By Saarthak Anand
Wearing nothing but loincloths, about 40 Tamil Nadu farmers, who had returned to their home state in April after a 41-day agitation, are back in Delhi. This time, they have been joined by their counterparts from Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Punjab, Haryana and Telangana.
Unique ways of protest
Jantar Mantar in the capital has seen its fair share of protests. None, however, involved methods as macabre as those employed by the farmers from Tamil Nadu in April. Farmers resorted to shaving their heads, halving their moustaches, dressing as women, putting live rats and dead snakes in their mouths and even flogging themselves, in order to garner the government’s attention towards their woes.
Many of the protesters demonstrated naked, and some threatened to drink their own urine. Whatever attention they did manage to grab was directed towards the methods of their protests and not to their problems and demands.
From Tamil Nadu to New Delhi
Tamil Nadu is seeing its worst drought in 140 years. There is a 60 percent deficit in rainfall this year. Farmer suicides are on the rise. The farmers protests across Tamil Nadu yielded nothing. The protesters demanded a Rs. 40,000 crore drought-relief package, a farm-loan waiver and the establishment of a Cauvery Management Board. Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E.K. Palaniswami managed to convince them to call off the agitation. The farmers were assured that their jewellery and assets would not be seized by banks. However, promises have not been kept.
On July 16, they tried to march towards the Prime Minister’s residence on Lok Kalyan Marg, but were detained by the police. While the nation strives for global dominance, they have been left with no option but to compromise with their dignity, begging for a redressal of their grievances.
A deep fissure penetrating India
Even after so many years of the nation’s independence, there remains a sharp divide between Northern-Western India, and the rest of the country, particularly the South. Although farmers from many regions have joined those from Tamil Nadu, their methods are nowhere as shocking, nor have they faced the same degree of neglect. The latter region does not find as much political significance, and its people are still discriminated against in other parts of the country.
In April, Bharatiya Janata Party(BJP) leader Tarun Vijay, put the issue in focus with his controversial remark, “If we were racist, why would we have the entire South… Tamil, Kerala, Karnataka and Andhra… why do we live with them? We have black people around us”.
Ruling party’s discriminatory stance
Despite being in power for more than 3 years, the present government is showing no signs of making good on its promise of giving a Special Category Status to Andhra Pradesh. The state, which has been placed at an economic disadvantage due to its separation from Telangana, would have benefited from the status in the form of increased revenue and private investments. The recent pro-Jallikattu protests in Tamil Nadu were not so much a protest against the Supreme Court order banning the bull-taming sport as they were about frustration regarding the arbitrary imposition of a culture on the South.
Farmer protests in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra had received a much quicker and much more enthusiastic response from the government.
The Tamil Nadu farmer protests provide fresh evidence of neglect. The BJP had promised in 2014 to implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee Report – including the increase of Minimum Support Price(MSP) to 50 percent over cost. The goalpost has now been shifted, and the government is now taIking of doubling the income of farmers by 2022. Even though Central Ministers like Arun Jaitley and Radha Mohan Singh have granted an audience to representatives of the farmers, their demands like loan waiver from nationalised banks, and setting up of the Cauvery Management Board, which come under the ambit of the Central Government, remain unfulfilled.
Adding to the misery the is the political instability in Tamil Nadu. The ruling AIADMK has been caught in a faction war ever since the death of former Chief Minister and popular leader J. Jayalalithaa in December led eventually to a three-way split in the party, with the all the groups looking to curry favour with the Centre. Amidst the infighting within the party, farmers’ misery in the state has been pushed to the background. Furthermore, none of the claimants to Jayalalithaa’s legacy enjoys the kind of clout she did with the national parties, in order to make the Centre act on their demands.
BJP must restore the long-lost trust
Many boundaries remain to be crossed. Nationalism, like anything else, is earned. The sense of alienation among people in certain regions of the country does little to help the cause of “Akhand Bharat”. Cultural differences cannot be wiped out. They must, instead, be celebrated. The ruling party, which, had peaked in the Hindi belt in the last Lok Sabha election, is looking to expand in regions yet untapped, including the South. This was one of the reasons which prompted it to nominate Andhra Pradesh’s Venkaiah Naidu for the post of Vice-President of the country.
It, however, takes more than such symbolic gestures to win the trust of people. The Centre should instead work to ensure that the problems faced by the men fighting a battle at the Jantar Mantar are addressed. In the place of giving false assurances, the protesters need to be taken into confidence. Their assets must be saved, and they should be guaranteed a fair income.
At present, New Delhi seems a place lying too far north to care for these protesters.When these despairing men go naked in broad daylight, it is India which is shamed.
Featured Image Credits: Visual Hunt
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