Times of India’s Edit Page team comprises senior journalists with wide-ranging interests who debate and opine on the news and issues of the day.
The national capital choking on polluted air caused mostly by unbothered, stubble-burning farmers was a grimly appropriate setting for the news on GoI’s withdrawal of farm reforms. It was a terrible message for liberal reforms in a country that needs liberal reforms by bags-full if it wants to ever reach mass prosperity. BJP’s poll apprehensions are not a valid policy reason for climbing down – no more than many Congress reform reversals were. Congress played the same obstructionist opposition politics on key reforms that BJP did when it was in opposition. And a small group of wealthy farmers in two small states and one part of a big state now have the assurance that the rest of the country will keep subsidising their economically irrational and environmentally dangerous production practices. A law on MSP will be the icing on this poisonous cake. Can BJP and its government learn some lessons – never mind what happens in UP and Punjab polls.
First, don’t let hubris dictate the timing and process of reforms. This newspaper supported much – though not all – of the three farm laws but was always critical of the manner in which they became laws. GoI and BJP should have held consultations because they should have figured that rich farmers have been cosseted for so long that ramming reforms through may produce a big reaction. Second, don’t attempt too much at one go when it comes to sections like farmers. Farm reforms message got clouded by including provisions like corporate leasing of farm land – that was a gift to leftwing agitpropists, who teamed up with rich farmers and fashioned a false narrative of ‘big capital vs humble kisan’.
Can the farm reform process be renewed, with better political management this time? Hopes are not high right now. But the stakes just got higher – India’s future as a modern economic power.
This piece appeared as an editorial opinion in the print edition of The Times of India.