Even though a small portion of the farming community appeared to be unhappy with the three farm laws, their agitation was labelled as a national farmers’ protest by media, both domestic and international. This has misled several influencers and policymakers in multiple countries into believing that the agitation taking place on the Delhi border is pan-Indian in scope.
New Delhi: Farmers are a community highly valued in India for their service and dedication to the national interest. The agitation launched in the final months of 2020 with the declared intention of making Prime Minister Narendra D. Modi scrap the three farm laws passed late last year involved only volunteers from a particular state before a trickle of support came in subsequent weeks from a few other states (including Tamil Nadu, where the Congress-aligned DMK is strong). Despite the fact that only a small portion of the farming community in the country appeared to be unhappy with the three farm laws passed last year, their agitation was labelled as a national “farmers’ protest” by media, both domestic as well as international. This has misled several influencers and policymakers in multiple countries into believing that the agitation taking place on the Delhi border is pan-Indian in scope. This mischaracterisation has remained uncorrected abroad, so far as the media is concerned. The other characteristic is that it is not only just food grain cultivators of a single state and a smaller number from a few other states who are active in fuelling the protests. A prominent role is getting played by the “aartiyas”, the trader-moneylenders who stand to lose once they lose the monopoly over produce that has been enjoyed by them till now. Another problem that vexes them is the need to register themselves under the Income-Tax and GST laws even where their grain business is concerned. Till now, the income stream of the “aartiyas” from handling farm produce went almost entirely unrecorded. Given the extreme nature of the punishments prescribed under these laws, combined with the manner in which laws and accompanying regulations have been used by corrupt officials to collect bribes, it is not surprising that the “aartiyas” are resisting coming under the tax scanner. However, a modern economy mandates that transactions get recorded fully and accurately, and it is to be hoped that the Ministry of Finance will, in the next round of tax proposals, give up the obstinate stand that the income-tax rates first introduced under the Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda in 1997 (and which were a substantial reduction from earlier rates) be retained. Instead, they have seen incremental increases over the years rather than brought down further. Rate reductions need to happen at least for those with incomes below Rs 1 crore annually.
UNWARY SNARED IN GEOPOLITICAL GAME
Greta Thunberg perhaps unwittingly revealed a few details of what had been obvious to a few observers of the situation at least from November 2020. This was that no concession short of full and immediate withdrawal of the farm three laws is acceptable to those who appear to be functioning behind the cover of a noble and patriotic community. Many of those taking part in the protests are patriotic citizens, who genuinely believe that their futures are being threatened by the new laws. Unfortunately, it takes a single drop of ink to make inedible a glass of milk, and the nature of the mindset behind just such a drop was revealed by Ms Thunberg before those who briefed her the first time around got her to delete her earlier tweet and replace it with an anodyne substitute. Meena Harris or Rihanna too may be unaware of the mayhem that was caused in the national capital of the world’s most populous democracy on 26 January, when an army of tractors entered and forced their entry, including into zones close to where diplomats from across the world reside. It may be remembered that several tens of thousands of farmers died not by accident (as was the case in the 26 January incident) but by committing suicide. These occurred during the decade when AICC supremo Sonia Gandhi remote-controlled the Central government. Finally, after all these years of silence at suicides and privation at the hands of middlemen in league with politicians, the death of a farmer so touched the heart of the admittedly charismatic and telegenic daughter of the “CP” (Congress President) that she rushed to his home village in UP to console the bereaved family.
THE MIDDLEMAN FACTOR
The bigger the aartiya, the greater his motivation to ensure freedom from the tax net through mandatory registration under the Income-Tax or GST provisions as prescribed by the farm laws. Several of the bigger aartiyas are involved not only in grain procurement but in distribution of FMCG fertiliser, farm machinery and equipment, building materials, cement, hardware and in real estate. So far, none of the suppliers of such business have interceded with their aartiya distributors to ask them to concentrate on business rather than mobilise groups of protestors to go to the Delhi border or involve themselves with the protest in multiple other ways. Several of the farmers are in debt to the aartiyas and it needs to be checked if the interest rates being charged are beyond the legal limit. For those who are outside the comforts of the Lutyens Zone, it is inexplicable why thus far no discernible effort has been made by the government to identify and persuade the aartiyas to focus on business rather than street protests. This seems not to have been attempted by either the government or multiple entities that are giving them other business. Since 1947, farmers in a few of the northern states have been under the yoke of the aartiya system, and have fallen into debt through various ways. Once those aartiyas behind the turmoil understand that not only the economy of the entire country but their own incomes will be affected by it, enough of them will come around to the view that getting involved in protests at the cost of business is unwise. Under the new laws, farmers will have the right to sell their produce through multiple platforms, including APMC. They can also use digital platforms, E-NAM or physical aggregation of supply chains, as pointed out by agricultural experts concerned about the future of farmers in India, a country where the producer and the consumer often get short-changed by the middleman, who till now seems to have escaped the attention of the revenue authorities.
EFFORTS ONGOING TO DERAIL INDIA’S FUTURE
Several among those taking part in the protests are Sikhs, a noble and patriotic community. Religious figures and other influencers (such as Punjab Chief Minister Captain Amarinder Singh, an acknowledged expert on the military) need to be briefed on the efforts of aliens to derail the future of the youth of India through generating tumult. Not just Sikhs but North India’s Jat community are intensely patriotic, and those within the Jat community who are genuine community leaders should be contacted and given the facts, so that the context becomes clear. Diplomacy needs to be carried out not only in conference rooms or through the mass media but individually as well. Sarpanches of villages active in the protest as well as panchayat BDOs are others who need to be individually contacted in order to get the facts across rather than leave them to the messages suggested in manuals such as the toolkit disclosed by the Swedish activist. Laws ensuring continuance of Minimum Support Price and APMC need to be introduced, while legislation removing such features of the laws already passed as absence of judicial involvement or freedom to hoard without limit needs to be initiated. The present move of having a hiatus for 18 months while an expert committee goes through the clauses is another example of the manner in which the football of reform is constantly being kicked outside the field. Another tweak to the farm laws should be to place responsibility for their implementation on state governments rather than impose an omnibus “one size fits all” Central edict. Should such changes be made, it is difficult to see why the farmers’ agitation on the Delhi border should continue, at least in the case of the overwhelming majority. Only the few external actors and their agents would be upset at the protest cooling down, as they seek to use the cover of the farmers to create a situation designed to lead to a meltdown in the credibility and therefore the efficacy of the Central government as an instrument of reform. It needs to be emphasised that while the number of those who have been involved in the “Melt India” operation are very few, several of them were given OCI cards and visas by the present government, as a Gandhian gesture of reconciliation. The bitter fruits of the policy error of the NDA scrapping the earlier Khalistan blacklist have started pouring down in some locations. The need is to bring an “all hands on deck” approach by reaching out to the state governments and opposition parties involved. An innovative idea suggested by concerned agricultural experts is to set up an independent Agricultural Tribunal that would look into matters relating to exploitation of farmers from any quarter, including predatory corporates. The few (almost entirely external) rotten apples need to have their OCI cards and visas revoked immediately. Care should be taken to avoid giving such documents to those with a history of support for secession in India who live in countries such as Canada, the US and the UK. Their activities end up pleasing the GHQ Rawalpindi-PLA partnership at the expense of the people of India. They are particularly active in seeking to poison ties between India and other major democracies. To give a religious tag to the present protest is erroneous, as this only helps the Melt India operators. Whether the citizen of the world’s most populous democracy be Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian or Hindu, the believers on each of these faiths are committed to the integrity and progress of India and have demonstrated their loyalty to the tricolour numerous times.
The Lutyens Zone had been warned in advance about the Melt India plan, facets of which were most recently revealed in the detailed toolkit fortuitously revealed by Greta Thunberg. The campaigner for a clean planet seems to have acted in good faith without being aware of the provenance of the information that was fed to her. The same can be said of Meena Harris, Rihanna or many others who joined in the Twitter war. After the failure of the 26 January ruckus to get the government to repeal the laws, the global Twitter storm was, it was hoped, force the hand of Prime Minister Modi into withdrawing the three farm laws. Once this got done, next would follow agitations on other pretexts, such as the removal of Article 370, and this particular movement was planned to gather pace by mid-May. Rather than the passive-reactive policy favoured in the Lutyens Zone, what is needed is to identify the handful of individuals who are hiding behind the farmers and carrying out their “Melt India” operations. In this task, the innocent farmers and others who have temporarily been led into being part of actions that in effect go against their own interests need to be treated as friends and not as adversaries. We are all Indians together, and in case an all-out effort is made by the authorities to make clear, especially to local influencers, the dimensions of what is taking place, even Rakesh Tikait may come to favour a reasonable solution. A few foreign nationals have been allowed to freely enter India since 2015 despite working in sync with GHQ Rawalpindi-PLA and their game plan of weakening the country from inside preparatory to invading it from the outside. The sooner the present situation is rectified through reasoned dialogue, behind the scenes diplomacy and intercession, as well as substantive gestures of accommodation, the better. Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will in time understand the importance of India, the US and other major democracies that form the G-10 working together in furtherance of the common security of the group. G-10 leaders need to avoid gladdening the hearts of those no longer secret capitals that seek to replace secular and liberal democracy with extremism and authoritarianism as the dominant ideology of the times.