Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday once again invited the protesting farmers to the negotiating table to discuss the three contentious farm laws. Responding to the debate on the Motion of Thanks to the President for his address to both Houses of Parliament, he termed in the Lok Sabha the protest “pure”. During his more than 90-minute speech, first the Congress and later the Trinamool Congress and the DMK staged a walkout.
The laws, he said, were a response to the need to introduce reforms to avert the crisis that was looming over the agricultural sector and sought to provide alternatives to farmers for a market for their products.
Mr. Modi made a strong pitch for reforms, ending status quoism regarding many sectors of policy and negotiating a strong space for India in what he called “a new world order” that was unfolding in the post COVID-19 era.
‘Andolankari vs andolanjeevi’
Clarifying on his coinage of word “andolanjeevi” (professional agitator) when he spoke in the Rajya Sabha, Mr. Modi differentiated them from what he said were “andolankaris” or agitators among farmers whose specific issue was with regard to the three farm laws. “I consider the farmers agitation as pure, but when ‘andolanjeevis’ join them, what happens? Placards of rioters, those in jail for violence pop in these protests. Toll plazas are public property, to capture them, is this part of a ‘pure agitation’? When telecom towers are broken in Punjab, is that commensurate with the aims of the farmers with regard to these laws?” he stated.
“The country must differentiate between ‘andolankari’ and ‘andolanjeevi’. I respect farmers and that is the reason the government has been holding talks with hem all this while. Even now I say, if they have specific clauses that they have a problem with and a way can be found, the laws can be amended,” he noted.
Providing an alternative
Mr. Modi went on about the nature of the three laws which, he said, were not “coercive” or seeking to deny access to resources, but a way of providing alternatives to farmers in terms of market access. “Ever the since the laws were cleared, not one single ‘mandi’ has shut down, we have allocated funds for ‘mandi’ modernisation, minimum support prices (MSP) have been hiked and record government procurement done,” he asserted.
Reform vs status quo
The Opposition was questioning the need for the laws since “nobody had asked for the reforms”. “That is a very feudal attitude of doing things only after citizens become supplicants. Citizens should not supplicants, they must be empowered. My government is a forward looking progressive one. Passing the triple ‘talaq’ law wasn’t asked for but we did it for the benefit of our sisters, anti-dowry laws as well, no one demanded the Kisan Samman Nidhi, or free gas connections, or toilets. The government must have a progressive attitude,” he said.
“The status quo mentality will destroy the country. Agriculture is the basis of much of our economy and culture, our festivals are tied to agricultural cycles. We cannot neglect the sector and must do something now. As our population rises, land fragmentation will increase. We must, therefore, reform the sector and ensure that our farmers have the options to sell and grow their crops. Our ‘annadata’ [food providers] should be prosperous and its our responsibility to give them the opportunity to be so,” he stated.
Defends private sector
Responding to criticism by the Opposition that the reforms and government’s policies will only benefit crony capitalists, he said that the private sector was an important part of the economy and Opposition leaders should not abuse them without basis. “Do you want to hand over the country to bureaucrats, an IAS to run a pharma company? India has made great strides in mobile manufacturing, we have the cheapest data rates in the world, the pharma industry supplying COVID-19 vaccines and other medicines to the world is also largely private. We must learn to trust our youth, wealth creators are also important,” he observed.
The Prime Minister said the Opposition advocated reforms in words but did nothing when the time came to act. “When it comes to environment, they talk about clean air and fuel but stand with stubble-burners and go to court against hydel projects; they talk of electoral reforms but oppose one nation, one election. Their attitude is ‘I wont play, I wont let you play and I will spoil the game too’,” he stated.
The Motion of Thanks was later cleared by voice vote and all amendments moved by the Opposition defeated.