Rural crisis

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The massive farmers’ rally that marched the long distance of over 180 kilometres from Nasik to Mumbai within six days and brought the Maharashtra government on its knees, forcing the latter to agree to almost all of the demands is significant for many ways. 30,000 farmers who marched towards Mumbai, under the banner of Akhil Bharatiya Kisan Sabha affiliated to the CPI (M) demanded a complete farm loan waiver, transfer of forest land to tillers, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations, compensation of Rs 40,000 per acre to farmers hit by hailstorm and pink bollworm, and putting a stop to sharing the state’s water with Gujarat. Not only did the Maharashtra government agree to most of the demands, the mobilization and protest ending on a successful note is likely to have ramifications that would impact the political and economic landscape of the country in many ways, howsoever government’s decide to respond to such possible future campaigns. What is inspiring was the powerful strategy at play, displaying a disciplined and determined force of farmers from across the state, joined by women, children and even senior citizens impacted directly by the deepening agrarian crisis. The rally has invoked awe and inspiration in circles beyond the farming profession. Beyond the agrarian population, ordinary volunteers in Mumbai came out in open support of the farmers and gave them food, drink, medical care and even footwear for their weary feet. The powerful long march inspired political parties like Aam Aadmi Party and Shiv Sena, who threw their weight behind the farmers. Even Congress offered its bit of lip sympathy to the cause. But, more significantly, a day after Maharashtra farmers had their demands approved from the state government, farmers from across the country gathered in Delhi on Tuesday and demanded loan waiver and implementation of Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations. The protesting farmers even cautioned the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government to be ready to face consequences in 2019 general elections if their demands remain unfulfilled. In all probability, the success of the Maharashtra rally may not be replicated country-wide. However, a chain reaction of protests and unease within the agrarian community that the success of Maharashtra rally has inspired is enough to wake up not just the government but other political elite and prompt them to relook their political strategies that complete gloss over the misery of the farmers. The distress of the farmers may be at its acutest after the BJP led NDA government came to power with its economic focus pivoted around benefitting the big business lobbies. But it has been in existence for years and decades due to poor agrarian policies and the push for economic liberalization without factoring in the teeming majority of agrarian and rural population of the country. The apathy of the present government has seen a spiralling increase in the number of farmer suicides, revealing the crescendo that their distressing conditions have reached. So acute is the rural crisis that is impacting not just the farmers but also the tribals who were seen demanding their forest rights at the Maharashtra march is significant also for the fact that it brought for the first time the farmers and tribals on a common platform. The obvious lesson to be learnt from the long march is the need to recognize the edge to which rural population has been pushed and need to carve a new political and economic discourse that does not offer sops to farmers and tribals as doles but aims at creation of policies that are inclusive and accommodate their concerns and aspirations. The distress at the grassroots level across India’s rural landscape should be a warning and not the time for politicizing it. While the opposition has now begun supporting farmers, even though it has contributed in a big way to the existing agrarian mess, the BJP in power has begun blaming the left parties for provoking farmers. The suggestion is not only flawed but silly. If the Left has the ability to manipulate the masses at the grassroots, it only proves their increasing strength. This is in striking contradiction to the BJP claims of having decimated Left after the latter’s Tripura debacle. The government at the Centre instead of levelling wild accusations of a politically motivated Maharashtra rally should read the writing on the wall.