By Ch. Narendra
Four months after launching a broadside on the three new farm laws, TRS president and Telangana Chief Minister K Chandrasekhar Rao have remained one of the strongest opponents of these laws claiming that they are not in the farmers’ interests.
However, KCR has said something recently which appears to completely contradict his earlier stand on the farm laws. On December 27, he said,
“There is no need for the state government to purchase the agriculture produce as the new farm laws were being implemented across the country, allowing the farmers to sell their crop anywhere.”
Moreover, after condemning the central farm laws – allegedly removing Minimum Support Price (MSP), the Telangana government has now declined to procure all crops at MSP.
KCR vs. Farm Bills
In September, when the legislation for farm reforms was introduced in Parliament, the KCR instructed his party MPs to vote against the bills. He had called the bills a “sugar-coated pill,” claiming that the bills, instead of serving the farmers by allowing them to sell anywhere in India, will encourage corporate lobbying by facilitating the traders to buy freely.
KCR’s dissent even extended to the Dubbaka assembly by-election, where the laws became a major issue. However, this seemed to backfire when TRS suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of BJP candidate M Raghunandana Rao in a town regarded as the KCR family’s fortress.
On December 8, the Telangana government also supported the Bharat Bandh against the Central farm laws by keeping the offices closed and ministers, including KCR’s son KT Rama Rao, staging protests on roads.
A Sudden Change of Heart or A Bullet Dodged?
Issue of Procurement: One of the decisions taken by the KCR government that has sparked controversy is to stop the purchase of paddy and other crops at the village level. On Sunday, the Telangana CM announced that the state would not set purchase centres in villages from the next year.
He claimed that it was a one-time deal due to COVID-19 to help the agrarians as the new central law permits farmers to sell their produce anywhere in the country.
What’s interesting here is that KCR attributed this move to central agricultural laws.
“As the new agriculture laws of the Central government permit farmers to sell their crop anywhere in the country, the State government need not set up purchasing centres in villages.”
As per the officials, ever since its formation in 2014, Telangana has suffered losses up to ₹7,500 crores due to the purchase of paddy, sorghum, maize, red gram, Bengal gram, and sunflower. The reason is, after procuring these crops at MSP, the government had to sell them at lower prices in the market, as there was no demand for these crops.
However, he added that the state would continue to provide financial assistance to farmers under the Rythu Bandhu scheme.
Regulated farming debacle: Another major decision taken on Sunday was to nix regulate cropping, which till now was one of KCR’s major policy initiatives aimed at making the farm sector more profitable by scientific cultivation. Telangana government has now decided to let farmers choose whatever they want to cultivate.
The reason cited for this was – government’s inability to provide a bonus to superfine rice farmers on account of Food Corporation of India (FCI) norms.
“The government cannot do it any more. It is not a business organization or trader. It is not a rice miller or a dal miller. Sale and purchase are not the responsibility of the government. It is not possible to set up a purchasing centre in the village from next year onwards,” said the official statement.
Telangana unit of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has welcomed this move while reprimanding KCR for not paying heed to their advice earlier.
State BJP President Bandi Sanjay Kumar demanded a public apology from the CM to farmers for bringing such a regulated cropping policy in the first place.
“Farmers must have a free hand to choose what they want to grow. But the dictatorial CM did not pay attention to our requests.”
Bandi further claimed, “After Narendra Modi came into power, the centre gave funds to conduct soil tests in each acre to choose suitable crops for the agricultural lands. But the funds were diverted. We demand that the State government conduct soil tests and bring reforms to make agriculture profitable.”
The State BJP chief also asked the state government to connect market yards with the E-NAM system to ensure better prices for farmers.
These facts indicate that KCR has potentially made the above-mentioned changes in the interest of his government. Continuing purchase centres would have drained the state budget, and regulated farming has also not worked as planned. However, by shifting the blame on the central government, the TRS leader here appears to be dodging the bullet.
Looking at his trajectory through farm law opposition, KCR could seem to be having a bigger picture in mind.
KCR’s Big Aspirations
KCR’s opposition has not resulted in the repealing of farm laws, but in retrospect, it has fetched him the golden opportunity to evolve as a national leader. This was probably an attempt to provide a 3rd alternative to the public apart from BJP and Congress – a ‘Federal Front’ as has termed it.
The TRS chief also declared earlier that he would hold a national conclave in the 3rd week of December in Hyderabad itself and invite all anti-BJP forces to protest the anti-farmer and anti-labour policies of the government. KCR conveyed that he would build a nationwide consensus against new agriculture laws.
In a 360° turn, however, KCR’s attitude towards the central farm laws and Modi-government, in particular, appears to have changed.
For instance, a former TRS MP holding a key position now quoted, “We cannot afford to get into a confrontation with the Centre at present because it will affect the state’s interests,”
Notably, this change has been visible after the Telangana CM’s visit to Delhi on December 13, where he met with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
The visit came immediately after the Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (GHMC) elections, where the BJP did remarkably well. Apparently, Dubbaka by-poll and GHMC polls established to KCR that BJP is swiftly emerging as an alternate political force in Telangana and gearing up for a power grab in 2023 assembly polls.
Ch. Narendra is Hyderabad based freelance journalist.formerly worked with New Indian Express group and a human rights activist