Urging the farmer unions to end their two-and-a-half-month-long agitation, the PM said “we will find a solution together...all the doors are open for dialogue.”
Slamming the Opposition for its ‘sudden U-turn’ on agriculture-sector reforms they had once advocated, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday made an impassioned plea to the agitating farmers to give the new laws ‘a chance’. He also stoutly denied that the laws would end the minimum support price (MSP) or the mandi system of crop procurement. “MSP was there (in the past). MSP is there (now). MSP will remain in the future,” he said, replying to a discussion in the Rajya Sabha on a motion thanking the President for his address to the joint sitting of Parliament at the start of the Budget session.
Urging the farmer unions to end their two-and-a-half-month-long agitation, the PM said “we will find a solution together…all the doors are open for dialogue.”
Denouncing those who call the agitating Sikh farmers “Khalistani” terrorists and other names, the Prime Minister said the nation was proud of every Sikh. He, however, put the blame on a mushrooming new breed of “andolan-jivi” — professional protesters — “parasites who feast on every agitation” for the current impasse.
Modi underscored the urgency of reforms in agriculture marketing, even as he highlighted the vulnerability of the Indian farmer under archaic systems, with 86% of the farmers in the country being those with less than 2 hectares of land. Reiterating that the laws would give such small farmers the freedom to sell their produce anywhere and realise the best prices, he said the laws addressed “the root cause of the agrarian problem”. “We should move forward and cannot leave the country behind. All, including the Opposition and protesters should give these reforms a chance and see if the changes help them. We are ready to remove shortcomings,” Modi said.
Modi also read out an earlier statement by former prime minister Manmohan Singh –who was present in the House –, where he stressed the need for removing the hurdles in the way of farmers seeking access to multiple markets for their produce.
Modi said: “We urge those sitting on the agitation that even though it is their right to agitate, the manner in which the old people are sitting there, is not right. They (senior citizens at protest sites) should be taken back. They (all farmers) should end the agitation and we will together find a solution as all doors are open for dialogue. From this House, I again invite them for dialogue.”
The PM also said mandis would be modernised for which provision has been made in the Budget. Besides, he reiterated the government’s commitment on continuing with the current MSP-based procurement system as well as cheap foodgrain through ration shops for over 80 crore people.
The government has stepped up procurement of crops in the current year. Paddy purchases by the state-run agencies, including FCI, for the 2020-21 crop year was up 17.6% on year, or 91% of the annual target as on February 4. The sharpest increase in procurement is reported in Punjab (up 33.2%).
Meanwhile, questioning the government’s “seriousness and sincerity” in addressing their demand that the farm laws be repealed and a legally guaranteed MSP system be brought in, Samyukt Kisan Morcha (United Farmers’ Front) termed the PM’s remark “insulting”. “Farmers would like to remind the Prime Minister that it is andolans that have liberated India from colonial rulers and that is why we are proud to be andolan-jivi,” the Samyukt Kisan Morcha said in a statement.