As farmers called the Bharat Bandh supported by Opposition parties, Union Textiles Minister spoke exclusively to The Daily Guardian and hit out at Opposition, saying that it is riled about the fact that the Modi government has decisively undertaken reforms which the Opposition failed to do when they were in power. Taking a jibe at Rahul Gandhi, she said that if the Gandhi family were serious about the interest of farmers, they should have first vacated the farmers’ land they have been squatting in Amethi. Excerpts:
Q: Farmers have called for Bharat Bandh which is also being supported by several Opposition parties. Your take on this.
A: I think the protest has been called by the Opposition parties and they have been trying to do it under the guise of farmers and farmers’ agitation. This Opposition, when they were in power, barely spent Rs 3 lakh crore in MSP operations in five years, as compared to the Modi government which has spent Rs 8 lakh crore only on MSP operations. That tells you the quantum that we have dedicated to MSP operations and especially that our farmers get the right price for their produce. Insofar as Opposition rallying around the farm bill is concerned, isn’t it fascinating that in Delhi the AAP has notified that very bill and it happens only when the policy is administratively and politically accepted by a sitting government. The Congress is speaking in forked tongue when its 2019 manifesto clearly says that it wants to do away with the APMC Act. In fact, erstwhile Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar had written demanding that the APMC Act in some way revoked, repealed or brought to absolute stop. Even parties like DMK have spoken in favour of agriculture reforms; I think the challenge for them is that the reform that they could not undertake because of political instability in their ecosystem compared to the reforms taken decisively by Narendra Modi. I think that since they missed that opportunity in Indian politics, that is what they rue today about the agriculture reforms.
Q: Farmers are asking for MSP to be put in writing; they are apprehensive…
A: When farmers say that they are apprehensive, one needs to recognise that; there was a hue and cry made in September that MSP operation won’t take place henceforth. The fact that until 5 December, 33 lakh farmers, for procurement of rice, partook in the MSP operation and over Rs 60,000 crore was paid to them directly into their bank accounts. At least 336 lakh metric tonnes of rice were procured; that itself tells you that MSP operations are thriving in the country. You need not rely on the Government of India’s stance; those 33 lakh farmers are certification enough for those who don’t want to believe. The Opposition also pronounced that the mandi system will come to a halt post the passage of the bill. Mandis are thriving across the country. Ironically, it’s the Opposition parties’ karyakartas who are going with a stick in their hand trying to shut down the mandis. The fact that the bandh is unsuccessful is a testament to the fact that the Indian citizens want to progress and they recognise that these reforms are very much needed, not only for the farming community, but also for the Indian economy.
Q: The government had five rounds of meeting with the agitating farmers, but the stalemate continues. What is the way forward?
A: The government has been showing its commitment in engaging in dialogue and deliberation. Since October, you have seen not only ministers, but also officials engaged at various levels with all kisan sangathans who wanted to have a dialogue. And I am hopeful that when you come as a part of platform or indulge in dialogue, you will within the constitutional framework understand what the government is saying; more so, the fact that MSP operations are going on successfully across the country is a testimony in not only the government’s commitment, but the fact that the government assurance on the floor of the House has found merit in the open market where the farmers themselves can see that, yes, MSP operations did not come to a grinding halt, in fact, more has been procured compared to many years before.
Q: The Congress has adopted an aggressive stand on this and is saying that the government has to repeal the laws.
A: Rahul Gandhi is aggressive? My appeal through you to the Gandhi family is that this family, this trio, is sitting on farm land in Samrat cycle. I appeal again, you have taken the land of farmers in Amethi; please first return that. I am not here talking about Mr Vadra and his misadventure; I am particularly talking about Mrs Vadra, and Rahul Gandhi; please return the land of the needy farmers if you truly believe in empowering farmers. That is the land you are personally squatting on.
Q: You said that Delhi government has notified these bills. Today in the morning, Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal claimed that he has been put under house arrest by Delhi Police.
A: I think the political formula that the CM of Delhi has undertaken today is quite stale now; quite old, and I think these hands have been played quite often. I will only say that we are extremely grateful that he notified the bills in November because that shows his administrative and political acceptance of the farm bill.