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Huge Tax Sops for Corporates But No Funds for MSP?

The Narendra Modi regime’s callous indifference to farmers’ demands stands in sharp contrast to massive tax benefits ensured to corporates.
The Narendra Modi regime’s callous indifference to farmers’ demands stands in sharp contrast to massive tax benefits ensured to corporates.

Celebrated agricultural scientist M S Swaminathan often used to quote India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru that “Everything else can wait, but not agriculture.” It is rather painful that the Narendra Modi regime, which chose Swaminathan for the highest civilian honour, the Bharat Ratna, a few months after his sad demise, has reneged its commitment to farmers to meet their demands which, among others, include a legislation for giving minimum support price (MSP), as per Swaminathan formula.

The other demands of the protesting farmers include withdrawal of cases slapped on them during their year-long agitation during 2020-21, loan waivers, pension and withdrawal of India from the World Trade Organisation which is exerting pressure on the government over its subsidies to farmers.

As Gujarat CM, Modi Supported MSP

Prime Minister Modi, while serving as Gujarat Chief Minister, used to wax eloquent about implementation of MSP by the instrumentality of law as well as implementation of the report of the National Commission on Farmers headed by Swaminathan. After he became Prime Minister, Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have reversed their stand on both these issues. As a result, the agricultural sector is now waiting endlessly to come out of an existential crisis even as foodgrain production is increasing on a year to year basis and the buffer stock is continuously getting an adequate supply of  grains.

Claim that Farmers’ Income Would be Doubled by 2022

The Modi regime declared with a high decibel pitch in 2019 (Lok Sabha election campaign) that the income of farmers would be doubled by 2022. That claim, among others, was a critical factor in Modi winning a second term. Now, Modi and BJP are maintaining deafening silence about this in the face of the farmers’ arduous struggle demanding MSP.

It is rather painful that the BJP regime in Haryana has adopted unusually harsh and brutal measures to prevent farmers from crossing the Haryana border to reach Delhi, redress their grievances and protest against the Modi government.

Claim of Ram Rajya and Harsh Steps Against Farmers

The BJP and the Modi regime, through a media blitzkrieg, broadcasted that Ram Rajya had been ushered in after consecration of the Ram Temple in Ayodhya on January 22, 2024.  In the imagined dispensation under Ram Rajya, there is fair play and adherence to justice-based governance by factoring in public opinion. But, paradoxically, with such tall claims centering around Ram Rajya, the BJP regime in Haryana is trampling upon the constitutionally guaranteed fundamental rights of farmers to move to any part of the country and protest.

The farmers, who have been stopped at the Punjab-Haryana border, are being fiercely prevented by the BJP regime of Haryana to march to Delhi by using drone-fired tear gas shells, pellet guns and other coercive measures aimed at paralysing their mobility and incapacitating them.

Such disproportionate penal measures have injured hundreds of farmers engaged in a peaceful march to Delhi. Many farmers have suffered injuries to their eyes and, as per media reports, several of them have lost their vision. Drones have been used to lob tear gas shells against them. 

It is reported in the media that a young farmer, Shubhkaran Singh, 21, died of bullet injuries. This has generated widespread anger against the Haryana government, with the agitating farmers redoubling their resolve to escalate the agitation in a peaceful manner.

Treating Farmers as Enemies

The ruthless treatment meted out to farmers amounts to treating them as enemies and invaders of the country. Swaminathan’s daughter, Madhura Swaminathan, had stated with anguish that the agitating farmers are “annadatas” and could not be treated like criminals. She decried the steps taken to prepare jails for them in Haryana and expressed shock that barricades and other stringent measures had been taken to prevent their ‘Delhi Chalo’ march. She then proceeded to add that “if we have to continue and honour M.S. Swaminathan, we have to take the farmers with us in whatever strategy we are planning for the future.” 

The wise utterances of Madhura represent the voice of sanity in the face of the spiralling challenges the farmers are confronting while exercising their constitutional rights to seek justice and fair play.

False Narratives of Godi Media

The corporate-controlled media, known as ‘Godi Media’, is relentlessly engaged in propaganda for the government. It has spun a false narrative that the tractors of the farmers in the agitation site are nothing but makeshift military tanks deployed to cause violence against the law enforcement agencies. Such reports are aimed at maligning the farmers and their legitimate struggle.

Indifference to Farmers, Favours to Corporates

Under the Modi regime, while the agricultural sector is waiting endlessly for justice, the corporates are enjoying reduction of tax rates they were mandated to pay. It is instructive to note that Prime Minister Modi’s policies since September 2019 have drastically brought down the base corporate tax rate from 30% to 22% for companies that were carrying out their functions and activities at that time. For companies that were newly set up, the tax rate was slashed from 25% to 15%.

All these measures to lower tax rates were taken for “attracting investments”. As per the Finance Ministry, no additional investments were made by the corporates following the tax benefits they got and it only resulted in the loss of Rs 1,45,000 crore to the exchequer.  It has been estimated that the corporates gained a whopping Rs 6 lakh crore from the tax cuts for which they did not have to start any agitation.

The agricultural sector, which provides food security and livelihood to millions of Indians, has been suffering for a long time. It is no longer considered profitable to become a farmer. Therefore, it requires favourable measures from the government. If the corporates could not wait for massive tax cuts, why should agriculture wait and farmers suffer? Nehru’s words, “Everything else can wait, but not agriculture” can be ignored at our own peril.

S N Sahu served as Officer on Special Duty to President of India K R Narayanan. The views are personal.

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