By Prerna Mukherjee
Peasant unrest in contemporary India has always been periodic and largely unfocused. Significantly, political parties have been quite unsuccessful in satisfying the listless farmers.
The rise of peasants’ agitation
The current disturbances in some districts of Madhya Pradesh and the rising momentum of agitational politics in other states like Maharashtra, Haryana, Rajasthan and parts of Gujarat are expressions of what Marxists would call a class agitation by the peasantry, cutting across socio-economic differentiation. In the Mandsaur area of western Madhya Pradesh, these protests turned violent in their calls for loan waivers and long-term alleviation of rural indebtedness.
The violent protests in parts of Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra point to a deeper malaise affecting Indian agriculture. Farming has progressively become an unprofitable occupation on account of rising input costs and the inability of governments to pay a lucrative support price for agricultural produce.
Agriculture in India is neither fully market-driven nor is it under the government’s control. The government, in the case of any emergency, does resort to buying the yield of the farmers. However, this move shifts the market price to a level which does not benefit the farmers.
BJP’s retort to Congress’ attack
Congress chief whip in Lok Sabha Jyotiraditya Scindia criticised Union minister Radha Mohan Singh for enjoying a yoga session with Ramdev at a public event when farmers in Madhya Pradesh and other parts of the country were in distress. Further, a Congress spokesperson criticised the BJP for preventing Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi from visiting Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh where five farmers were killed in police firing during a violent protest.
On the contrary, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh believes that yoga is the solution to all problems. He slammed the opposition saying that the agricultural problem is given by those who are now showing fake concern for the farmers. In an interview with ANI, he condemned the violence that took place in Madhya Pradesh.
Piecemeal response to the farmers’ grievances
The BJP-led government in Maharashtra offered a sweeping and almost total loan waiver to marginal farmers and those who had an established pattern of attempts at loan repayment. However, the move seems to be a mere band aid for a serious problem.
In Madhya Pradesh, the BJP government responded by firmly denying the possibility of waivers as the state already offered loans at zero percent interest rates along with subsidies on loans.
The farmers’ strife in Madhya Pradesh is all the more worrying for BJP because the state did not have poor monsoons last year. Instead, it was blessed with a bumper crop. Further, Madhya Pradesh is not a poor state and has registered high agricultural growth over the past several years. The agitating farmers are not the poorest in the state. Yet, it is estimated that in the past one year, every five hours one farmer committed suicide in the state due to distress stemming from accumulated loans and the glut in the market. The government must give a serious thought as to why is bumper production proving to be a bane for the farmers.
What is wrong with our agricultural policies?
Indian agricultural policy has focused on means to increase crop yield with no stress on addressing farmers’ livelihood concerns such as the problems of money handling and maintaining a balance between production and the market price. Farmers have no money and their inability to recover costs of the produce aggravates their poverty.
While loan waivers granted by states provide an immediate solution to the distress of farmers, there is a need for long-term redressal of the problem. Such redressal could include streamlining input prices, for instance, a minimum support price system that allows the government to guarantee a certain level of income to the farmers.
Agrarian crisis: a spoiler for the BJP
The BJP promised to implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission. The Commission headed by Professor M.S. Swaminathan was constituted on November 18, 2004, and was named National Commission on Farmers ( NCF). It aimed at safeguarding the interest of small farmers and reducing the risk associated with agriculture as a profession. The Commission’s recommendation of a minimum of 50% profits over the cost of production, to the farmers, remains unimplemented. Moreover, demonetization severely worsened the farmers’ ability to get back on their feet due to the cash crunch.
The BJP’s traditional support base does not lie in rural India and among farmers. Yet, they voted for the party in heavy numbers mainly on the strength of Modi’s promises and his mesmerising presence. Deflecting the issue and waiting for it to abate on its own is not a plausible solution. Unless a comprehensive strategy to is drafted for the welfare of the farmers, the BJP will pay a heavy political price for the deceit.
Connecting the dots: farmers await a solution
Since more than 60 percent of India’s population lives off agriculture which, ironically, contributes only 13 percent to India’s GDP. The central government must work towards a long-term policy that awards a profitable price for farm produce while not tilting the terms of trade against the manufacturing and the services industry. The writing on the wall is clear: Today, the farmers require protection from the consequences of both overproduction and underproduction of agricultural goods. If left unaddressed, rural distress and farmer suicide would remain the recurring feature of Indian economy.
Featured Image Credits: Pexels
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