Friday, August 6, 2021

Farmers’ protest

The issues highlighted during the two-day march to Delhi by over one hundred thousand farmers under the banner of Kisan Mukti Morcha inviting the country’s attention needs serious consideration of the central government. Seeking a special 21-day Parliament session to discuss and debate the agrarian crisis is a significant highlight of the farmers’ movement in the country. The central government has been time and again accused of ignoring the serious issues of the farmers, who constitute more than 80% of Indian population and directly connected with agriculture produce of the country. The march in Delhi was not only supported by the opposition political parties but also and mainly led by the Left parties held the national capital to ransom when the farmers, some of whom had travelled more than 2000 kilometers to participate. The key demands of the farmers included an unqualified loan waiver to mitigate indebtedness levels in farm households and better remuneration for their produce instead of promises on paper of high Minimum Support Prices (MSPs). These demands sum up the precarious livelihood of a majority of farmers who work on small and fragmented land holdings across the country. This is certainly not the first call of distress from the farm sector to Parliament and policymakers; several such rallies have taken place in different states over the past year. In March, around 35,000 farmers and tribals from Maharashtra walked for days to Mumbai, they drew appreciation for their restrained conduct compared to the usually unruly protesters. The farmers in Mumbai secured assurances from Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis of tangible action on their demands over the next six months. Finding little movement on those promises, many of those who had marched to Mumbai joined the rally in Delhi, which was by far the biggest such gathering. Galvanised by the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee, it had participation from more than 200 organisations, with farmers from 24 states apart from other splinter bodies which did not count in a big number. In sum total, most of these organizations have been disappointed by the inaction on the part of the central government on major issues that involve MSPs and loan waivers. At one point, the BJP-government not only rejected the demands of the farmers from different states but also asked the latter to generate their own resources for loan waivers. As predicted, the rural distress is deepening due to the wrong policies of the centre coupled with demonetisation and Goods and Services Tax (GST) implementation during the past two and half years. Both the factors have played havoc with the agriculture and rural economy of the country. The distress of the farmers has been largely ignored by the states and the centre. Farmers’ issues are likely to dominate the politics as Lok Sabha elections are just about six months away. The official figures released on Friday last week show that the agriculture sector registered a growth of just 3.8% (on a Gross Value Added basis) in the second quarter of current financial year, compared to the 5.3% recorded in the preceding quarter. In perspective, the farm sector output was growing strongly in the first three quarters of 2016-17, before imploding in the aftermath of the demonetisation exercise. The latest figures suggest that the prospect of recovery witnessed in the previous two quarters has been hazy. The central government has done an about-turn on its responses to a parliamentary panel that farmers were hit hard by demonetisation, and sought to reassure farmers by reiterating its own initiatives for the sector. The opposition, in turn, is using the farmers’ platform to take jibes at the BJP-government at the centre and in many states. It is unfortunate that neither has focussed on the big picture strategy needed to reboot India’s hugely state-controlled farm sector. The centre expresses its aversion to inconvenient facts. And the opposition’s attempts to tap into their anger with hollow promises of loan waivers that over-simplify the crisis. Farmers and industrial workers are not just vote banks, but also critical economic actors who aspire to live without press notes. Both the opposition and the ruling dispensation need to have a serious alternative economy policy to address the issues of the farmers if they want to take care of this care.