More the things change, the more they remain the same, is an old adage applicable to anything and everything, including the government, irrespective of the party in power.
In 2011, it was Anna Andolan that had captured the popular imagination of the whole nation. In 2021, it was the farmers’ protest that had dominated the discourse even in the pandemic induced lockdown year.
In April 2011, social activist Anna Hazare had embarked on a fast unto death demanding passing of the Jan Lokpal Bill. Sensing the popularity of Team Anna, the government agreed for a joint drafting committee; it was formed in April 2011 itself. Few meetings later, when the Ramdev Baba episode at the Ramlila Maidan took place in June, Team Anna members stopped going to the meetings.
The Bill was passed in Parliament in December 2013, the same month when Arvind Kejriwal, having parted his ways with Hazare, had formed a party, contested, and won the Delhi Assembly elections.
Much water had flown below the bridge, the government at the Centre had changed when Hazare in March 2018 declared to resume his battle for Jan Lokpal Bill. The NDA government brought in an amendment and passed the Bill in both the Houses soon. Since then, nobody has even heard of the Lokpal, in whichever avatar the Bill was passed.
Even when the farmers’ agitation started in 2020, it was the year 2021 that saw the fruition of their agitation in all respects. The Modi government relented to their demands and in December first week, the three contentious farm Bills were repealed.The farmers were promised that a committee would be formed to discuss the Minimum Support Price (MSP). But more than a month after the Prime Minister’s announcement, there is no word about it. And that is where the similarities between the Lokpal and three laws begin.
So what happens to the MSP committee?
The Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) on December 9 declared to suspend their 15-month long agitation that had started to protest the three contentious farm laws passed in 2020. The agitation continued even after the three laws — the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, 2020, Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, 2020 and Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill 2020 — were repealed by Parliament as the farmers’ stuck to their demands vis-a-vis legal backing for minimum support price (MSP) for all farmers being the prime demand after repeal of the three laws.
Manisha Priyam, a political analyst based in Delhi, said, “When the protest is at its peak, the government is bound to listen to the people, albeit unwillingly. But after some time, once things go away from the public eye or glare, things change.
In 2011, Pranab Mukherjee had called a special session, a ‘Sense of House’ resolution was passed. It was given that much importance. Today, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is in power itself, but we all know the fate of Lokpal.
It remains to be seen what this government does with the MSP committee. “But what I believe is that the agrarian distrust issue is very important and significant. If the government does not take it up seriously, then, the future will not be easy on this matter. Because it is now a matter of livelihood. The government will have to respond on this matter.”
Nagender Sharma, former journalist and legal affairs analyst, who was also the Delhi Chief Minister’s Advisor. Observing that the government now is a different one and the farmers have already won a critical battle, he said, “Chances of outcome of this Committee are very high because farmers are coming on the back of a victory.”
Priyam added, “Anna Andolan was about political accountability, which is still vague. Here concrete issues of lives of people are involved. I think there will be some kind of binding on the government.”
But then, what will stop the government from going back? Pat came her reply: “What stops the people from coming back on the streets?”
Farmers’ next step
Indeed, that is a point of debate as to what will the government do next? Whether or not it will abide by its promises.
Earlier in December last week, Union Minister for Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Narendra Tomar had said at Nagpur, “We had moved a step back and then moved forward (on farm laws). Farmers are the backbone of India.”
When it was perceived that the government wants to bring back the three laws, Tomar clarified that there is no proposal or plan yet. That would be discussed when the Samyukt Kisan Morcha (SKM) will be meeting again to check what all the government has done since the farmers wrapped up their tents from around Delhi’s borders.
When asked about the government bringing back the Bills again, Rakesh Tikait, prominent farm leaders, told IANS on phone, “We will see as and when it happens. Why ask about it now?”
He, however, sounded a lot more cautious about the Committee on MSP. “No names have been sought as yet. Nothing heard from the government. Nothing heard from the government about (withdrawing) cases in Delhi too.”
“January 15, we have the SKM meeting. We will see then,” Tikait said.