THE violent agitation by farmers in Madhya Pradesh shows their desperation. Farmers in several states have been agitating for better prices for their produce and loan waiver. In 2008 the UPA government waived off farmers’ Rs 72,000-crore debt. In April 2017, the UP government waived off farm loan worth Rs 36,359 crore. Farmers in other states too are now agitating for a loan waiver. The MP government failed to keep its promise to help farmers; so they launched an agitation. The MP government initially chose to ignore their agitation, and then played divide and rule game. Rather than talking to different unions spearheading the agitation, the MP government tried to break the unity of the agitating farmers by calling the leaders of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh (BKS), an affiliate of the Sangh parivar to strike a deal with it. The BKS unilaterally decided to defer the agitation, prompting the other two unions – Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh and Bharatiya Kisan Union – to intensify it. It was only then that MP Chief Minister Shivraj Chauhan announced that the government would procure onions at the rate of Rs 8 per kg. He followed it up with another announcement to set up Rs 1,000-crore price stabilization fund in scenarios where prices fall following bumper crops. The announcements were not sufficient to satisfy the farmers who decided to carry on with the agitation. The intensification led to clashes between agitating farmers and police in many places but the severity was in Mandsaur where police firing led to death of five farmers.
India has traditionally been an agricultural country where over 70 per cent people are involved in farming. Most farmers in the country have small land holdings and are totally dependent on the yield and prices they get for it. Agricultural growth has been uneven; certain areas and states have done well, while most have lagged behind. The crises farmers face are many: scanty rainfall, pest, poor returns on the yield. The neglect has led to the farmers to agitate for better facilities. Despite agitations the governments in the states and at the Centre have failed to address their issues. Their indifference has caused thousands of farmers to end their lives. Suicides among farmers have sadly become too commonplace to generate sympathy and attention. The blame goes entirely to the governments that have failed to find a way to reduce the incidence of suicides. Parties in opposition support and fight for farmers’ causes but once they are in power they follow the same old indifferent or ineffective policies. The BJP used to be a robust supporter of farmers’ demands when it was in opposition and the Congress was in power at the Centre. Now that the BJP is in power, it is the Congress which is fighting for farmers. The BJP is blaming the opposition parties for the farmers’ agitations, just as the Congress used to blame the opposition parties when it was in power.
Farmers are losers whether the yield is low owing to drought or flood or the yield is high owing to favourable factors. Currently in MP, the trigger for their agitation is good yield of cash crops like onions owing to good rainfall. The higher yield led to a drastic fall in prices of their produce, forcing them to demand a reasonable support price from the government. It is not that the better yield had come suddenly out of someone’s magic wand. The MP government knew it was coming and should have been ready with support plans for farmers. The announcement of a price stabilization fund by Chauhan after the intensification of the farmers’ agitation should have been made well in time to prevent the tempers of the producers from rising.
As this year again the rainfall is likely to be normal, there is every possibility of farmers reaping good harvest, which would lead to prices at the farmgate falling. While the farmers have to bear the brunt of fall in prices due to higher agricultural yield the same is not reflected in markets. At the end of the chain, the consumers still have to pay high prices. The governments in all states should take steps have a mechanism in place to help farmers get optimal returns on their investment in a situation of glut. This is not the first time glut has caused agitation of farmers. In Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and other states known for high agricultural production over-production has always caused distress among farmers as most farm produce cannot be stored for long. Even if they can be, most farmers do not have enough savings to keep their yield in storage until the prices rise to give them a good profit.