In recent panchayat elections in states like Rajasthan, Assam and Jammu and Kashmir, farmers have given a thumbs up to the agricultural reform laws, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in his virtual address to farmers across the country on Friday, minutes after releasing a financial aid of ₹ 18,000 crore - from the PM-Kisan scheme to nine crore farmers.
Modi said, “In the past few days in several states, from Assam to Rajasthan and Jammu and Kashmir, panchayat elections have taken place in which mostly rural areas come out to vote. In other words, these are election in which farmers’ voice is heard…Despite so much propaganda, wherever elections have taken place, people have rejected those running this movement [against the farm laws]. They have voiced their support through their ballots,” Modi said.
The speech and the fund disbursement have been kept today to coincide with former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s birth anniversary. The outreach comes amid massive protests around Delhi against the new laws introduced by the government to liberalise the sector, as the BJP looks to blunt the opposition to its reforms.
To give the evidence of why he called the ongoing movement of farmers politically motivated, Modi said that the movement began with demand for inclusion of MSP in the agri laws. “Then political people jumped in. They started demanding the freedom of some people accused of violence who are currently in jail, then they started a movement against toll plazas,” Modi said.
He asserted that some political parties who have been rejected by the masses are misleading innocent farmers and are preventing a dialogue between the government and farmers from taking place.
“On every issue of farmers, the government is ready to talk with an open heart. I want to tell those who are opposing us also that the government is in favour of farmers and that it is ready for any kind of discussion. Provided that the discussion happens on sound arguments and is based on facts,” Modi said.
Modi’s speech was being broadcast across several cities and towns in the country and was being watched by several members of his union cabinet, including finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman, home minister Amit Shah, and several Chief Ministers such as Shivraj Singh Chouhan in Madhya Pradesh and Vijay Rupani in Gujarat.
Questioning the hypocrisy of the opposition parties, Modi said that why those who have been raising their voice for the farmers have not expressed any concern about the absence of mandis in Kerala or farmers in Bengal not receiving the funds from the Centre.
“Those who are in the opposition, why are they silent about this? Today these political parties, whom country’s people have rejected, are busy in event management where they are clicking selfies. Why don’t those parties speak about West Bengal’s farmers? Why not raise this issue in Kerala? What sort of politics are you doing? To only spread rumours and myths and mislead innocent farmers, which sometimes fall into your trap,” Modi said.
Singling out West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee with his attack, Modi said, “I am sad that entire country’s farmers are getting benefits from PM-Kisan scheme but the government of West Bengal is preventing 70 lakh farmers in their state from availing the benefits of this scheme. Many farmers have written directly to the centre complaining against state government’s high-handedness but the state government is unmoved.”
Addressing the farmers directly, Modi clarified the government’s stand on some of the criticisms and said the new laws give the opportunity to farmers to sell their produce to whomever they want, with the assurance that the risks will be borne out by those entering into agreement with farmers, while farmers get assured returns.
“If you want to sell it in mandi on MSP, you can. You want to export your produce or sell it to a trader or in a different region, you can. If farmers are getting a choice to sell wherever they want, what is the problem?” Modi asked. He also rubbished the fears that those who enter into contract farming are at the risk of losing their lands to corporates.
He said that since coming into power, since 2014, his government had studied best practices of farming across the globe and used concepts like “more crop per drop” to help farmers increase their produce and reduce their investment costs.
Hours later, Banerjee hit back at the PM, accusing him of “misleading people with half-truths". “Our farmer brothers & sisters have been on streets protesting against new farm laws. Instead of addressing them, PM today chose to mislead the people with half-truth & distorted facts. BJP-led Centre is not cooperating & only indulging in propaganda for petty political gains," she tweeted, sharing a detailed statement as well.
Our farmer brothers & sisters have been on streets protesting against new farm laws. Instead of addressing them, PM today chose to mislead the people with half-truth & distorted facts. BJP-led Centre is not cooperating & only indulging in propaganda for petty political gains. pic.twitter.com/gtngklCruy— Mamata Banerjee (@MamataOfficial) December 25, 2020
This was the Prime Minister’s second outreach to the farmers within a week, since the agitation against the farm laws began on the outskirts of Delhi a month ago.