Weekly Letter to the President
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INAUGURATION, January 20, 2009
Drunk in its stale air
For two hundred years.
Fettered in mind and body,
The soul, the safe escape
To let me breathe the cries
Of my heart singing
Tears of mel-an-choly.
The tears flow free today
Washing the stains of blood
And sweat in brotherhood.
Raise the curtain then an'
Let the world look in
On this promised land --
We breathe free today.... almost.
--- Arshad M. Khan
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave.
--- Native American proverb
December 11, 2020
Mr. President: Close to a half billion people in India make their living in the
agricultural sector. A common holding for the average farmer is only about two
hectares and as such allows for little bargaining power against large corporates. This
is the crux of the issue resulting in massive protests by farmers against the Narendra
Modi government's new laws designed to open agricultural markets and eliminate
government price supports.
The laws mean that farmers can deal directly with private corporations, an
arrangement that farmers believe puts them entirely at their mercy. Under the old
system they dealt through agents, sometimes known to farm families over
generations. The agents served as buyers and banks, often lending money at
planting time and recouping it later.
At present farmers sell their produce mostly at wholesale markets that ensure
government support prices serve as a floor. The markets are organized by
committees of large landowners, commission agents who act on behalf of farmers
arranging suitable storage and transport. Under the new system, private agricultural
businesses, grocers and supermarkets can buy directly from farmers and government
price supports have been eliminated. Farmers believe it puts them at the mercy of
The government claims the present system will also continue but the farmers think
that private buyers will first offer farmers attractive prices causing the present
wholesale market system to be abandoned in a few years; after which the farmers will
be at the mercy of the private players and ripe for exploitation. They believe they
cannot trust or allow big business to establish prices and crops.
Centered around Delhi now, the farmer protests are aimed at closing roads entering
or leaving the capital. Protests and demonstrations have been ongoing since August,
and have occurred across the country although most forcefully in Punjab and
Haryana the Indian bread basket states.
Supporters include a score of farmers unions as well as the All India Motor Transport
Congress (AIMTE) a union of 9.5 million truckers and 5 million bus and taxi drivers.
Any stoppage by AIMTC would bring the movement of goods and people across India
almost to a halt.
Couple that to a push by protesters to disrupt rail services and it could end up with
Bharat Bandh (closed India). The rails are a two-edged sword for they also affect the
transport of fertilizer needed by farmers as well as other critical goods.
It is more usual for the Modi government to ignore protesters and the fact that they
are sitting down with the farmers' representatives is an indicator of the huge voting
bloc they form. Their principal demands are a repeal of the new farm laws and a
re-establishment of minimum support prices. For the farmers it is a literal matter of
life or death.