Jagmohan Singh , 64, is a member of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Co-ordination Committee and an office bearer of the Bharatiya Kisan Union (BKU) in Punjab. Speaking to Frontline , he said he was confident of the outcome of the protest, given the support it had received, and felt that the government should give up its high-handed approach and listen to the farmers. Excerpts from an interview:
By not agreeing to the farmers’ demands, what do you think the government wants to achieve?
It is a triple murder with the passage of the laws—of the agricultural sector, Centre-State relations and the public distribution system (PDS). The government wants to help the corporates, and by doing so, it is harming the interests of farmers, agricultural workers, Centre-State relations and the urban poor.
In 2006, the then Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath signed an agreement at the World Trade Organisation on easing subsidies on agricultural products. The Narendra Modi government has now implemented it by passing the farm laws. It was morally incorrect to bring such ordinances when an epidemic was raging in the country. We have already made it clear to the government what we want. But the government has been asking for time. It is not because of us that there is no headway in talks. It is the stubborn attitude of the government. Some 200 bikers have come from Gujarat to join us. If we can get support from Modi’s State, then you can well imagine the kind of support we are receiving. When the ordinances came on June 4 and 5, we protested the next day itself so that we could convey to the President of India not to give his assent.
Why is it important to repeal the laws?
India sells foodgrain to around 73 countries across the world. The Food Corporation of India (FCI) coordinates the procurement and supply. If the corporate sector replaces this, then they will decide the rates. It will affect supplies in those countries too. They will supply to countries where they will get good rates and ignore others. The people in those countries will also suffer shortages.
We have received international acknowledgment for the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) system. In Punjab, we have six State-owned and managed foodgrain agencies. The FCI is the nodal agency but it procures only 10 per cent.The Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices [CACP] recommends a MSP based on certain parameters including production. The government then puts its stamp of approval on it. But it does not get implemented automatically. The States of Punjab, Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh have to declare three months in advance how much they are likely to produce and what they are going to produce. Then they have to specify what kind of arrangements they have for infrastructure and the input costs incurred.
Agriculture is the only sector where there has been continuous production even after the havoc caused by demonetisation and the COVID-19 pandemic. Our input costs have not risen just like that. Multinational companies decide our input costs, including cost of tractors, fertilizers and so on.
The government reasons that the laws protect the farmers from middlemen.
Yes, this is what they claim. I have seen many Prime Ministers but this Prime Minister lies like nobody else. Look at what they have done to Kashmir. People in this government and their supporters have called us all kinds of names: aatankvaadi, ugravaadi, Khalistani, urban Naxal and so on. We are haqvaadi , we are for the rights of people. At a recently international seminar on agrarian issues, one speaker said that even if the laws are not repealed, this is a lesson to the Narendra Modi government that dissent has to be listened to.
The government claims that a lot of schemes have benefited the farmers.
Their schemes are useless. If these laws are implemented, the incomes of farmers will get halved. It will end up pushing farmers below the poverty line. Around 68 per cent of farmers in Punjab are small farmers who own below five acres of land. The all-India figure is close to 82 per cent. It is this section that will face poverty if the laws are passed.
Will the amendments be acceptable to the farmers?
We have already given in writing our problems with the laws. It is up to the government to act on them. But the government feels it is a prestige issue for it to back down. It reflects an authoritarian, feudal and fascist attitude. Why is Narendra Modi being so stubborn?