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Why Addressing Farm Anger Must Be BJP’s Top Priority

In a year, when the Modi government faces as a many as eight state assembly elections, and possibly an early Lok Sabha election, the farm anger will prove to be a real challenge

Photo Credit : Bivash Banerjee

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The Mumbai streets have been awash in red, with farmers and All India Kisan Sabha cadres (the peasants’ front of the Communist Part of India – Marxist) leading a 180 km march from Nasik to the financial capital. The farmers’ cause has variously been described in the media, but the All India Kisan Sabha president Ashok Dhawale put things in perspective, when he told rediff.com the reasons behind the march.

The first purported reason was the Devendra Fadnavis government’s U-turn on farm loans, “thereby cheating the state farmers”.

“The state government said Rs 34,000 crore would be given as a loan waiver to farmers… In the Maharashtra budget it shows only Rs 13,780 crore as the loan waiver amount to farmers disbursed. So what happened to the remaining amount? The BJP government cheated the farmers on loan waiver,” Dhawale told rediff.com.

He further charged: “They (the BJP) want to keep Adivasi land for themselves and keep it in their control. In Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh they know that those lands are rich in minerals so they want to gift those lands to corporates and throw out the Adivasis. In Maharashtra too, they want to keep Adivasi land so that they can hand these lands over to industrialists”.

That the country’s farmer is angry is too well known to bear repetition. This was seen in ample measure in Gujarat where the BJP was routed in rural pockets.

In a year, when the Modi government faces as a many as eight state assembly elections, and possibly an early Lok Sabha election, the farm anger will prove to be a real challenge.

Consider the facts: An IndiaSpend analysis recently noted that “nearly four in ten of 8,007 Indian farmers who committed suicide in 2015 were in debt, compared to two in ten in 2014”.

IndiaSpend also noted that “despite a 11 per cent rise in loans to agriculture over a year to a record Rs 10 lakh crore in 2017-18, the share of professional moneylenders in agriculture credit grew nine percentage points”.

Then there are problems specific to the states – like in Maharashtra, there’s been a devastating pinkworm attack on the cotton crop in parts of the state.

Agriculture is the most unstable profession in the country, with farmers continuously looking for outside avenues. Climate change, lack of market, and uncertainty over MSPs have been the bane of the farmers. Add to this, what Dhawale says that the Modi government (and various BJP governments) “want to hand over natural resources to industrialists”, and you have a narrative ready, with the potential to sink the government.

The Modi government had tried to bunk this thesis with a kisan budget, last month, where it was agreed to pay the farmers 50 per cent more than the production cost – an idea that partly fulfils the M S Swaminathan recommendations.

Congress government Rahul Gandhi, and others, however, have been busy weaving a counter-narrative about the discontent and the government’s supposed pro-industrialist tilt, in an attempt to forge a larger Opposition unity.

While the farm crisis is a burning issue, giving it an ideological spin is problematic. As Dhawale says, in response to a question: “Marxism-Leninism can never die. There is no question about it. It may face reverses for some point of time, but it will certainly rise up; it is only a question of time”.

The politicization of the issue, and positioning farmers against the Modi / BJP is something that the government can ill-afford to happen. The sooner it realises, the better it would be for the Modi government.


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