The farmers’ agitation, like any other social movement, has its own text, context and sub-text. The text of agitation, quintessentially, is the protest against big corporate capital being proffered by the government, typically evident in the context of the three farm laws. Broadly, farmers see the announcement that these laws would be repealed in the ensuing winter session of Parliament as a pyrrhic victory—too little too late. After all, nearly 700 farmers died protesting. It is the sub-text that mystifies the fine print of agrarian reform, and where the movement’s discourse is embedded.
To put the text in perspective, let’s recall the three central farm laws. ‘The Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020’, ‘The Farmers’ (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement of Price Assurance, Farm Services Act, 2020’, and ‘The Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020’, were aimed at sun-setting the Minimum Support Price (MSP) regime through a new architecture of contract farming, bereft of any crop-price guarantee or clear dispute resolution mechanism. It also laid down a roadmap for hoarding and storage of some essential farm produce by private traders, mainly big corporates, which they were legally unable to do before. The so-called agrarian reforms by the Centre, predicated on these three enabling laws, were not only an indictment of federal principles as enshrined in the Constitution, but a recipe prepared for both national and global neo-liberal agenda. The laws marked the continuation of the National Agricultural Policy announced by the BJP-led NDA coalition on July 28, 2000, to industrialise and privatise the agrarian sector for export and trade-led growth. The debilitating implications of the policy shift, as perceived by the farmers, were, among others, the removal of price support and subsidies, complete dependence on the vagaries of market forces, absence of government control and accountability, and easier import/export of agricultural commodities within the larger framework of global trading systems in agriculture. In a nutshell, farmers saw these laws and policies as an instrument of land grab by corporates.