The Opposition parties have decided to organise a Bharat Bandh on the issue of farmer distress. The decision came in the meeting of the Opposition sub-group on Wednesday to discuss a strategy for the Presidential election. Sources said that the farmers’ unrest on a range of issues — falling prices, Minimum Support Price and debt — was discussed at the meeting where many Opposition leaders felt this was the “appropriate time” to seek answers from the government.
The Opposition decided to press for a comprehensive loan waiver for farmers and implementation of the M S Swaminathan Commission’s five-part report. That 2006 report had suggested detailed, sweeping reforms to address agrarian distress: from ensuring better credit and insurance to marketing to better access to technology; steps to promote land reforms and productivity to food security and employment.
The date for the Bharat Bandh, a source said, would be decided after parties discuss with their respective leaderships. On Wednesday, Raju Shetti of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana, an NDA ally from Maharashtra, met senior JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav at his residence here where the two discussed agrarian distress. Shetti’s party has set a deadline for the farm loan waiver in Maharashtra where protests have put the BJP government in a tight spot. A day before Rahul Gandhi visited Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh on June 7, Sharad Yadav and Gandhi had a long discussion at the JD(U) leader’s residence, too.
Yadav, incidentally, accompanied the Congress vice president to Mandsaur to protest against what he called was the MP government’s apathy towards protesting farmers. Later, a delegation of the All India Kisan Sabha, led by CPI(M) leader Hannan Mollah, also visited Mandsaur this week.
After Mandsaur, some Opposition leaders have planned a joint visit to Mandola in Uttar Pradesh to express solidarity with farmers who have been protesting there demanding revised compensation for land acquired under Avas Vikas Housing Scheme.
An Opposition leader said that agrarian crisis cuts across caste and community lines and could, therefore, be a potent political issue to corner the government with. More so, he said, because both MP and Maharashtra, where the protests reached a flashpoint, are BJP-ruled states.
“Sporadic farmer agitations were going on at a number of places. Our effort is to unite all such forces,” said a leader associated with the plans. A section is sceptical as well given the Opposition’s diffused agenda and failure to build a narrative around the protests so far. They cite the fact that in the run-up to UP polls, a rally was organized in Delhi on sugarcane prices and other farmers’ issues bringing parties like JD(S), NCP, Congress, JD(U), RLD and SP on the same stage. A rally was also organized in Muzaffarnagar to bridge the Hindu-Muslim divide under the overarching umbrella of farmer identity. However, this campaign failed to make any impact during the elections which the BJP won hands down.
However, on the land acquisition issue, after Opposition parties had joined hands in 2015 to call the government “anti-farmer” in and outside Parliament, the government was forced to retract its plan to bring key changes to the UPA’s 2013 land law.