What went wrong with the farm laws?

What went wrong with the farm laws?

- By Anil SwarupA close look at the Farm Legislations will reveal that they were indeed beneficial to the farmer. Yet there was a sustained agitation against these Acts. Why? As against the above, oil and gas prices have shot through the roof. Petrol has ...

- By Anil SwarupA close look at the Farm Legislations will reveal that they were indeed beneficial to the farmer. Yet there was a sustained agitation against these Acts. Why? As against the above, oil and gas prices have shot through the roof. Petrol has breached Rs 100 in the entire country. Yet, there is hardly any protest. Why? I have said it the past and would like to reiterate that for any idea to fructify and sustain in democracy, it has to be Politically acceptable, Socially desirable, Technologically feasible, Financially viable, Administratively do-able, Judicially tenable In view of what happened in the case of Farm Legislations, I added a new dimension: “Emotionally relatable” If the government was able to manage the issues arising out of fuel crisis so well, why, where and how did the management of Farmer Legislations go wrong? The issues entailed in the three Farm Acts have been under consideration for more than a decade and even the previous governments, including those in the UPA had desired resolution of issues that have been accounted for in the legislations. Doing away with the middle-men, providing choice to the farmers to select a place to market his product, bringing in competition and many more are all such measures that are eminently desirable. Then, how did it all go wrong? Perhaps the manner in which the Bills were steamrolled in the Rajya Sabha set the cat amongst the pigeons. Rushing through of the Bills when there was actually no need to do, created an impression that all was not well with the Bills. The sagacity of a statesman like Arun Jaitley who masterminded and navigated much more difficult and complex Goods and Services Tax legislation by taking stake holders into confidence was missing in this instance. The resistance to Farm legislations did not come from political parties though they subsequently attempted to join the band-wagon and to make political capital out of it. It came from groups of farmers, primarily from areas where they were benefitting from the existing regime. Weakness of the opposition didn’t emerge as a handicap in this case as compared to the crisis emerging out of escalation of fuel prices. In my understanding, the agitation against the Farmers’ Legislations was more on account of the mismanagement of the Bills than the substance of what was contained in these legislations. The Legislations were politically acceptable, socially desirable, technologically feasible, financially viable, administratively do-able and judicially tenable. However, they failed on the emotional front as, quite surprisingly the government that has excelled in communicating their ideas so effectively otherwise, failed in this case to chalk out a strategy to do so. On the contrary, there were elements in the ruling dispensation who went ahead calling names that made matters worse. Ultimately, the situation went out of control as it assumed a political dimension in the context of forthcoming elections in the states where elections are due next year. It was difficult to pull it back from there. Hence, the decision to call back the Legislations. Petroleum prices have gone up on number of occasions in the past. Till a few years ago there used to be furor whenever the prices went up. More often, the increase was on account of the escalation of international prices as India is largely dependent on imports. However, in the recent past, the price increase has not largely been on account of international prices. This was primarily on account of increase in the cess on petrol and petroleum products by the Central Government. The advantage of cess over excise is that the additional amount collected does not go to the divisible pool of resources between the Centre and the States. The entire cess amount is retained by the Centre. Given major resource constraint because of reduced economic activity, it has been used as a tool to raise additional resources. It can be argued that this perhaps is not the best way to augment resources and has led to inflation. The common man has been impacted. Why hasn’t there been a nation-wide protest? The government has not only managed this crisis pretty well, it has also been lucky. As against bulk increase in the prices (a procedure adopted till a few years ago when prices were increased only once in a while and on occasions the initial cushion being taken by the Oil Companies that imported the product, the increase when happened was ‘visible’ and felt), they are now being increased gradually even though regularly. Psychologically it has prevented a sudden impact of the increase. Petrol is used by the urban affluent in the country that is miniscule as percentage of the population. Large part of the population doesn’t feel impacted Diesel prices do impact the transportation cost of products even used by the poor but perhaps in common man’s understanding, it becomes difficult to attribute the increase in the prices of products to diesel price directly. There is no organized group of consumers that can articulate its discomfort with the increase in prices. However, the major factor in preventing this unprecedented escalation of prices from developing into a major crisis has been the communication skills of those in power. The masses have been kept “occupied” with so many other “events” and “happenings” that they don’t feel the pinch on account of some issues that may be confronting them. This pre-occupation keeps them engaged and, in a sense, intoxicated. Very interestingly, there is no effort on the part of the government to explain this increase because perhaps the only explanation can be in the context of raising additional revenue. And, this would not be deemed to be a “acceptable” explanation. Hence, Government has kept quiet and got away with it, at least so far. Unlike the Farm Legislations where the farmers took upon themselves to organize a sustained and visible protest, there was no organized group to protest against fuel price hike. The opposition neither had the teeth nor an effective communication strategy to exploit it. This perhaps was the foremost reason why such an issue has not created ripples as it had done in the past. The opposition, in short, is in a disarray and that has “allowed” the government to manage this crisis.

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