Swabhimani Paksha MP Raju Shetti started his Atmaklesh (repentance) Padyatra from Pune on Monday. The foot march will culminate in Mumbai on May 30. Shetti, whose party is part of the NDA as well as the state government, said he has undertaken this march to “repent for supporting BJP and Modi”. Talking to The Indian Express, the MP sheds light on what led him to embark on the march and the state of farmers in the country.
Excerpts from his interview:
Why have you undertaken this march? This would be the fourth such padyatra of your political career. Have things changed for the farmers on the field? Will Swabhimani Paksha withdraw from NDA?
The spectacular victory of Narendra Modi and the victory of Devendra Fadnavis in 2014 was because of the wholehearted support of farmers. The support was based on their promises, especially the implementation of the Swaminathan Committee’s recommendations about fixing prices of agricultural commodities. Three years have passed, but the central government has taken no steps towards fulfilling this promise. We have realised that they have deceived the farmers, whose condition has deteriorated further. I, too, was taken in by their promises and had canvassed for the BJP and thus, I have erred too. My padyatra is an act of repentance for that. I will be reflecting on my future course of action.
My previous padyatras were for water, increasing the procurement price of milk and sugarcane. On a lighter note, during my previous padyatras, farmers used to come in tractor trolleys, but now they come in cars. However, the change is only for a minuscule number of farmers. Even now, political parties only talk about farmers when they are in the Opposition. Once we complete the yatra, we will think about the future course of action.
Your right-hand man Sadabhau Khot, who is also a minister in the state cabinet, is not participating in the march. What will be the political fallout if Khot leaves? Also, has the chief minister, or anyone else in the government, contacted you about your march?
Swabhimani Paksha and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana have numerous members and we can’t keep a tab on every leader. Till the time the farmers are with me, I have no worries about my political future. Till date, no one has contacted me from the government. Probably, the chief minister is still busy studying the situation.
Several groups are pressing for loan waivers, while the government has opposed it. Why are you supporting loan waivers for farmers?
Farmers are in huge debt, which is a direct result of the bad policies of the government. If the present government had implemented the recommendations of Swaminathan Committee, about pricing of agricultural produce, farmers would have been better off by now. The failure of the government in doing so has resulted in the current predicament of farmers. So, a loan waiver is the only way to help them.
In Maharashtra, at present, some farmers are thinking of boycotting farming. If they give up farming, no government in the world can ensure food security for India’s population. We must understand the gravity of the situation and act accordingly.
Barring a few, why have most farmers’ movements failed to become a political success? In Maharashtra, Swabhimani Paksha’s success is mostly restricted in the cane belt. Why is it not reflected in other parts of the state?
The country has seen many farmers’ movements, but it is true that a pan-India movement is yet to happen. Chowdhary Charan Singh, by far, was the only active farmer who became the Prime Minister of the country. Leaders, who call themselves farmers’ leaders, hardly know anything about farming.
The sad state of affairs is mainly due to the deep divisions among farmers themselves. Other than divisions based on caste, religion etc, farmers are divided on the basis of crops and land holdings, among other things. Unfortunately, they do not think of themselves as farmers first. Thus, they lack the cohesion of a support group. The political success of cane farmers is mainly because of the already set infrastructure of the crop, which helps in unification on a common ground. That cohesion is lacking among farmers of other crops. Swabhimani Shetkari is working on building a social cohesion among farmers, so they act as votebanks. Till the time farmers start thinking and acting as a cohesive votebank, they will not be able to exert their power.