Farmers’ agitations are not new for India. What is different over the years in these agitations is the way the governments of the time have been responding and the way the political parties and leaders react. Earlier, farmers were concerned about lack of credit, prices, inputs and market. Then, they were angry for false promises. In more recent years, they have been agitating for humiliating treatment of successive governments. Now farmers are all out agitating as government’s actions are viewed as threatening their survival and livelihood. The story of credit, crop insurance and price support promises given and met over the decades is good enough to realise the extent of distress farming has been pushed into. With increase in the frequency of natural calamities and change in governments have added to the agony of farmers. Culmination of these is result of the crises before the country today.
What Nehru, Ranga did in similar circumstances?
The simmering agitations in the wake of the three new laws in the last two months leading to Bharat Bandh remind me how Professor N G Ranga spearheaded in 1957 the first nation-wide farmers’ dissent against Prime Minister Nehru’s determination to go for “cooperative farming”. Influenced by Soviet model, Nehru did not head farm leaders’ appeal against such a move. He went ahead and got the proposal approved at the Avadi Congress in 1957 and introduced the Bill. That was when Professor Ranga himself a Congress party leader took to post-card and appealed to farmers across the country to send their dissent to PM against cooperative farming. Next few weeks Teen Murti Bhavan in Delhi was inundated with truck loads of postal bags full of post-cards from farmers all over the country. On seeing so many letters, Nehru withdrew the Bill just before being pushed through in the Parliament. That was how farmers concern was respected by the leaders then.
PM should avail the opportunity
Experience tells us that long drawn protests by farmers are no good for any. If this current situation could end the frequent government-farmer logjams in the country, the credit goes to the government. PM Modi as popular leader can afford to avail the opportunity to end this adversarial relationship with farming communities. PM Modi has an opportunity to end India’s worst failure in reviving agriculture. The need is to end the perceptions that unless farmers protest their problems never get attended to. And this is also a best course for expediting PM Modi’s promise to double farmer’s income by 2023. If government is willing to make changes in the three contentious laws after four rounds of failed talks, they could as well repeal the Acts and reposition. It would be the governments gain and of the country’s even more.
No matching response from the govt.
Unrest in agriculture is not new. Its complexion has however changed or shifted. From some farmers to many, from floods and drought to policies of governments, from failure of crops to failure of political system, from failure to provide relief to failure to foresee the impending distress. These all have added up to the current crisis. All this was either because there are no more serious sympathisers of farming in the authorities but provoke and even project farmers with all kind of humiliating labels and trivialise the root causes. There has been no matching response on the part of the governments to raise to the occasion with a long term outlook that Dr M S Swaminathan called for.
HM should have ordered release of farmers
Despite escalation in the agitations across the country with more and more endorsing the current agitation, no initiatives are found from any quarters to end the impasse with conciliatory efforts. An all party meeting was not even considered. After refusing to meet the chief ministers of Congress party ruled states two days ago, the President of India agreed to meet five leaders of political parties today. Home Minister Shah’s initiative by meeting 14 farmer representatives on Tuesday would have prompted better response has he ordered release of farmers arrested anywhere. An independent review of the events last fifteen days brings out that ruling party missed an opportunity yet again to seize the situation to its advantage.
Farmers losing confidence in political leaders
One factor evident for continued agitations by farmers in most states and across is decline in the confidence of farming community in political leaders. But the undercurrents are many. First, decline in the representative character of elected reps. Even those elected from rural areas and in positions are no longer have the local interests at heart. Even legal provisions are no longer a guarantee on ground. Second, increased gap between promise and performance of the governments both Union and States. (Ministers claiming 80 percent implementation of Swaminathan Report, a State government’s bluff of crop insurance without paying premium). Third, poll compulsions have become overarching priority in public policies particularly poll dolls, treating farmers same way as any other “deprived sections”. Fourth, control and command has become the modus operandi of governance more than coordination and cooperation even ignoring regional and agro-climate distinctions. Fifth, decline in the appreciation for farmers and farming. Sixth, shift in rural concerns of leaders with real-estate and corporate interests overtaking. Seventh, bypassing the institutions for checks and balance in governance like the agriculture prices commission and cadres of political parties taking to agricultural marketing and such other institutes. Eighth, increased visible role and say of corporates and interests of multinationals in government’s decisions. Ninth, gloomy perspective being perceived by farmers of their future as is evident in continuing distress, suicides and agitations. Tenth, failure of successive governments to seek prompt farmer’s feedback for frequent seasonal changes that deserve prompt action.
Support for farmers swelling by the day
The mounting agitations around Delhi has become a “War path” proportion because of continuing provocations of leaders and their failure to control otherwise swelling support and expanding scope of the protests. Never before in recent years such a concern received such “whole hearted support” from so many sections. The government once again lost its way by taking to discredit farmers and their concerns. They missed an opportunity of taking pride in farmers’ initiatives and doing better year after year despite vagrancies of all kind. Instances of farmers being jailed or chained by police and showcasing them as criminals may be few but they signal a trend. A glaring example is 360 days agitation of Amaravati farm families with women in 30 villages taking the lead and in a more disciplined way than political parties ever did. The farmers had to face arrogance of the rulers who are not showing basic courtesies that citizens deserve even after death of a hundred farmers. Before that, farmers of TamilNadu after failing the attention of State Government had to come to Delhi more than once to protest going to the extent of baring themselves to draw the attention of decision makers, Maharashtra farmers “long march” was another example for exemplary discipline farmers displayed despite government efforts to test their patience with all kind of instigations and provocations. The struggles of Sugarcane farmers of UP for their dues is a different example. Earlier in Mandsaur, MP, ten farmers were killed in police firing, their fault was they produced more paddy than what the Government forecast. There was example of Banks in Rajasthan confiscating farmers produce for no fault of theirs. Such being the examples, can we expect the leaders to understand the humiliation and agony farmers are being put to by calling them with all kind of names?
When the government succeeds with its new proposals, the truce could only be temporary. Conditions in farming sector are such that they would compel another provocation. Compliance of promises with sincerity, transparency and with involvement of farmers is a compulsion to avoid another round of agitationtoo soon.Repeal of the farm laws and repositioning them is a graceful and win-win option. This need not be construed as going back on reforms.
Dr N Bhaskara Rao is a long standing public policy analyst in New Delhi. For more see his book “Chronicles of a village boy in New Delhi” (2015).