In the 2014 manifesto for the general elections, the BJP had outlined 20 steps to boost agriculture and increase the income of farmers. This was followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s oft repeated announcement that farmers’ income will be doubled by 2022. He promised a new deal that will bring good days to them. Now the reality check: At the fag end of the BJP-led government at the Centre, the income of the farmers, according to a recent economic survey, is likely to come down by 15 percent; farmer suicides have gone up by leaps and bounds; prices of agricultural produce have touched the rock bottom prompting the disgusted farmers to throw their produce on the roads; in an unusual move, over 35,000 farmers took out a Long March from Nasik to Mumbai; and the climax came with farmers of 10 States taking to the streets on a week-long agitation.
The demands of the farmers are nothing new. They are seeking better prices for their produce; higher minimum support price; waiver of farm loans to give immediate relief; low interest rates on loans; compensation in case of loss of produce due to natural calamities; and low electricity rate for agricultural use. These are not unrealistic demands; neither they are beyond any government’s ability to fulfil, provided it respects and recognizes the hands that feed the people. The farmers have not made these demands out of the blue. They are based on sound agronomics. It is recommended by no less than an expert committee led by India’s best known agricultural scientist M. S. Swaminathan.
The disenchantment of the farmers has taken a desperate turn as they realise that, over the years, governments have been doing only lip-service to their cause. A government which goes overboard in writing off the loans of industrialists and turns a blind eye to the mounting non-performing assets of the banks caused by defaulting business tycoons goes on reverse gear when it comes to farmers in distress. The same is the case with infrastructure facilities for them. Governments closely monitor the construction of roads and related infrastructure. But no government has given enough attention to building cold storage facilities which can save fruits, grains and vegetables, according to some estimate worth over Rs. 50,000 crore, lost every year due to lack of adequate storage infrastructure.
The height of disillusionment of farmers came out in the recent Kairana by-election which the BJP lost. One of the reasons is the anger of the sugarcane farmers who have not been paid for their produce. The area which had seen communal polarization, leading to the victory of the BJP, voted differently this time, reflecting the outpouring of anger by farmers. Unfortunately, governments do not learn lessons from the past. Utterances like that of Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh that the agitation of the farmers is nothing but a bogey to attract media attention deserve to be rejected with contempt. Farmers are weaklings with very little bargaining power. Their tired faces and scarred feet fail to move the powers-that-be who act only at the behest of movers and shakers. But times are changing as the recent developments show. Farmers are trying to prove their mettle.(Published on 11th June 2018, Volume XXX, Issue 24)