‘Why is PM Modi not listening to CM Modi?’

‘Why is PM Modi not listening to CM Modi?’

PM Modi when he was CM wrote 'no farmer-trader transaction should be below MSP, wherever prescribed', why isn't he listening to himself, asks Surjewala

AICC General Secretary Randeep Surjewala. Credit: PTI Photo

Congress General Secretary Randeep Singh Surjewala tells DH’s Sagar Kulkarni that minimum support price (MSP) should be made the sole criterion for sale of crops. Excerpts from an interview:

Why are public movements increasingly keeping political parties away? First, it was the anti-CAA protesters, and now farmers?

The three anti-farmer black laws were approved in secrecy by the Union cabinet and were drafted in the boardrooms of the four crony capitalist friends of Prime Minister Modi and BJP. They were pushed through by a voice vote in the Rajya Sabha after suspending Congress and other Opposition members. These laws were brought in without a demand for them from a single farmers’ union or a political party. Rahul Gandhi and Congress have been at the forefront of this opposition. Rahul Gandhi undertook Kisan Tractor Yatras in Punjab and Haryana. It was their sincere desire that political parties should not join them on the site of the dharna because the BJP has maligned every genuine protest by politicising it. Rahul Gandhi, Congress and other Opposition parties have respected the wishes of the farmers’ unions in not joining the dharna. But the farmers have our complete moral and political support.

Why do you think BJP is targeting Opposition parties in its campaign to highlight the farm laws?

Firstly, the Modi government is insulting India’s farmers and farm labourers, many of whose sons and daughters serve even in our Armed Forces, by calling them Khalistanis, tukde-tukde gang, urban naxals, separtists, terrorists, Chinese and Pakistani agents. Farmers are only fighting for their livelihood. The BJP and Modi government want to hand over the Rs 25 lakh crore agrarian commodity trade to their four capitalist friends. Congress and other political parties have resolutely stood with the farmers. That’s why they attack us. Please attack Rahul Gandhi, please attack Congress, please send all of us to jail, but for heaven’s sake, save farmers’ livelihoods and India’s food security by abolishing and repealing these black laws.

Congress had proposed similar reforms in its 2019 manifesto. So, why the opposition to them now?

This is a myth perpetuated by the BJP. Congress wanted the APMC to be renamed as farmer markets. We also were keen to ensure that every cluster of villages has a farmer’s market. We wanted to increase the number of grain markets from the current 42,000 to two lakh markets. The Modi government is abolishing APMCs altogether. That is the basic and primary distinction.

Secondly, when public procurement ends, the entire Public Distribution System will collapse. Thirdly, once the farmers’ produce is not procured by APMCs, then the four crony capitalist friends of Modiji will buy it cheap from the farmer and sell to the ordinary consumer at an exorbitant price. The budget of every household will crumble. These are the principal objections to these laws.

But the government claims that the APMCs will not be shut down, MSP will continue, and accuses the Opposition of misleading farmers on these.

These are the falsehoods that the BJP continues to perpetuate. The first falsehood is that MSP will continue. It will get abolished the moment APMCs go away. Secondly, the PM’s claim that the farmer will be able to sell anywhere is a myth. Thirdly, that private industrialists would give better price to the farmer is also a falsehood. Even today, private players can come and buy at MSP from the grain markets. So, why do you want the farmer to go to the private player’s storehouse, to his silo, to his rice sheller, where the farmer will not have the benefit of the APMC, where everybody bids together?

Is MSP guarantee enough to end these protests?

Our simple question to Prime Minister Modi is, why is he not listening to chief minister Modi. Modi, as chief minister, gave a report in which he categorically said that “no farmer-trader transaction should be below MSP, wherever prescribed.” Let him come forward, give a written guarantee that MSP will be the sole criterion for sale of crops and anybody buying below MSP will be punished, and farmers will be satisfied. If PM has no value for his own written word, why should the country’s farmers believe him?

What do you make of Agriculture Minister Narendra Tomar’s meetings with farmers’ groups supporting the farm laws?

The tragedy is that the farmer is being preached to by people who do not understand agriculture. Narendra Singh Tomar does not own any agricultural land; the other minister who is negotiating, Piyush Goyal, has never tilled or cultivated any land. So, people who have no idea about the difficulties, anguish, pain and suffering of the farmers are preaching to them on the best agricultural practices. The conversation so far has been ‘my way or the highway’. Accept that the three black laws are good and go away. Hence farmers had to say, please repeal the black laws, then we will have a conversation.

Is this obstructionist approach of the farmers the right way to join negotiations?

The obstructionists here are the BJP and the Modi government. Farmers had notified that they wanted to go to Delhi in a peaceful march to put across their viewpoints against the three black laws. For the first time since Independence, Haryana Chief Minister M L Khattar and his deputy Dushyant Chautala, at the instance of Union Home Minister Amit Shah, dug up the national highway to stop the farmers from reaching Delhi. Farmers have not put up the blockade, the barriers were raised by the BJP government.

The Prime Minister keeps reminding us that he has the mandate of 303 MPs. Rajiv Gandhi had a mandate of 402 MPs in 1988. But he permitted farmers to come to Rajpath. They were there for a month – lakhs of farmers. There was no obstruction. A cabinet group met them and sorted out their problems. Why can’t farmers come to their own capital today? Are they militants or terrorists?