Relaxing near his field in Punjab’s Bagha Purana where he has recently sown paddy, Ajit Singh says he sold his entire last two produce of wheat and paddy to the government at the Minimum Support Price (MSP). Still, he is leading a protest in the Moga district against the three farm laws, saying they must be scrapped.
Travelling across the Malwa region of Punjab, the farmer issue throws up such curious paradox. Since the new farm laws were brought last year, and were then stayed by the Supreme Court, the last two seasons of crop procurement in Punjab have seen the highest ever purchase at MSP. 210 Lakh Metric Tons (LMTs) of paddy, nearly 30% of all such MSP procurement done in India was from Punjab in 2020-21 season.
In the 2021-22 season, Punjab has so far contributed 32% of the MSP procurement of wheat in the country at 132 LMTs, highest-ever again. “The procurement on MSP has increased in Punjab in both seasons since the new farm laws were brought in. The new laws gave an option to the farmers to sell their produce in the open market at higher price, while MSP option will always stay,” a senior central official reasoned.
But Ajit Singh is still not impressed. “Why does the Centre not bring a law on MSP saying no private party can procure our crop at below the MSP and that MSP will always stay? Till that does not happen, these new farm laws will be an albatross around our neck,” he says. Amrik Singh who sows Makki crop near Ludhiana says Makki’s MSP is Rs 1850 but sells only for Rs 800 in private markets. “The same will happen with wheat and paddy when private players come in,” he says.
Farmers appreciate recent increase in MSP of wheat and paddy by the Centre but point to Punjab’s power crisis and blame it on the private power plants, to make a case that private players are a wider problem. “The Akali government did lopsided power purchase agreements with private parties and we are paying the price. How so we trust the Centre now in the case of farm laws?” says Mithu Singh in Jagraon, adding he did not get enough power and water to sow paddy in his entire field.
Farmer Protest and Politics
There are murmurs also of the farmer agitation dabbling into state politics with a prominent farmer leader Gurnam Singh Charuni saying two days ago that they should form a party and contest the 2022 Punjab elections, a statement which other farmer groups have distanced themselves from. However, all political parties are banking on the farmer agitation to work in their favour and are wooing the farmer groups actively, promising to back the agitation and the cause.
On the highway to Ludhiana near Mandi Gobindgarh, one can spot big hoardings of senior farmer leader Balbir Singh Rajewal along with those of Congress and Arvind Kejriwal. “There are multiple views among farmer groups ahead of elections. Some say farmers should completely boycott the elections, a few like Charuni say a new political party should be formed while some say farmer groups should support the independent candidates,” a senior farmer leader told News18.
BJP leaders in Chandigarh point out how farmer leaders like Rakesh Tikait have visited West Bengal during elections asking people to not vote for the BJP and the agitation has revealed its political motives. The Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is facing trouble in the Malwa region to make inroads in villages due to the farmer issue as farmers see SAD as a party to the farm laws being passed by Parliament. Congress stands to gain in default but the Aam Aadmi Party is trying to ensure it cashes in on the farmer issue too.
Most farmers that News18 spoke to in the Malwa region however are keeping their cards close to their chest and say it is too early to say whom they will vote for come January next year. “We need a government that can get the farm laws scrapped,” most farmers say.