Year 2021: Crucial Year for Panjab and Indian Farmers

Such approaches are not new and have been tried in other countries.

“2021 is going to be a pivotal year for the farmers of India. Every Sikh should stand by them in every possible way as Guru Tegh Bahadur would expect us to.” (Dya Singh of Australia, New Year message.)

The way of life of a people is not negotiable. Indian farm laws rushed through the Parliament cannot be negotiated.  It will be necessary to repeal them as a pre-condition to a fresh start. 

It is true that agriculture in Panjab, Haryana and other states is in need of overdue reforms. A revision of farm produce procurement policies can provide minimum support price (MSP) security for the farmers while introducing diversity of crops to meet market demands. Such reforms will also safeguard the environment and raise ground water level. 

In addition, there is need to attract clean industries and opportunities for employment in Panjab. Major educational reforms are needed to raise standards and make education relevant to the skills needed in different fields, including IT and advance technologies and services. Next generations with the right aptitudes and skills should move away from agriculture to other fields of employment.

Ideally, this can be a structured tripartite approach around one table involving the farmers, state and federal governments, and the business community. Such a process should be well supported by specialist advisors. It can be widened to other sectors where trade and services are linked to agriculture – and mostly they are linked and inter-dependent.  State infrastructure is vital for all sectors including the movement of farm produce.  

Panjab and the surrounding states have the resources to bring about major changes through such an approach which safeguards farmers interests and way of life through minimum support prices and watchdog bodies with regulatory powers. 

Such approaches are not new and have been tried in other countries. I have worked with a similar set-up in the UK some decades ago: The National Economic Development Office brought the unions, the employers (representing trade and industry) and the government departments together at national and sector levels. The system worked very well until PM Margaret Thatcher succeeded in weakening the unions to let market forces take over. Regrettably, market forces alone are unlikely to work in a country like India for reasons which would be best discussed elsewhere.

The plight of the Panjab farmers, now joined by farmers from all over India, has also become a diaspora Indian and Sikh issue. There is an emotional attachment to the farmers campaigning to defend their independent way of life. The diaspora view expressed by Dya Singh of Australia is that these are our brothers and sisters fighting a powerful federal establishment, which, together with state governments, seems to be unconcerned about their future. 

From Panjab, these are food growers and border defenders. Without a well thought out and structured approach with assured safeguards,  the farm laws can lead to their enslavement by the powerful corporations. To quote a statement by All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, "The new laws will hand over control of agriculture markets, farmers' land and food chain to corporates.”

Yet, the role of the corporations in the development of sectors of the national and state economies, including agriculture, cannot be underrated. Only they can create diverse opportunities for development and employment and encourage the type of education needed to provide the necessary skills. 

As for diaspora concerns, I conclude with a quote from Dya Singh’s New Year message, “At the end of the year [2020] these developments made me feel that I was involved too, alongside every Sikh in the diaspora and every rational thinking Indian. How can India attempt to subjugate the farmer who puts food on the table of every Indian? The 400 Birth anniversary of Guru Tegh Bahadur reminds us that Guru Ji gave his life for Hindustan. The farmers are fighting for Hindustan. Parallels can be drawn, and I am involved whether I like it or not.”

True, although, we are always told by Sikh Indians to mind our own business and not cause problems for them, there are issues when we cannot look the other way. Let us hope sense prevails.

 

Gurmukh Singh OBE
(Ret’d Principal Civil Servant, UK)
E-mail: [email protected]

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