Narendra Modi offers potato logic to farmers
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday claimed that “ground reports” suggested the fruits of the new farm laws had begun reaching the farmers, trying to placate the agitating cultivators who say the newly enacted legislation would lead to their exploitation by big business.
Modi was speaking a day after his government had forced two farm bills through the Rajya Sabha via voice vote amid Opposition protests.
Wooing the angry farmers while launching development projects for poll-bound Bihar, the Prime Minister said the benefits of the early-June ordinances that heralded the new laws were already visible on the ground.
“Aise states jahan par aloo bahut hota hai, wahan se report hai, June-July ke dauran thok kharidaron ne kisano ko achchhi bhav de kar sidhe cold storage se hi aloo kharid liya (Reports from states that grow potatoes in abundance show that the big traders paid good prices to the farmers in June-July, buying their potatoes directly from the cold storage),” the Prime Minister said.
He said the “pressure” created by this led to farmers receiving better prices in the mandis (wholesale markets) too. Modi said reports from Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan suggested that oil mills had bought mustard seeds directly from the farmers at prices 20 to 30 per cent higher than usual.
He said farmers in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Bengal had received 15 to 25 per cent more for their dal (lentils) as the “dal mills” had brought the produce directly from them.
The Prime Minister’s outreach comes at a time intense farmer protests against the new bills have been reported from Punjab and Haryana, amid suggestions that the agitation could spread to other states.
Modi has also been under pressure from allies, with the Akali Dal quitting the government in protest at the farm bills. The Akalis, who met President Ram Nath Kovind on Monday and requested him to withhold assent to the new laws, would decide in a week whether to remain in the NDA, party chief Sukhbir Singh Badal has said.
Modi sought to address fears that the new legislation would lead to closure of the mandis and bring the farmers under the thumb of the big agri-market players.
“This legislation has nothing to do with the mandis. They will continue to function,” the Prime Minister said, citing how his government had helped modernise the mandis by equipping them with computers.
He argued the farmers would benefit from the new laws if they form associations and enter into agreements or contracts with the buyers.
Modi said more than 85 per cent of India’s farmers had small landholdings. “Their input cost is high and they don’t get a good price. If they come together and form associations, they stand to benefit a lot,” he said. Citing an example, he said that if a young entrepreneur wanted to set up a chips factory, he could now directly approach the farmers, declare the quality and quantity of the potatoes he needed and enter into a contract with them. This, he argued, would benefit the farmers.
Modi said the new laws were a necessity for 21st-century India, and that his government was freeing the farmers from their age-old shackles.
He took an indirect dig at the Opposition, saying some people were instigating the farmers because they found their “control slipping away” following the enactment of the new laws.
“These are the same people who kept sitting on the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee on the MSP (minimum support price) for years,” the Prime Minister said. He claimed no other government had done as much to raise the MSP as his had.
The Swaminathan report of 2006 had suggested a formula that would have raised the MSP. The Modi government claims to have implemented most of the report’s recommendations.