PM Modi "Distorted Congress Manifesto": P Chidambaram On Farm Bills Row

The farm bills seek to empower farmers through written agreements and farmers can sell their produce at competitive prices anywhere in the country, the government has said

Congress MP P Chidambaram issued a statement on the farm bills row Saturday morning (File)

New Delhi:

Congress MP P Chidambaram hit out at Prime Minister Narendra Modi and BJP spokespersons over the farm bills controversy Saturday morning, accusing them of "maliciously" distorting the party's 2019 manifesto amid a political row between the ruling party and the opposition on this issue.

Ahead of elections last year the Congress suggested changes to farm laws that would see the Agricultural Market Produce Committees (AMPC) Act abolished - something one of the bills proposed by the Narendra Modi government does and something pointed out by the BJP as it defends those bills.

However, Mr Chidambaram said the Congress would have ensured "multiple accessible markets" for farmers looking to sell their produce before scrapping the APMC Act.

"The Prime Minister and BJP spokespersons have deliberately and maliciously distorted the Congress manifesto... Farmers need multiple (easily) accessible markets and choices. The Congress' proposals would have given them that," Mr Chidambaram said in his statement.

The former Union Finance Minister pointed out that his party's manifesto also promised to enable farmers' companies/organisations to access technology and also set up adequate infrastructure in large villages and small towns to help them trade freely.

"Once that was accomplished the Congress manifesto promise of repealing APMC Act and making trade in agricultural produce free would have been a natural sequel," he added.

The Narendra Modi government, however, Mr Chidambaram claimed, had "surrendered to corporates and traders", pointing to the absence of a clause linking the lowest price farmers would get for their produce from private buyers to the Minimum Support Price (MSP) set by the government.

"Why is such a clause absent?" he asked, adding, "The bills (also) undermine the only regulated market available to the farmer without creating thousands of alternatives".

"The bills (also) assume perversely that the farmer and the private purchaser have equal bargaining power. They do not. The small farmer will be at the mercy of the private purchaser," he added.

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PM Modi said Friday that there was a "misinformation campaign" about the farm bills

On Friday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi hit out at what he said was a "misinformation" campaign against the bills. He said "fake news" was being spread that farmers would not get a Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their produce and that this produce would not be bought by the government.

"... beware of all those who are trying to misguide you... These people, who have been in power for decades and have spoken so much about farmers and farm issues have done nothing," the PM said.

Later that same day Akali Dal MP Harsimrat Kaur Badal (who resigned as a Union Minister in protest over the bills) pointed out that the Congress had also proposed the abolition of the APMC Act.

Suspended Congress spokesperson Sanjay Jha tweeted; "BJP and Congress on the same page here". 

The government has said the bills will help small and marginal farmers by empowering them through written agreements and farmers can sell their produce at competitive prices anywhere in India.

However, farmers fear this means they will no longer be able to sell at a MSP. Massive protests have broken out across Punjab and Haryana as the bills are set to be tabled in the Rajya Sabha Sunday.

Speaking to NDTV on Friday Mrs  Badal said farmers had conveyed similar concerns to her about the emergence of private players and corporates in this field.

"A rustic farmer gave an example to us... 'Jio came in, they gave free phones. When everyone bought those phones and got dependent on these phones, the competition was wiped out and Jio jacked up their rates. This is exactly what the corporates are going to do'," Mrs Badal narrated.

Mrs Badal said she had repeatedly asked the government to listen to concerns raised by the farmers, saying farmers feel they will be "at the mercy of these private players". "This is the apprehension they have. The centre should talk to them to clear this fear," she said.