A step back in politics and policy – The Economic Times

lipped from: https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/opinion/et-editorial/a-step-back-in-politics-and-policy/articleshow/87806424.cmsSynopsis

There are some more subtle messages that should not be lost sight of. One relates to the legitimacy of political action via mobilisation and agitation on the street. If the protesting farmers had not displayed their resolve with unmistakable determination for more than a year of suffering on Delhi’s periphery, far away from their homes in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, it is unlikely that farm laws would have gripped the public imagination or that the government would have shifted its stand.

In the given circumstance, the government has done well to decide to repeal the farm laws. It opens up political space for the government, both to face the ruling party’s electoral battles early next year and to attempt agricultural policy reform in a more holistic and less confrontational manner. It is a political setback for Narendra Modi and his party, but whether it signals defeat will depend on whether repeal of the farm laws serves to woo back estranged allies, sections of voters and attract a new ally like Congress rebel Captain Amarinder Singh in Punjab.

There are some more subtle messages that should not be lost sight of. One relates to the legitimacy of political action via mobilisation and agitation on the street. If the protesting farmers had not displayed their resolve with unmistakable determination for more than a year of suffering on Delhi’s periphery, far away from their homes in Punjab, Haryana and Uttar Pradesh, it is unlikely that farm laws would have gripped the public imagination or that the government would have shifted its stand. Another message is with regard to Parliament and its conduct. Even when the ruling side has an absolute majority, it makes sense to debate policies and laws at length in the House, to fully articulate the rationale for and the arguments against any proposal. Just because Parliament has put its stamp of approval on a law, it does not gain political legitimacy.

The reforms that the laws that will now be repealed had sought to pursue remain worthwhile. India produces too much of grain and too little of things like pulses, oilseeds, fruit and animal protein. Ever-rising support prices, subsidised farm inputs and open-ended procurement of grain make for waste of scarce resources. Climbing out of this hole must be a consultative process that takes the public along, if not all farmers. That must happen: the status quo on the farm front is not sustainable. The farm law repeal must be a beginning, not the end. Realising that is a question of deft political management.

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