Why Is Modi Government Reluctant To Meet Farmers’ Demands This Time? 

Two Bharat Ratnas, past election trends, and new political equations have made the Narendra Modi government confident even it faces mass protests from farmers.

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Farmers with tractors during their ‘Delhi Chalo’ protest march. Photo: Getty Images

Three days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the decision to posthumously honour agriculture scientist MS Swaminathan with Bharat Ratna, India’s highest civilian honour, farmers brought the agroeconomist back to the discourse to trouble the government. 

Demanding a legal guarantee to minimum support price (MSP) on all crops and calculation of MSP based on Swaminathan’s formula, several farmers’ organisations have called for thronging the national capital with a massive gathering and a strike in rural India on February 16. 

The MSP is the price at which the government buys from farmers. It serves as a protection against fall in the market prices. 

In November 2021, when the protesting farmers finally withdrew their yearlong demonstration after PM Modi announced repealing the three farm laws they were against, the issue of legal guarantee to MSP was also part of the negotiations. The government was supposed to act on it in the following months but, farmers’ organisations allege, it did not. 

Now, with the government disagreeing with the farmers’ demands on MSP, the administration is bent on preventing the entry of the farmers into Delhi from the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana, the hub of India’s ‘green revolution’. 

Swaminathan is often considered the main architect of the green revolution in India. The National Commission on Farmers (NCF) headed by him had recommended in 2006 that the MSP should be at least 50 per cent more than the weighted average cost of production.

Farmers’ organisations argue that farmers cannot fix the price of their produce and have to accept whatever the market offers. This leaves them in perpetual risk of having to often sell their produce at loss-making prices. The implications of climatic changes, especially the changes in rainfall patterns, have left farmers exposed to even greater risks, they say. 

While agriculture minister Arjun Munda has said a law guaranteeing MSP on crops “cannot be brought in a hurry without consulting all stakeholders”, unnamed government officials have been quoted in the media as saying that it would significantly increase the fiscal stress and leave very little money for other development and social goals. 

However, according to agriculture researcher Devinder Sharma, meeting the farmers’ demand is not only possible but also the only way to save farmers from the deepening crisis in the sector. “Swaminathan showed it is possible. If we respect him, we should accept his suggestions and agree to the farmers’ demands,” he tells Outlook. 

Referring to the government’s position that meeting the farmers’ demands is not economically feasible, he says, “The question that needs to be asked to the government is whether Swaminathan is wrong or the government’s advisors are.” 

The administration, aiming to foil the protest programme, has turned Delhi into a fortress with the deployment of hundreds of security personnel. The police have already resorted to firing tear gas shells and caning to disperse protesters, apart from putting up road blockades with cement blocks, wired fencing, and even installing iron spikes on roads. 

The BJP government in Haryana has imposed section 144 of the CrPC, restricting assembly of more than four persons, in several districts, apart from imposing internet shutdowns, to prevent farmers from reaching Delhi.    

Criticising the police action, the late scientist’s daughter, Madhura Swaminathan, who heads the Economic Analysis Unit at the Indian Statistical Institute (ISI) at Bengaluru, said that honouring Swaminathan requires “to take the farmers with us in whatever strategy we’re planning for the future”. 

The Arguments Of Modi Govt And Critics

The Government of India fixes the MSP for 23 crops based on the recommendations of the Commission for Agricultural Costs & Prices (CACP), views of state governments, and Union ministries and departments concerned.

The government has been arguing that the Swaminathan-headed committee also prepared the Draft National Policy for Farmers, which was subsequently approved by the Government as National Policy for Farmers (NPF), 2007. However, the NCF’s 2006 commendation that the MSP should be at least 50 per cent more than the weighted average cost of production was not included in the NPF. 

“To give recognition to one of the important recommendations of NCF on price policy, the government in its Union Budget for 2018-19 had made a historical announcement to keep MSP at a level of one and half times of the cost of production as a predetermined principle,” agriculture minister Arjun Munda informed the Parliament earlier in February. 

MSPs for all mandated Kharif, Rabi, and other commercial crops have been fixed with a return of at least 50 per cent overall India weighted average cost of production, each year, since 2018-19, Munda said. 

Farmers’ leaders, however, reject the contention that Swaminathan’s recommendations have been implemented.  

“The government is lying through its teeth when it says they are adhering to Swaminathan’s recommendations. They are not calculating the comprehensive cost as suggested by Swaminathan,” says Hannan Mollah, Vice President of the CPI(M)-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), India’s largest farmers’ organisation and a constituent of the protesting farmers’ umbrella forum. 


Comprehensive Cost (C2) includes all expenses in cash and kind incurred by the farmer (A2), the imputed value of family labour (FL), as well as interest on the value of owned capital assets excluding land, rental value of owned land [net of land revenue], and rent paid for leased in land. 

“They are calculating MSP based on A2 + FL and not C2. The land has value. Its rent, deterioration, appreciation — C2 takes into account all of it. The A2 + FL price is always 15-20 per cent less than the C2 price,” says Mollah. 

The Politics Around Farmers’ Protest


The timing of the protest —with parliamentary elections expected to be held in another two to three months— makes it evident that the farmers’ organisations want to use the moment to force the government to concede grounds. The government appears in no mood to budge. 

Beyond the legitimacy of the argument lies political compulsions. “The political situation now is more favourable than what we perceived it to be during end-2021,” says a senior BJP parliamentarian, who is unwilling to be identified because the matter is being dealt with at the top level of the government. 

Speaking to Outlook on condition of anonymity, a senior leader of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), the farmers’ wing of the BJP’s ideological organisational parent, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), explains that in November 2021, the government still had in its mind the coming assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh (UP) and Punjab. 


While the BJP’s situation has not changed much in Punjab, the 2022 UP elections showed that there was little impact of the farmers’ protest in its hub of West UP. Haryana has similar electoral characteristics, the party feels. 

“Past elections showed that caste and religious equations work better than economic issues in West UP and Haryana, where we have a lot at stake, whereas we do not have much at stake in Punjab,” the leader explains. 

The BJP hopes that the recent decision to confer Bharat Ratna on the late Jat leader Chaudhary Charan Singh, a former Prime Minister, will have a significant impact on the Jats of Haryana and Western Uttar Pradesh, who are one of the major forces behind the MSP agitation.  


As a direct, visible impact of the decision to honour Charan Singh, the BJP has already managed to win over a prominent leader of the opposition bloc, the late PM’s grandson Jayant Singh, the leader of the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD), which enjoys a significant influence among the Jats in West UP. 

Besides, in 2021, the growing presence of anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protesters in the farmers’ agitation had left the RSS-BJP leadership apprehensive of a possible formation of Sikh-Muslim unity. The RSS wants to build strategic Hindu-Sikh unity. However, those initiatives did not develop further after the farm protest was withdrawn.  


All these factors have minimised the BJP’s perception of electoral threat from the farmers’ movement if the BJP and BKS leaders who spoke on condition of anonymity are to be believed.