New Delhi: As the ongoing protests by thousands of farmers against the Centre’s farm laws entered the fifth day on Monday, major newspapers across the country published a slew of editorials on the agitation and called on the Centre to engage in dialogue with the stakeholders to allay their fears.
Railroading reforms ‘cannot be the way forward’: The Hindu
The Hindu‘s editorial pointed out that farmers in the country had “felt exploited” for long and stressed that the “onus is on the government to win their [farmers] confidence”. The editorial also criticised the Centre for having “aggravated its original mistake of rushing through these laws without wide consultation and political consensus by taking a condescending attitude towards critics”.
It noted that while the prime minister’s assertion that the farmers stood to benefit from the reforms “may well be true”, most farmers had not been convinced by the assurances and feared that their precarious condition would worsen. Several farmers fears about specific concerns regarding the new laws have not been assuaged and many are concerned that that the reforms “will render them helpless in the face of exploitative market forces”.
The editorial said that while the new measures provide farmers with more choices to sell their produce “in theory” and create a national market which could “theoretically lead to more efficiency”, farmers were primarily concerned about the potential end of the MSP and guaranteed government procurement – which had so far been the “backbone of India’s food security edifice”.
In the absence of the MSP and mandi system, farmers fear they will be left at the mercy of private buyers. Stating that while the case for reforms was “strong”, railroading a slew of measures “cannot be the way forward”. “Any country’s agriculture sector must find an equilibrium of the interest of the producers and consumers, and account for uneven environmental factors across different regions,” the editorial concluded.
Fault lies in ‘lack’ of communication by govt: Indian Express
An editorial by the Indian Express noted that the Modi government had “erred in first projecting the agitation as purely Opposition-sponsored and then in using force”. It further said that the “messy handling” of the protests could derail or delay the government’s future reform plans like decontrolling urea prices or replacing MSPs which were “necessary to harvest the true potential of Indian agriculture and make it globally competitive”.
It also stated that unlike previous economic reforms which had been passed by minority governments “by stealth”, the three Central farm laws had been passed by a government which enjoyed a comfortable majority under “an unquestioned leader”. It also unequivocally said that the fault in the entire episode lay in the manner in which the farm laws had been passed and “the government’s strategy of communication, or lack of it”.
Ending the monopoly of agricultural produce market committee, which have served as lifelines for farmers in Punjab and Haryana “touched a raw nerve” for farmers, the editorial said, who felt that the dismantling of these institutions was a precursor to the end of the existing minimum support price system. “The Modi government did try to assuage these fears, but the hasty passage of the bills with little debate inside or outside Parliament hardly helped,” it said and added that the passage of these laws in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic – when farmers were not allowed to gather” – added to the distrust.
Finally, the editorial in the national daily called on the Modi government to use its political capital to “constructively engage with the farming community, to talk to it and to listen to it”.
Centre’s reform package a ‘sincere’ attempt: TOI
The country’s largest English newspaper in circulation, in an editorial, held that “outreach at the highest levels of Union government could be a game changer” and claimed that the Centre’s reforms were “a sincere attempt to improve private participation in the farm trade”.
“Hopes of doubling farm incomes rest on the success of these fledgling reforms,” the editorial by the Times of India noted and said that agitations in Punjab and Haryana, “which boast of entrenched public procurement of crops, have been a speedbreaker”. It also added that paddy procurement in Punjab had “topped last year’s numbers by a whopping 20%” which should “allay fears of immediate MSP rollback”. It then went on to say that that the paddy MSP regime in these areas was “unsustainable” in the long run and that a phased, orderly transition would be a win for farmers and traders alike.
“Centre and state governments must work together to handhold farmers through this big shift, which can prove just as momentous and fruitful as the Green Revolution,” it said.
‘Sound rationale’ for reform: Hindustan Times
“Farmers will have to recognise that the reality of the laws will not change,” the editorial by the Hindustan Times said and added that farmer protests “primarily led by land-owning agriculturists of Punjab” had raised questions about the country’s political economy and the salience of identity politics in Punjab.
Arguing that there was a “sound rationale” for liberalising agricultural markets for greater interface between industry and farmers, the editorial said that the move would “potentially enhance farm incomes”. It also noted that the laws had led to apprehensions because of the abrupt manner in which the laws were enacted and said that the Centre “should have invested more in engaging with all stakeholders”.
The editorial also pointedly remarked that “extremist rhetoric and action — including flirting with extreme identity-issues when the demand is largely economic — is wrong, unacceptable, and undermines their [farmers] own cause.” It further called on the government to recognise the grievances of the farmers and “reach out sensitively, and find a mechanism to assure farmers that their incomes will be protected, including through an amendment if necessary”.