Justice Katju: Farmers’ protest has only one way forward


Justice Markandey Katju

Markandey Katju is a former Judge, Supreme Court of India, and former Chairman, Press Council of India. The views expressed are his own.

The present Indian farmers’ agitation has been going on for almost 100 days now, with the agitating farmers still assembled on the Delhi border roads.

Their talks with the Indian government have failed, with the latter refusing to accept their demands of withdrawing the three new farm laws and making MSP (Minimum Support Price) statutory.

The farmers have resorted to a tractor parade for Indian Republic Day on January 26, blocked roads and trains, going on fast, etc, but the government is adamant not to cave in to their demands.

The leaders of the 40 farmers organizations, who have formed a coordination committee called the Kisan Ekta Morcha, are now holding rallies in the rural areas, and have gone to several states to muster support there — particularly in states where state assembly and panchayat (rural body) elections will be held shortly.

Their thinking is that the BJP will only relent if the agitation hurts them at the polls.

My own assessment is that though the Indian farmers’ agitation has no doubt made a great achievement by uniting people of different religions and castes, it will never achieve its goal of getting MSP for the farmers within the present political and social system.

Let me explain why.

If statutory MSP for different farm produce are fixed by the government, they will obviously have to be high due to the pressure of farmers, whom the government would not like to displease.

Farmers make up 60 to 65 percent of 1.35 billion, i.e. about 750 million, which is a huge vote bank.

But fixing high MSP will mean that businessmen will be reluctant to buy farm products, as it will give them little profits. So the government will have to buy it at high prices at huge losses.

It is doubtful the Indian government can bear such losses for long. At present, the Indian government only buys 6 percent of the agricultural produce in India at MSP.

I submit that the solution to the Indian farmers’ problems lies outside the present political and social system prevailing in India.

The farmers’ agitation has achieved all it could achieve — uniting the Indian people — and it can achieve nothing more. At most it can cause reverses to the BJP in forthcoming elections, but that only means that one set of crooks and deceivers, as most Indian politicians are, will be replaced by another.

Nothing fundamental will change by this for the farmers or the rest of society.

These may come across as harsh and bitter words, but it is time someone spoke the truth.

It is only by a total change in the present political and social system in India that our farmers, as well as other sections of society, can prosper and have decent lives.

India has parliamentary democracy, but this runs largely on caste and religious vote banks as everyone knows. Casteism and communalism are feudal forces, which have to be destroyed if India is to progress, but parliamentary democracy further entrenches them. So obviously some alternative to parliamentary democracy has to be thought out and created.

What the farmers agitation has, however, achieved is to smash the barriers of caste and religion. This itself is a great and historical step forward, since most earlier attempts to unite the Indian people had failed.

Most agitations till now were either religion based, for example the Ram Mandir agitation, or caste based, such as the Jat, Gujjar, and Dalit agitations. The Anna Hazare agitation against corruption had fizzled out.

The farmers’ agitation can therefore be conceived as the spark which will in a few years’ time set the prairie ablaze. It marks the beginning of the Indian people’s Long March of 10-15 years or so, the process which will culminate in setting up of an alternative political and social order under which the Indian masses gradually become prosperous, enjoying a high standard of living, and decent lives.

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