Gurjant Singh: Pro-Modi British MP Shares Anti-Farmer Infographic, We Fact Check It
The viral pro-government infographic makes questionable claims regarding the three Indian Agricultural Acts of 2020 that farmers in India are protesting
February 7, 2021 | 9 min. read
Bob Blackman, a UK Conservative MP for Harrow East, tweeted an infographic on February 5, sourced from a pro-India website called ‘citti.net.’
The infographic is appropriately titled “A Blithering Idiot’s Guide to India’s Agri Reforms” because it was clearly written by one. The viral pro-government infographic makes questionable claims regarding the three Indian Agricultural Acts of 2020 that farmers in India are protesting.
It should be noted that Bob Blackman is closely tied to the British Indian community, and frequently rubs shoulders with Hindu Nationalists. He has even shown support for BJP, during an event titled UK4Modi organized by the Overseas Friends of the BJP. BJP of course being the political party of India’s right-wing populist Prime Minister, Narendra Modi.
On Twitter, Blackman also has a photo of him with Modi as the background picture.
Now we will delve down into the claims made by the infographic and dissect the misinformation along with the half-truths they present.
Claim 1: Status of APMC and MSP is guaranteed
Fact: This is false. The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act has popularly come to be known as the ‘APMC bypass law’ since it creates a tax-free and market fees free incentive for buyers to purchase products outside of the APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) mandi. Farmers have been demanding they want the government to pass new legislation that deems MSP as a legal right, and that has been a major point of deadlock in discussions.
Claim 2: Farmers have the freedom to sell outside of APMC and above MSP
Fact: This is true if taken at face value. Digging deeper, it is paving the way for the dismantling of APMC and MSP, causing loss to the farmers. Farmers can be drawn to non-APMC markets with the allure of higher MSP, which will lead to the closing of APMCs. Then the non-APMC markets can reduce the price offered. For example: in Maharashtra out 306 APMCs, around 100-125 market committees have reported almost no business and are on the verge of closure since these new laws were announced. We should also look at Bihar for example where mandi system has been abolished and farmers repeatedly get 10-15% lower prices compared to the MSP. Meanwhile, Madhya Pradesh has the same crop yield as Bihar, but gets MSP since they strengthened their APMC infrastructure over the years.
Claim 3: Legal mechanism in favour of farmers for timely payment
Fact: This is true in an ideal world. However, the farmer is prevented from going to court as the highest authority offered is the appellate authority. It is easier for traders to enter without a license from APMC leading to fraud. Let us take the example of farmers in Madhya Pradesh being duped by traders. Their only legal recourse is the Sub Divisional Magistrate who can resolve any dispute arising between a farmer and a trader. Farmers fear that without recourse they will have no choice but to accept the settlement awarded by the Conciliation Board constituted by the SDM.
Claim 4: Middlemen in APMC are no longer in control of farmers sales and income
Fact: Middlemen play an important role in the mandi process and are trusted by the farmers. The farmers bring their produce to the Arhtiya (middlemen). Their labour unloads the produce and cleans it. They help farmers with the auctions in the mandi, where auctions for private and government buyers occur separately. The farmers are then free and given a receipt. The responsibility to take each farmer’s produce from the APMC mandi to the buyer’s destination is also their responsibility. With the planned parallel private market structure, middlemen along with the farmers are skeptical of the corporation’s ability to provide services and believe that the entire process will slow down. For these services, they take a commission of 2.5%. They claim that the work that gets done at APMC market yard within a month, may get done in three months by corporations. These middlemen also lend money to farmers, since many financial institutions are hesitant of providing loans to farms.
Claim 5: Legal mechanisms assist farmers by prosecuting unethical buyers/traders
Fact: It is skewed against the farmers since they do not have the resources of a big agri-corporation for instance. Also, as mentioned above, the highest level of legal recourse is the appellate authority, so no move to courts for resolution. However, it does not offer any solution regarding if the unethical buyer/trader is on the run as we will see in the next section.
Claim 6: Buyers cannot get away from making full payments to farmers
Fact: Frauds have already happened, and farmers have been duped since the laws passed, and they are only going to increase further. Let us look at the case of the farmers duped in Madhya Pradesh again. Figures show that there are around 100-150 odd farmers that have been duped of 15-20 crore since the laws have come into effect. Earlier, farmers that were a victim of a trader’s malpractice used to get immediate relief using the provisions in the Krishi Upaj Mandi Act of 1972. Now, relief is not as fast after approaching the sub-divisional magistrate.
Claim 7: Farmers can fix their own price
Fact: In an ideal world, but once APMC and MSP dissolve the protection assured as now will vanish in the future. Farmers argue that conditions and price of purchasing from farmers will be set by exploitative private players. We can see that in the example of Bihar mentioned in the second claim. A University of Pennsylvania study reveals that Punjab farmers got 30% higher crop price than their Bihar counterparts due to MSP and that deregulation of markets helped traders more than cultivators; also, private players did not help in creating agriculture infrastructure.
Claim 8: Farmers can end agreements
Fact: There legally cannot be any such clause regarding “the farmer being free to withdraw from the agreement at any stage without incurring any penalty” if contact farming is to succeed. It says that only with the mutual consent of both parties, can an agreement be altered or terminated. Again, the resources available to a farmer is incomparable to an agri-corporation. In addition, corporations are given greater power in contract farming, since according to their requirement they are in control of farm practices, yield, cost of production, production risk, and farm management. Contract farming involves five things: pre-agreed price, a predetermined quality of produce, acreage, place of delivery, and time of delivery/supply. However, failure to satisfy any of these requirements can lead to the buyer refusing to pay the farmer, or worse, take their land as compensation.
Claim 9: Farmers can sell India-wide and worldwide
Fact: This does not benefit the farmers with small landholdings who do not have the resources to sell outside of their own state, let alone to the world.
Claim 10: Farmers are at mercy of politically controlled APMC
Fact: The Essential Commodities Amendment states that the government cannot impose a stock limit, meaning they cannot stop a retailer from hoarding. So now the farmer is at the mercy of greedy agri-corps/retailers, that can stockpile grains without restriction when prices are low and not buy it when farmers come to sell, and sell their stockpile when prices are high. Food security is another serious concern since the government is essentially retreating from procurement and distribution, and the removal of food grains and pulses from the Act would worsen the situation.
Claim 11: Farmers were consulted
Fact: False. The National Herald article published on January 12, 2021, by Ashlin Mathew reports, “Contrary to the Central government’s claims in the Supreme Court about having carried out extensive consultations with stakeholders with regard to the three contentious farm laws, the Union Agriculture Ministry responded to Right to Information applications seeking such details with the response that it did not have information about meetings or consultations with experts, farmers or farmers’ unions before they were enacted.”
Claim 12: The laws were not rushed through parliament
Fact: False. To summarize the Hindustan Times editorial on September 20, 2020, the process to bring about a new legislative and policy architecture to empower the farmers was undermined by ignoring both content and process, thus reflecting poorly on India’s parliamentary democracy.
The Opposition wished to send the bills to a select committee, which would provide the ideal opportunity for examination and refining of legislation, as well as a discussion that is not confined to party positions. If that were not possible, a discussion in the House is imperative where members could exchange their perspectives and feedback, leading to modifications. There was a lack of a clear voting process called ‘division’ to get an accurate reading of agreements and disagreements.
Sadly, none of this was done. The government wanted to push the legislations through quickly with one eye on the clock. There was a voice vote, and footage exists of the lax attitude of the speaker in counting the voice votes, prompting queries whether the government even accurately judged the votes correctly.
Claim 13: Modi is not a fascist
Fact: Modi’s alleged involvement in initiating and condoning the 2002 Godhra riots aside, under his leadership the development of Gujarat has a dark past. As stated in a 2013 Frontline report titled ‘The Great Land Grab’ by Ajoy Ashirwad Mahaprashasta, "The Gujarat “development” model depends on acquiring, often forcibly, huge tracts of land and making them available at below-market prices to industries, destroying village economy and fraternity." In the various examples presented, there have been outright activities of land grabbing affecting livelihoods of farmers and fishermen, falsifying of land records for easy land acquisition, corporate involvement, and lobbying, destruction of the environment. Actions and violations of huge companies like Ambani and Adani are also featured prominently. Farmers are worried that this is the fate that awaits them.
Claim 14: The number of farmers protesting are tiny and are misled by APMC middlemen and rich farmers
Fact: Recently, Union Agriculture Minister Narendra Singh Tomar claimed that the ongoing anti-farm law protests are only limited to a "particular state" and that there is no problem with the controversial farm laws. More than 86% of India’s cultivated farmland is controlled by smallholder farmers who own less than two hectares (five acres) of land each. These are the people who will be most affected by the new laws, compared to farmers with big landholdings. The agitation has seen an estimated 200,000-300,000 farmers converging at various entry points to Delhi. Panchayats and protestors are convening all over Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Karnataka, Kerala in support of these protests. To say that it is minuscule and motivated by greed or foreign interests is patently false. No one wants to sleep on the streets, during the cold of winter, unless it is a fight for their fundamental rights. Nearly 200 farmers have died while protesting.
Claim 15: APMC and price controls were brought about by the British and earlier Mughals for the oppression of Indians
Fact: Even though APMC was established by the British to keep prices reasonable for their own benefit, not much headway was made till the independence of India. The APMC of the British era is different than the APMC in modern India.
Agricultural Produce Markets Regulation (APMR) Acts brought about in the 1960s and 1970s resulted in all primary wholesale assembling markets were brought under the ambit of these Acts. Well laid out market yards and sub-yards were constructed, and for each market area, an Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) was constituted to frame the rules and enforce them. Thus, the organized agricultural marketing came into existence through regulated markets.
How can APMC be oppressive and challenge farmers’ prosperity when they offer a minimum selling price and ensure that farmers are not exploited? Just a few days ago, a farmer in UP threw away his entire produce of cauliflower weighing 10 quintals, as these were not covered under the minimum support price policy of the state government. This just strengthens the argument for MSP to be made a legal right amended to the new bills and expanded to other products for diversification. For example, Madhya Pradesh government plans to fix Minimum Support Prices (MSP) for vegetables and fruits to help farmers who fail to recover even their costs of cultivation. Even vegetable farmers in Amritsar are seeking the safety of MSP, which is granted to mainly paddy and wheat.
The British and Mughals have only been mentioned in the infographic to tug at the nationalist heartstrings, just like Guru Gobind Singh Ji has been mentioned in the same to invoke the ‘Dharmic brotherhood’. To acknowledge Colonial and Mughal oppressive rules, enforced taxes, and price restrictions is one thing, but to relate them to the farm laws is disingenuous.
In conclusion, what the agriculture industry needed was reform and expansion of APMCs by allowing entry of new players into mandis and expansion of mandis through a public-private partnership. Arrangements for MSP to be put in place for crops other than paddy and wheat, and MSP should be at least 50% more than the weighted average cost of production (as mentioned in the Swaminathan Commission report). And guaranteed procurement at MSP by making it illegal for any trader to purchase crop and produce below MSP. However, the new bills do not address any of these. The presumed benefits should not in any capacity override the underlying and unaddressed shortcomings of the bill.
Gurjant Singh was born and raised in India. He is currently residing in the US, working as an IT professional. He has an avid interest as a hobbyist in Sikh theology, history, and politics. You can find him on Twitter at @GurjantSM.
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