Government should stop lying about MSP: Haryana farmer union head Gurnam Chaduni on farm bills

Mandeep Punia
29 September, 2020

Since July, after the central government introduced three ordinances related to procurement and sale of agricultural produce, farmers in Haryana and Punjab have been protesting against the new policies. These protests intensified significantly after the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha passed the ordinances as bills—the Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Bill, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Bill, and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Bill. 

In the ongoing farmers’ movement in Haryana, a farmer leader Gurnam Singh Chaduni has emerged as a prominent face. Chaduni has been leading farmer agitations in Haryana for nearly thirty years. He is also the president of the Haryana unit of the Bharatiya Kisan Union. He has organised several large demonstrations in Haryana against the three ordinances that have now been passed into law.

Mandeep Punia and Amit Ohlan, two independent journalists, spoke to Chaduni about the bills and the current regime’s approach to farmers’ issues.

Mandeep Punia: Till 1980 or 1990, there were many members of Parliament who were represented peasant politics. This is no longer true. Parliament now seems to have become a club of millionaires. So, is it not meaningless to look towards it for reform?
Gurnam Singh Chaduni: You are right. At this time, there is not a single MP raising the voice of farmers in Parliament. But what do we do? We have sent these MPs to Parliament by voting. Now if they are doing this to us, then our only option is to agitate, which we are doing. In the 2019 [Lok Sabha] elections, we had tried to send some farmer representatives to Parliament, but people voted in the name of religion and caste instead of farming. Now,the people who were voted in are betraying farmers and have brought anti-farmer bills to make Ambani-Adani richer [referring to the billionaire businessmen Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani].

Amit Ohlan: What is there in these three bills that will break the back of the farmers, which the agitating farmers are not at all happy with?
GSC: There are two or three such things in these three ordinances that are a deathly blow to farmers. These laws promote the sale and purchase of products outside the mandis [government-run vegetable marketplaces]. The tax that is applicable inside mandis will not apply in the marketplaces outside, so all traders will start buying produce outside, and gradually the mandis will fizzle out. With the end of mandis, the minimum support price, or MSP, will also be automatically eliminated. In this scenario, we are demanding that the government bring a law that makes it illegal to buy below MSP outside the mandi and that offenders be punished with imprisonment for five years.

Also, in the case of contract farming, if there is some dispute between the farmer and the contractor, then this law prohibits the farmers from filing a case in the court. If a company or contractor cheats the farmer, then his hearing will be up to the SDM [sub-divisional magistrate] only. Bribe-hungry officers will never listen to the farmers. Big companies will pay them off and together they will bleed farmers dry.

In the case of contract farming, the farmer is in a lose-lose situation. Suppose at the time of sowing paddy, I make a deal with a company that it will buy my paddy for Rs 20 per kilogram. By the time of harvest, if there is a recession in the world market or in the Indian market and the paddy starts to sell forRs 15 per kilo, then the company will begin to make excuses that my crop is not of good quality, or there is moisture in it, or that the paddy is broken. It will not buy it. It is not as if the farmer has a laboratory where he can check whether his paddy will be of good or poor quality.

Conversely, if there is a boom in the market and if the paddy becomes Rs 25 per kilo or more, then the farmer will be forced to sell the entire crop for less, and even if he wants, he will not be able to break the contract. The company can cite the contract and buy the crop for a low price. So, the company has many excuses for breaking the contract. But the farmer does not have any.

AO: There is a counter-narrative against you on social media and in the news. Supporters of the prime minister Narendra Modi and the Bharatiya Janata Party’s workers seem to be creating an impression that you have been misled by the opposition parties and that these laws actually favour the farmers.
GSC: Yes, we are also constantly seeing that the BJP people are proclaiming Modi the messiah of the farmers, and saying that Modi has given the farmers permission to sell their crops anywhere. Now, you tell me, what was the law that prevented the farmers from selling their crops anywhere before? Rather, Modi has made such a provision that if a farmer is looted, he cannot even go to court.

Barring a few journalists, most of the media is involved in covering Sushant [referring to the death of the actor Sushant Singh Rajput] and are running behind Bollywood, paying no heed to the farmers.

BJP has four thousand IT cell workers who spread lies and hatred on social media all day. Because of them and the godi media [lapdog media that favours the ruling government], which diverts attention from the real issues of the country, common people do not even know that, through these laws, the government has allowed hoarding of crops used in daily food like grain and pulses. The farmer does not have the infrastructure to hoard, of course, so the big capitalists will hoard. They will create a shortage of these items in the market and sell them expensively, which will destroy the common man. But no one is telling the common man. I believe these three [acts] are not only against the farmers but against the entire nation, and have been enacted due to pressure from powerful countries like America.

MP: How will you fight against the BJP’s IT cell and its huge web of information machinery?
GSC: How long will this business of their lies last? One day it has to be busted, and that is already beginning to happen. In Haryana and Punjab, no BJP leader can enter a village now. Just yesterday, in Mundlana, farmers did not allow the [Haryana] agriculture minister to enter for three hours. We will see this in every village.

The government should withdraw these three laws as soon as possible. Otherwise, farmers will show them their place. We do not have the strength to set up an IT cell as big as theirs, but we are going from village to village explaining to the farmers [what these bills have done]. And farmers are also understanding that the Modi government has prepared their graves, now the only thing remaining is for them to be buried alive. They have the IT cell, the police, and guns, but farmers will come to the streets and fight them with wooden swords.

MP: The government has claimed that crops are being purchased atMSP and will continue to be purchased in the future as well. If the government decides to add a line to these laws, saying that purchase on MSP will continue, will you withdraw your movement?
GSC: Recently, maize in Haryana was sold at Rs 1,100 per quintal. Right now, cotton is being sold at Rs 2,000 per quintal. I went to the peanut-farming area a while back. Peanuts were being purchased at Rs 3,800 per quintal. [As of June, the MSP for maize is Rs 1,850 a quintal. For medium-staple cotton, it is Rs 5,515 a quintal; for long-staple cotton, it is Rs 5,825 a quintal. The MSP for groundnut is Rs 5,275 a quintal.]

Where was the government when these crops were being looted at throwaway prices? The government should at least stop lying in the name of MSP. Now the government has joined the WTO, or the World Trade Organization. If America’s corn comes to India, then the government cannot stop it. This year, 5 lakh tonnes of American corn came to India. This is why the price of India’s maize fell from Rs 2,000 per quintal to Rs 1,100 per quintal.

Let me tell you one more thing. In 2006, in Bihar, the Nitish-and BJP-led government [Nitish Kumar’s party, the Janata Dal (United) ruled in alliance with the BJP at the time] broke the mandi system in Bihar. After that, the Bihar government never bought even one percent of the grain at MSP. Currently, the rate of paddy in Bihar is Rs 1,200 per quintal, which is Rs 800 less than Haryana and Punjab. What was the result? Poverty grew and migration began. The government has turned good farmers into cheap labourers in cities. Today, every other family of Bihar is forced to flee.

As for withdrawing the movement: farmers are not agitating for pleasure, they have been forced to come to the streets. If the government takes back these three black laws, the farmers will happily return home.

AO: There are hundreds of farmers unions in the country. A farmer sometimes may not understand which union is fighting his fight. Don’t you think that all unions need to come together on this issue?
GSC: Yes, there are hundreds of farmers’ unions, but when it comes to the farmers, they all become one. All the farmers unions are fighting the battle together. Even the Indian Kisan Mahasangh, the farmers’ union of the RSS, is against the government and is demanding the withdrawal of these three black laws. It is a matter of working together. This is why the Bharat Bandh [a pan-India strike on 25 September]was successful. [That day,] all of Punjab was closed, all of Haryana was closed, all of western Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Karnataka were closed. This was because all the farmer unions are working together.

AO: The farmers of Haryana and Punjab have been seen uniting after many years. Will this unity last long and will it have any effect?
GSC: Whenever the farmers of Haryana and Punjab have united, the seat of Delhi has been threatened. It’s true that after many years such an opportunity has come that both Punjab and Haryana are standing together. In the middle, there were efforts to divide us—the farmers of Punjab and Haryana have understood that instead of giving us our rights, the governments kept us fighting, in the name of religion, of caste, or of language. But no more. We will not allow this to happen. Now we will fight together and secure our rights.

MP: What next? Do farmer organisations also intend to travel to Delhi?
GSC: The Bharat Bandh has been successful. All the farmer organisations will decide the plan ahead. I believe that there is no use in going to Delhi—no point going to Delhi and sitting in Ramlila Maidan. It’s not as if the media or the government will come there—the media will cover only Bollywood and Hindu-Muslim subjects.

The government is not even ready for talks. It is challenging the farmers to try and have these laws recalled. That is why, wherever the farmer organisations are active, they should work among the people in a sustained manner. Farmers should be made aware of the government’s exploits and they should gather so that no BJP people are allowed to enter their villages. The government should remember that if people know how to elect you to power, they also know to throw you out.

 This interview has been edited and condensed.