
The fact is that an elected government, with an overwhelming legislative mandate, has the right to pass laws. Opposition to laws is legitimate. But this must not happen at the cost of economic logic, and even humanitarian consequences for fellow citizens and protesters themselves. By adopting an approach that settles for nothing less than a repeal, farmers are putting at risk the sympathy they have garnered from other quarters. Political leadership entails give and take. Agriculture needs modernisation, great interface with industry, and more choice for farmers. Institutionalising MSP in law is poor economics — even though the government must continue to offer support to farmers at all stages of the production cycle and during procurement when possible. While the government should continue to show flexibility and sensitivity, the ball is firmly in the court of farm unions to engage responsibly. The movement has already brought the issues concerning agriculture and the need for income security to the national centre stage. It is time for a resolution now.