IT is a bitter irony that the day the news appeared in the newspapers that five farmers were killed in Mandsaur district in Madhya Pradesh due to police firing, the same newspapers carried full page advertisements about the success in the agriculture sector in the three-year rule of the Modi government.
Farmers in the districts of Mandsaur, Neemuch, Jhabua, Ratlam and Ujjain were on strike and agitating since June 1 for fair prices for their produce and loan waivers.
The farmers threw vegetables and emptied milk tankers on the roads. The response of the Shivraj Chouhan government was to shoot down the farmers. In Mandsaur district, with the death of one more farmer, the toll reached six in police firing. The BJP state government has sought to deny the reality of the widespread farmers unrest by blaming anti-socials for the trouble.
In neighbouring Maharashtra, which is also a BJP-ruled state, the farmers went on a strike across the length and breadth of the state from June 1. Defying the call for withdrawal of the agitation by a section of the kisan leaders, the state Kisan Sabha and other farmers’ organisations decided to continue the struggle. They called for a state-wide bandh on June 5, which met with a magnificent response. The struggle is going on in both the states.
The farmers’ struggles in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh have punctured in a spectacular fashion, the tall claims made by the Modi government about the transformation of agriculture and empowerment of farmers.
Both in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, the basic demand of the farmers is a fair price for their agricultural produce by ensuring a minimum support price for all crops to cover the cost of production plus 50 per cent profit. This was the recommendation of the National Commission of Farmers, which was included in the election manifesto of the BJP. But in practice, the Modi government has reneged on this promise. It has been fixing the MSP for various crops far below the actual cost of production. Not only that, the government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court clearly stating that the C2+50 per cent cannot be given.
The demand for loan waiver is being raised by a desperation driven by rural distress and farmers’ suicides. The BJP-ruled Maharashtra saw the highest number of suicides in 2015-16. The BJP-ruled states of Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgarh accounted for 6,535 (51.85 per cent) of total farmers suicides in 2015.
The much vaunted schemes like Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana have proved illusory. In the case of the former, the allocation has overwhelmingly gone to pay private insurance companies rather than to benefit farmers. In the case of the latter, the present allocation for irrigation will not even mean Rs 10,000 per hectare of unirrigated land.
In the light of the crash in prices of various crops such as chilli in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh or onions in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, the Modi government’s claim that farmers’ incomes will be doubled in the next five years seems a cruel joke to the farmers.
It is the callous attitude of the BJP state governments and the Modi government at the Centre which has led to the widespread protests in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh.
The Modi government should stop this disastrous course of immiserisation of the farmers. It should forthwith implement its promise of providing farmers with a fair price for their produce based on the cost of production plus 50 per cent profit. The state governments concerned should initiate debt relief measures which will include loan waivers.
To begin with, the BJP state governments in Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh should stop police repression on the protesting farmers and hold talks to meet their genuine demands.
(June 8, 2017)