Moradabad/Rampur/Bareilly/Pilibhit: "It's a victory of firm determination, strong willpower and resilience. It has come at a heavy price — losing over 700 precious lives, hundreds of police cases and brutal crackdowns. Still, we are happy that the government finally accepted our demand, perhaps sensing the looming threat of election drubbing in poll-bound Uttar Pradesh and Punjab," said a farmer on the government's decision of repealing the three controversial farm laws.
Addressing the nation on the occasion of Guru Nanak Jayanti, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on November 19 morning announced that the government has decided to withdraw the three legislations, which were opposed by over 40 peasant unions, united under the banner of Samyukt Kisan Morcha, from across the country for the past year.
Modi offered apologies and said the three laws were for the benefit of farmers, but "we couldn't convince a section of farmers despite best efforts."
Farmers hailed the surprise announcement but linked it to Assembly elections in the two crucial states – UP and Punjab -- where the peasantry influences electoral outcomes. They have also set conditions to call off their year-long sit-ins at Delhi's doorsteps.
Lakhpat Singh, who has a landholding of four bighas (six bighas equals one acre) at Baldevpuri in UP's Moradabad district, says farmers have not got something new from the government for their uplift.
"The government has decided to repeal a few laws which are unconstitutional and anti-peasants. It has just promised to undo the wrong it had committed," he told NewsClick in the Western UP district.
He said the farmers' issues, including a legal guarantee of minimum support price (MSP), shortage of fertilisers, the high tariff of electricity, skyrocketing prices of diesel and heavy debt burden, still remain unaddressed.
"I grow vegetables, onions and chillies. The input cost has gone up substantially because of the high prices of diesel, fertilisers, pesticides and seeds. The extreme shortage of fertilisers in the market is fuelling its black marketing. The return has become so minimal that even our sustenance is at stake," said the 42-year-old, the father of four school-going children.
Pritam Singh, a resident of Moradabad's Gyanpur village in Kanth Assembly segment, had sown paddy on 22 bighas (3.66 acres) of land, but the yield was just 42 quintals. Heavy and untimely rain completely damaged the crop on eight bighas and adversely impacted production on the rest of the area under cultivation.
"Neither any survey of the loss was carried out, nor have we got any compensation from the government," he said.
Though he managed to sell the produce on MSP at a procurement centre, he is still awaiting the payment.
"The MSP of paddy declared by the Centre is Rs 1,940/quintal for 2021-22, but farmers actually get Rs 1,920/quintal. Rs 20/quintal is deducted from our payment in the name of transportation cost. Even after selling the leftover produce at a loss of Rs 20/quintal, I am yet to get payment. The Prime Minister had promised to double farmers' income, but the reality is we are even unable to recover our losses. In this situation, the government wants us to praise it for the decision it has taken. How is it possible?" he asked.
Charan Singh, who belongs to the same village, said the Centre’s announcement established that governments only understand the language of electoral gain and loss.
"Had the government been really concerned about farmers, it would have repealed the three black laws much earlier. It would not have waited for over 700 farmers to sacrifice their lives. The decision has been taken keeping in mind Assembly elections in UP and Punjab, where farmers are extremely agitated," he said.
Asked if the decision would help the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the upcoming polls, Mehar Singh, who owns 70 bighas (11.66 acres) of land, said it might impress a small section of farmers, but the majority understands the political compulsions behind the move. They have not forgotten their "humiliation" and the "honorifics" they were awarded since the beginning of the stir at Delhi borders.
"When we were entering Delhi (on November 26, 2020), the police forcibly stopped us at entry points of the national capital. We faced indiscriminate and brutal lathi-charge. Tear gas shells were lobbed, and water cannons were used in the spine-chilling cold. When we staged peaceful sit-ins at the places we were stopped, we were called 'andolanjivi', 'parasites', Khalistani and terrorists," he continued.
"After the theatrics failed to work, hired goons were sent to attack us. Our tractor march on January 26 was made to turn violent. False cases were slapped, and people were put behind bars. In a nutshell, the government left no stone unturned to scuttle our protest. When it failed despite using all means, the Prime Minister announced the rollback. Farmers are poor, but they have self-respect. They cannot forget the excesses and humiliation," he added.
Yogendra Singh, a farmer who also belongs to the village and has 35 bighas of land, said the government had to withdraw the legislation sooner or later.
"Except the victory of our determination, strong will power and resilience against the arrogance, the decision has not brought much relief to our lives. Our problems are still there. We have harvested this crushing season's sugarcane, but the last year's payment is still due. As per the Supreme Court's order, the payment should have been made within 14 days of the purchase by sugar mills," he said.
He said after the UP government hiked cane procurement price by Rs 25/quintal, the rate has gone up to Rs 350/quintal. The input cost, as per Sugarcane Research Council, Shahjahanpur, is Rs 373/quintal. The government claims to have increased the cane by 1.5 times the input cost. As per the claimed hike, the rate should be at least Rs 450/quintal, he concluded.
For Vikramreet Singh, the father of Navreet Singh, who died at Delhi’s ITO during the farmers' tractor rally on January 26, it was an emotional moment.
"The martyrdom of my son and hundreds of others finally forced the government to accept our demands. The decision to repeal the laws shows that the agitation has shaken the government to the core. Though I welcome the decision, I must say the announcement has not been made willingly, but out of political compulsion," he said.
The stir, he said, has changed the lives of many who lost their loved ones in the past year. "I have seven acres. Earlier, I had so many saving plans for my children. But after my son's demise, I have lost interest in everything," he said.
Vijendra Singh, who belongs to Baraura in Bareilly, did not know much about the farm laws but said he was happy but not excited.
"This decision is not going to bring any change in my life. I have 50 bighas (8.33 acres) of land. On two acres, I had grown paddy, the majority of which was destroyed by the floods. The yield was only 17 quintals. After a lot of effort, I sold it at Rs 1,200/quintal. I have a loan of Rs 1.5 lakh. I don't know how I will pay it back. The sugar mill has my outstanding dues of Rs 3 lakh of the last crushing season. I am still awaiting that payment. This year's payment will come next year. The crop is destroyed," he said in despair.
Naresh Gangwar, a farmer belonging to Dhimri village in Bareilly's Baheri tehsil, said the announcement to withdraw the three laws would certainly give a big relief to BJP in the upcoming elections. But at the same time, farmers worries remain intact.
"Of the 10 acres I have, I had sown sugarcane on eight acres and paddy on two acres. The paddy was completely destroyed by floods. A survey was conducted, but I have got no compensation. The sugar mill has not so far cleared my last year's payment of Rs 2.3 lakh. How can I forget all these issues?" he added.
Jagtar Singh, in a Pilibhit village, said though the government has announced to take the three laws back, the farmers' distress is not over. "This election will not be a cakewalk for any political party. There will be a tough fight. The BJP may pay the price of its misadventure," he added, saying that he is thankful to the PM for taking the decision on Guru Nanak Jayanti.
Accompanying him was Jagtar Singh, who claimed to be a BJP supporter but said he had to end the loyalty because of the farmers' protest. "Earlier, BJP leaders used to face protests here and there, but it will not happen anymore. Because of the pressure from society, I, too, had snapped ties with BJP and was campaigning against it. Post the announcement of rollback, I will not have any moral obligation to vote against the BJP," he added.