A strange thing is happening in India. The farmers’ agitation is continuing in the country for more than a month now. The government’s response to the agitating farmers is most apathetic. In the beginning, the government called them for negotiations. But soon it turned out to be farcical activity as there was no sincere attempt on the part of the government to find an amicable solution to the problem.
From the farmers’ side, they made it clear at the beginning that on repealing the three farm acts there would be no compromise. The best thing government could have done, was to repeal the acts without allowing the situation to escalate further.
But this government would do no such thing because they had other motives. So far the farm acts are concerned their motive was to corporatize agriculture. Forget about the justification of the acts, even due parliamentary procedure was not followed while passing them.
Constitutional democracy is a nascent thing in India. It is not even a hundred years old. But the makers of modern India were erudite and foresighted people. They drew their strength from two sources. One source was the Indian freedom struggle. They were so connected with the reality of the toiling people.
Like Gandhiji, many of them could connect to the people. They understood the problems of the people. The other source of their strength was the Western enlightenment. While they rejected the colonialism of the West, they imbibed the basic features of liberal democracy because most of them were men of letters.
At the time of making the Indian Constitution, they ensured that the constitution reflected the aspirations of the people of India, cutting across all the divides and barriers. Then, they also took care that it entailed the principles of enlightenment and liberal democracy. But the Constitution was only a document. It could not implement anything on its own.
There must be some people to implement it in letter and spirit. The real practice of the Constitution of India took place in both the houses of parliament of India. If we study the history of our parliamentary democracy, we shall know how sincerely the founders of modern democracy in India tried to implement those principles.
All this is being said in the context of the passing of the farm acts by the government recently. PDT Acharya, former Secretary-General, Lok Sabha in an article published in The Hindu on December 12 has underlined the parliamentary procedures of passing an act. He showed how there was a long history of parliamentary procedure of scrutiny of legislation.
The British Parliament has been doing it since the 16th century. Even in pre-independence days, there was a strong system of referring bills to select committees of experts before they were made into laws.
He mentioned, “Free India’s Parliament established a vast network of committees to undertake scrutiny of various aspects of governance including the bills. Prior to the formation of Standing Committees, the Indian Parliament used to appoint select committees, joint select committees, etc. for detailed scrutiny of important legislative proposals of the government.
“With the formation of standing committees, the occasions for appointing select or joint select committees are few. A cursory look at the Bills sent to the committees in the past would reveal the seriousness shown by both the government and the opposition in having the Bills scrutinized by the committees.
“So far as select committees or joint select committees are concerned, generally, a proposal from the Opposition to set up such committees agreed to by the government. Usually, some informal consultations take place between the government and the Opposition before a consensus is arrived at on the formation of such committees. Old-times in Parliament is quite familiar with the healthy tradition of consensus making in Parliament.”
Sadly and most unfortunately when the Opposition demanded that the farm bills be referred to Parliamentary Committee or Select Committee of the Rajya Sabha before they were made acts, the government rejected that outrightly.
By using their brute majority they hurriedly passed the bills in the parliament and turned them into acts. This is not following due parliamentary procedures in making a law. Had they referred the bills to the committees in the parliament may be the views of experts and all the stakeholders would have been considered before they were passed in the parliament and the present stalemate could have been avoided.
Now more and more groups of farmers from different parts of the county are joining the farmers’ agitation and instead of trying to resolve the issue government is trying to create divisions among the farmers and tarnish their image. This is most uncalled for.
It is obvious that the main concern of the government is not the economy of the country. They are more concerned with the religious identity of the country. They think that economic matters may be handled better by the corporates. So everything should be handed over to them. But the economy of the country is not a profit and loss statement of a company.
The economy of the country is primarily about the wellbeing of its people. We can forget it only at the cost of our collective peril. The torturous silence on the part of the government on resolving the issue is a matter of serious concern.