Demanding higher prices and waiver of farm loans, thousands of farmers brought the growing agrarian crisis and rising rural unemployment to the Capital Friday where Opposition parties found common ground to rally against the BJP-led government ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls.
From the Congress to the AAP and the CPM to the Trinamool Congress, ideological and political rivals across the country took to the stage at the Kisan Mukti March at Parliament Street. They attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi for failing to “fulfil his promises” including jobs for youth and called for the ouster of the BJP from power.
Addressing the gathering, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said farmers are fighting for their right — loans waiver and the right price for their produce — and not asking for a “free gift” or “Anil Ambani’s aircraft” from Modi. Speaking in one voice, Gandhi, Sharad Yadav, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, CPM’s Sitaram Yechury, NCP chief Sharad Pawar, Trinamool Congress’s Dinesh Trivedi, CPI’s S Sudhakar Reddy and National Conference’s Farooq Abdullah called the BJP-led government “anti-farmer”.
Farm crisis matters in poll year, December 11 could shape course
With agrarian distress a common refrain in states going to polls, the gathering of Opposition leaders at a protest march by farmers in the Capital returns the issue to the front-burner ahead of the 2019 elections. Farmer concerns always provide a non-polarising platform for Opposition parties to come together, this time helped by attempts to amend the land acquisition law and weather-induced farm losses early in the tenure of the BJP-led government. The government has been battling Opposition charges of being “pro-corporate” and “anti-farmer”. The December 11 verdict on the assembly polls could influence the course this issue takes.
Opposition leaders also extended support to two Bills — drafted by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKCC) and tabled by MPs Raju Shetti and K K Ragesh as private member Bills in Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha respectively. There was no talk about alliance arithmetic but the message was clear: cooperation based on issues.
“There are two issues before India today — one, the future of India’s farmers and second, the issue of jobs for our youth. The fight is for the future of India’s farmers and youth. In the last four-and-half years, Narendra Modi and the BJP waived loans of the 15 richest Indians to the tune of Rs 3.5 lakh crore. And they want to further waive loans to the tune of Rs 12.5 lakh crore, which Modi and Arun Jaitley call non-performing assets. We are only demanding justice. If Rs 3.5 lakh crore of 15 people can be waived, the loans of crores of farmers should be waived,” said Gandhi.
He said the Prime Minister had spoken of ensuring the right price for farm produce and promised bonus payments and increasing the Minimum Support Price (MSP) but “what is the situation today? You are shelling out money for insurance, but it is going into Anil Ambani’s pocket. Farmers cannot select insurance companies of their choice…somewhere it is Ambani, somewhere Adani…your loan is not being written off, you are not getting the right price and instead, hollow speeches are being made.”
Gandhi said the parties have come together despite their ideological differences on the issue of farmers and youth. He shared the stage with Kejriwal and sat through his speech.
Kejriwal too criticised the Centre’s insurance scheme for farmers calling it a “fraud” and “dacoity” and demanded that it be scrapped. He said the Centre had filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying that it cannot implement the Swaminathan report and that Modi has “stabbed farmers in their back”. “Five months are left…withdraw the affidavit filed in the Supreme Court and implement the Swaminathan report, otherwise, farmers will wreak havoc in the 2019 elections (2019 ke andar qayamat dhah denge poore desh ke ander tumhare khilaf)”.
“Jitni chinta aapko Ambani aur Adani ki rahti hain, use ten per cent chinta kisanon ki karlo…kisanon ko dubara pradarshan karni ki zarrorat nahin padegi. Aur agar aapne nahin ki, toh agale baar vote bhi Ambani and Adani se jaake le lena, yahan vote maangne mat aana.” (Show farmers just ten per cent of the concern you show for Ambani and Adani…then farmers will not have to protest again. And if you do not, then seek votes from Ambani and Adani, don’t come here for votes.”
The march began at around 10:15 am Friday when thousands of farmers set off from Ramlila Maidan, where they had spent the night, and reached Parliament Street where the stage was set. The numbers soared as several farmers and agricultural labourers from Haryana, Punjab and Uttar Pradesh joined in and slogans and songs reverberated in the air as farmers from Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu — separated by language but bound by demands — walked to the venue.
From Sihaul in Bihar came Momni Devi (40), an agricultural labourer who demanded land to till, while Alok Routhan (53) from Nainital’s Bindukhatta hoped that the price of fertilisers and seeds will be reduced. Kamla Yadav (60) from Barwani, Madhya Pradesh demanded the immediate implementation of the Swaminathan Report, and P Sreenivas (47) from Polavaram, Andhra Pradesh demanded loan waivers.
From their homes far and wide, men and women carried food supplies for three days, blankets to keep them warm, paperwork to show rising debts and ownership rights, portable phone chargers, photos of their fathers and husbands who committed suicide, as well as produce they haven’t been able to sell.
While Gandhi and Kejriwal spoke the Left lexicon of rich versus poor and refrained from issues that could potentially polarise the electorate, Yechury and National Conference chief Farooq Abdullah argued that the BJP will play the Ram Temple card to divert attention before the LS elections.
According to Pawar, the BJP government had no sympathy for farmers and he mentioned the Rs 70,000-crore loan waiver implemented by the UPA-I government in comparison.
Yechury said that when there is talk about the formation of an alternative government at the Centre, the BJP starts chanting Ram. “That is the only brahmastra it has,” he said. Yechury also said that the average agricultural growth during UPA-II was much more than the four-and-a-half years of the BJP Government. He said that the agriculture GDP growth during Modi’s rule had dropped to 2.5 per cent compared to 5.2 per cent under UPA-II.