The government cannot accept the fact that farmers who have suppressed their woes for decades are now agitating across the country. It is a clear indication that the farmers’ patience has run out. For generations, the plight of the farmers has gone from bad to worse. But governments, irrespective of the political party, have only used farmers as a vote bank.
Every single farmer is in debt today. The return from his produce is not enough and he cannot even repay the interest on loans taken under the Kisan Credit Card; yet, Banks and other financial institutions are willing to increase the limit of the loan. After some years the loan amount multiplies but the continuing inability to pay pushes farmers to commit suicide.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s promise to the farmers of Uttar Pradesh that if voted to power his party would waive their loans came as a blessing. Needless to say, the farmers voted for the loan waiver. Once the UP government was formed, its first cabinet cleared a loan waiver of Rs 36,359 crores.
The PM had promised that all loans would be waived, as part of the ‘sabka saath, sabka vikas’ poll promise, yet the UP government decided to waive loans of only about 25% of the farmers. Maharashtra waived loans of Rs 30,000 crores. In Madhya Pradesh, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan at first refused to admit that the police had fired upon protesting farmers – he said they were miscreants — and killed 6 people. Then he agreed and paid up Rs 1 crore to every farmer killed.
Meanwhile, the Punjab Government is said to be considering a waiver. But Tamil Naidu’s farmers, try as they might, did not succeed in their demand for a loan waiver. They brought skulls as props and put them on display in front of TV cameras at Delhi’s Jantar Mantar, they shaved their moustache on one side, they drank urine and ate rats, all through their 41 day agitation.
We call ourselves an agrarian society where the farmers who feed the nation get bullets in return. The farmers need to be respected.
But farmer agitations have almost withered away in recent decades. Even if some organisation tries something, the government is quick to crush it. The vacuum has meant that political parties have sought to divide farmers along caste lines and sometimes, even religious lines. But they have failed to fundamentally fix the problem, which is why has farming become a losing proposition?
If our forefathers were as complacent about farming the way we are, we would not have ventured into agriculture. Every farmer has contributed to feeding the country’s large population, but what has he got in return? An enormous debt. The situation is so grave that if financial institutions refuse to give loans against the Kisan Credit Card, we will have many more farmers’ suicides.
Finally, the farmers have begun to believe that their strength lies in numbers. On June 16, as many as 130 farmer organisations all over the country gathered at Delhi’s Gandhi Peace Foundation to forge a national alliance that would jointly agitate so as to mitigate farm hardships
This alliance’s two-point agenda is to push for loan waivers and increase the minimum support price (MSP) as per the recommendations of the National Commission for Farmers, popularly known as the Swaminathan Commission. Both agenda items must be synchronised to work simultaneously. If the loan is waived and the MSP isn’t increased, then next year the loans will go up; on the other hand if the MSP is increased and the loan not waived, then the money obtained from an increased MSP will be used to repay the debt. In either case, the farmers’ plight will remain the same.
The Prime Minister has understood the gravity of the problem and has promised both – a loan waiver and a remunerative MSP consisting of 150 per cent of the cost of production. Yet, for reasons best known to him or his government or the party, neither of the two issues are being implemented. The country remains a silent spectator to a suicide by a desperate farmer every half an hour in the country.
Certainly, these agitations will be peaceful unless the Government provokes the farmers by choosing to fire like in Mandsaur. I only wish the government, which has been extremely sensitive to the need of the corporate sector, who by waiving annual loans worth lacs of crores spares a thought for the farmers who on one hand feed the nation and on the other hand cannot even muster a meal for their family.