Liberalisation of Agricultural Trade and Double Standards of Political Parties

On 7th December, senior BJP leader and Union Minister for Law and Justice, Ravi Shankar Prasad, criticised the Congress and other opposition parties which had declared their supporting to the Bharat Bandh called by peasant organisations on 8th December.  He accused these parties of “double standards”.

Citing the Congress Party’s manifesto for the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, Ravi Shankar Prasad noted that it had promised to repeal the Agricultural Products Marketing Committee (APMC) Act.  He pointed out that Nationalist Congress Party leader Sharad Pawar, the Union Agriculture Minister in the UPA Government headed by Manmohan Singh, had warned all state governments that the Centre will provide them financial assistance only if they implemented three specific reforms in their respective APMC Acts to liberalise agricultural trade.

It is indeed a fact that the agenda of agricultural trade liberalisation, which is being opposed by peasants all over the country, was actively pursued by the Congress-led UPA Government.  That government formulated the Model APMC Rules in 2007 to implement the Model APMC Amendment Act of 2003. It offered credit linked investment subsidy to state governments, provided they amend their laws to (i) permit private players to set up markets; (ii) permit private players to purchase crops directly from peasants; and (iii) strengthen the legal framework for contract farming.

Although agriculture is a state subject under the Constitution, the agenda of agricultural trade liberalisation has been pushed by successive governments at the centre by attaching conditions to central assistance.  This approach has been backed by the World Bank, which has been actively promoting the liberalisation agenda for the past several decades.  The APMC Act was repealed in Bihar in 2006 in the context of a policy-linked lending program of the World Bank.

Over the past 15 years, many regional political parties in charge of state governments have fallen in line with the agenda of liberalising agricultural marketing and storage, including the Telugu Desam Party in Andhra Pradesh, All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam in Tamil Nadu, Janata Dal (United) in Bihar and Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh.

The accusation of “double standards” levelled by Ravi Shankar Prasad against Congress Party and several other regional parties is valid.  However, what he is hiding is that the same accusation applies to the BJP as well.

In support of the agenda of agricultural trade liberalisation, the Congress-led UPA Government claimed that getting rid of middlemen will benefit peasants.  This was being opposed by BJP at that time.  The late Arun Jaitley, who was the leader of BJP in the Rajya Sabha, stated in November 2012, “The problem is that small middlemen are removed and a super affluent middleman replaces them.”

Agricultural trade liberalisation is the agenda of the monopoly corporate houses.  It is based on the fraudulent theory that permitting “free competition” in the market place will benefit both sellers and buyers of goods and services.

The idea of a market free from any state regulation belongs to the 19th century, when capitalism had not yet developed to its monopolistic stage.  At that time, commodity markets were characterised by competition among large numbers of sellers and buyers, each of whom had such a tiny market share that he or she could not exert any influence on the prices of commodities.  The nature of markets changed in the 20th century, with the rise of giant monopoly companies commanding the lion’s share of the market for most commodities.

The market for agricultural products in our country presently has more than 10 crore cultivators selling to less than 2 lakh traders.  The recently enacted central laws will further skew the unequal relation between buyers and sellers in agricultural markets.  A few giant corporations, including Reliance Retail, Aditya Birla Retail, Tata’s Star India, Adani Wilmar, Big Bazaar and D-Mart, will drive the majority of smaller traders out of business.  Far from benefiting both sellers and buyers, it is only these monopoly companies who stand to benefit.  They will be able to dictate the prices paid to peasants as well as hoard agricultural products and sell them at high retail prices.

In sum, the agenda of liberalisation of agricultural trade, involving reduction in State support, is for the benefit of monopoly capitalist corporations.  It is against the interests of peasants.  All political parties of the capitalist class pursue this agenda when they are in charge of government.  When they are out of power, they pretend to oppose this agenda in order to mobilise support and votes from among the rural population.  Hence they are all guilty of double standards.  They say one thing when in the opposition and do the opposite when in charge of executive power.  It is no wonder that peasants do not trust any of these parties.

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