Interview with Dr. Anshuman Behera on Indian Farmer Protest

  1. What is the root cause of the Farmer protest that has caused mass protests in various parts of India in recent days?

Anshuman Behera (AB): It will not be entirely right to state that there are mass protests in various parts of India. We witness the protest only in some parts of Delhi, Punjab, and Haryana. The root cause of the protest is against the legislation of three agriculture-related bills. They are the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.  A certain section of the farmers perceives that with the passing of these acts there will be more engagement of the private actors which would dilute the autonomy of the farmers in terms of producing and selling their products in a profitable manner.

  1. What do the farmers demand, what are the government’s suggestions on the issue?

AB: The protestors’ demand for the complete revocation of the three laws (Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act) passed by the Indian parliament in September 2020. While the Government is willing to make minor modifications in the Acts, it is not willing to revoke the laws.

  1. How do farmers’ demonstrations receive support from various groups in society and opposition parties?

AB: The farmers have been getting emotional support from all walks of social life in India. However, the support from major opposition political parties have been substantial.

  1. According to government sources, if the new law that causes the protests is really in favor of the farmers, why are the farmers reactive?

AB: There seems to be a manufactured fear among the farmers. And for such a manufactured fear one can hold the ill-meaning political forces responsible. At the same time, the current regime has also been a failure in effectively communicating the stakeholders on the various aspects of the legislation.

  1. What results are obtained from the negotiations between the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers? Will the government manage to stop the farmers’ reaction?

AB: So far, as we understand, the Government and the representatives of the protesters have held many rounds of talks. It continues to be a deadlock. I think as more and more rounds of negotiations take place; I am hopeful that both the parties would come to a consensus.

  1. Can Farmer protests, which are rapidly gaining mass and supported by countries such as the USA and Canada, and U.N. evolve in a direction that endangers the future of the Modi Government?

AB: Except for Canada, I have not come across anything substantial to believe that the protests are being supported by the USA or the UN. That said, this would not endanger the future of the present Government in India

  1. Is there really Pakistani or Chinese support behind the Farmer protests as claimed by various Indian politicians and sources?

AB: While these claims are made by certain constituencies, I do not think the hand of any foreign country behind the farmers’ protest.

  1. What does the farmer protests mean for India’s domestic and foreign policy?

AB: Domestically, the farmers’ protests offer opportunities to multiple political parties on the platter. While the media houses and the political parties get a lot of content for or against the ruling regime the farmers gain a little. On the foreign policy front, India has strongly reacted to Canada’s support for the protest. Given an assertive regime in India, the policy towards foreign countries depends on how they view their opinion on domestic issues.

  1. Are there similar examples of these Farmer protests in India’s recent history? If yes, can a connection be established between them?

AB: Yes, the farmers in India have been raising their multiple concerns for decades now. Farmers taking to streets demanding their fair share and rights have been almost a constant feature in Indian society. While no direct connections can be established with the previous and the recent ones, to say that they are completely isolated from each other can not be entirely right.

  1. What exactly are the New Agricultural Laws passed by the government?

AB: The new acts passed by the Union Government of India, popularly known as the Indian Farm reforms of 2020 refer to three important legislations passed in September 2020. The three Acts are: The three laws are the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act.  The main objective of these legislations, as highlighted by the Government, is to provide farmers with multiple marketing channels and provide a legal framework for farmers to enter into pre-arranged contracts among other things.

  1. Can protest cause a split between various layers of society? How do you evaluate it in the context of Khalistani-Sikhs and Hindu unity?

AB: No, I do not see any split between various layers of Indian society because of this protest. Similarly, I also do not see a rift between the Sikhs and the Hindus because of this protest.

  1. What is the role of the Indian diaspora in the international dimension of the protests? What is the response of the farmer protests in the diaspora agenda?

AB: The Indian diaspora except the Punjabi diaspora has had a very negligible reaction to the whole issue. One can always find an emotional and identity link with the Punjab diaspora and the protesting Punjab farmers.

  1. What is the reason for the name of Punjab Region to come to the fore in the Protests?

AB: A possible reason could be the opposition from certain political parties. One must understand that not all farmers from Punjab have taken to the streets. Punjab State Assembly elections are due in February 2022. Given the nature of electoral politics of India, the role of political parties in manufacturing such a protest in the names of the farmers can not be ruled out.

  1. If an agreement cannot be reached between the government and the farmers, is there a possibility of internal turmoil?

AB: As the Government of India and the protestors are continuously engaging in the negotiation process, one should expect an agreement sooner or later. If at all, they do not come to a consensus, I personally do not see the possibility of internal turmoil. India has witnessed many such protests in the past and has successfully withstood them. An emotional issue concerning the farmers would cause some disturbances for sure.

All views expressed are of the writer and do not represent that of the

Dr. Anshuman Behera is an Associate Professor at the National Institute Of Advanced Studies