Farmer cause real, violence political – Sandhya Jain

Farmers protest in Nagpur

Sandhya JainThe Congress’ ability to stage mini-colour revolutions to derail its opponents is unparalleled. – Sandhya Jain

The agility with which the Congress party raises an uproar and/or takes to the streets to protest the alleged sins of omission or commission of the Bharatiya Janata Party at the Centre or in States ruled by it, is admirable. The BJP, in comparison, tends to be sluggish in its responses and often loses the perception battle, at least initially.

Certainly the Madhya Pradesh administration could not have expected a “spontaneous farmers’ agitation” at the height of the vegetable sowing season (June 1), or the violence that forced policemen to open fire to control mobs that ran berserk. As an unfortunate corollary, five farmers (later six) died in Mandsaur district. Thereafter, mobs blocked highways and torched dozens of vehicles across several districts. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan was wise to go on indefinite fast from Saturday, June 10, (ended Sunday afternoon), to lower temperatures and bring aggrieved farmers to talk to him directly.

Agricultural experts are astonished that farmers would agitate at a time when they should be busy sowing gourds of all varieties, cucumber, brinjal, cauliflower, okra, onion, broad bean, tomato, pepper, all crops that will earn the next seasons income. Yet, the agitation began in the rich, opium-growing Mandsaur.

The rapid spread of arson and violence to Shajapur, Dhar, Sagar, Dewas, Guna, Indore, Bhopal, Vidisha, Gwalior, suggests planning reminiscent of the sudden Patidar uprising for quotas in Gujarat in July 2015 and the Jat reservation agitation in Haryana in February 2016. All three states are ruled by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP); Assembly elections are due in Gujarat (2017) and MP (2018). Congressmen led the protests; many trains had to be cancelled for safety. It is difficult to believe that all protestors were farmers as liquor shops were looted and an ATM machine set on fire after attempts to loot it failed. A toll plaza was vandalized in Mandsaur and approximately Rs 8 to 10 lakh looted. In Maharashtra, another BJP ruled state, farmers called off protests after the government succumbed to pressure to waive loans.

Madhya Pradesh under Chouhan won the Centre’s Krishi Karman award five times consecutively, pulled itself out of the category of BIMARU states, and recorded around 20 per cent growth in agriculture for the past few years. Despite such sterling achievements, Chouhan showed undue panic in announcing ex-gratia relief of Rs one crore each for the families of the five farmers. This forced the administration to extend the same relief to the (Congress-affiliated) farmer who died later in hospital, by which time the Congress party’s role in instigating the crowds was fully known.

Once Congress party MLA, Shakuntala Khatik, was caught on camera instigating protestors to burn a police station in Mandsaur, ignoring a policeman beseeching her with folded hands, a clever party and State apparatus would have kept the spotlight on Congress and the frustration of its leadership in losing state after state. The fact that Congress came third in the recent municipal elections in Delhi shows how far removed it is from popular aspirations. At the time of writing, the authorities had booked over 60 persons (many linked to Congress) for perpetrating violence. Sources hint that some big farmers were also behind the stir, to extract higher prices. Besides Rahul Gandhi [and Hartik Patel], social activists Medha Patkar, Yogendra Yadav and Swami Agnivesh were turned back from Mandsaur.

The Congress’ ability to stage mini-colour revolutions to derail its opponents is unparalleled. Recall the well-timed sting operation against the Aam Aadmi Party when it became apparent that it was sweeping the polls in 2013; the novice Arvind Kejriwal was so deflated that he stopped campaigning for four crucial days until galvanised by the now estranged stalwart, Shanti Bhushan. As a result, the AAP lost seats that would have given it a clear majority and was forced to form a coalition with the Congress.

It is undeniable that farmers may have genuine problems in repaying loans and deserve higher prices for produce. However, Reserve Bank of India Governor Urjit Patel has warned that farm loan waiver is a “slippery path” that could dissipate gains made by states in fiscal rectitude since 2014. But the heavily pressured Chief Minister promised to work on a crop loan settlement scheme to waive interest for about 30 per cent of farmers, which would cost the exchequer around Rs 2000 crore. The government is also preparing a ‘debt resolution scheme’ to mitigate pressure on loan defaulters, along with a price stabilisation fund of Rs 1000 crore, which will help farmers get the exact cost of their produce.

According to the National Crime Records Bureau, between February 2016 and mid-February 2017, around 1,982 farmers and farm labourers committed suicide in the State. Most deaths were attributed to inability to pay off debts taken from private moneylenders on high rates of interest. The usurious practice of private moneylenders was also behind a spate of suicides in Maharashtra some years ago.

Under Chouhan, Madhya Pradesh became the fourth-largest vegetable producer in the country (14.2 million tonnes in 2013-14), and horticulture production rose 69 per cent between 2006-07 and 2014-15. But the absence of adequate storage and processing facilities has proved a dampener; these will now have to be prioritised as 33 per cent of onion procured by the government reportedly rotted due to inadequate storage facilities.

It is unfortunate that the State’s second consecutive bumper onion harvest saw prices crash to Rs 2 to 3 per kg; this was later fixed at Rs 8 per kg. Chouhan has also announced the new procurement price of moong dal (Rs 5,225/quintal), tuar and urad (Rs 5,050/quintal), to be purchased between June 10 and 30. Amidst a slew of sops, he declared that purchase of farm produce below the centrally announced minimum support price would be considered a crime.

While just, the demand for remunerative prices is part of a larger national paradigm of immediate and adequate storage of produce so that the harvest of one region can be duly absorbed by a national market and bumper crops yield bounteous profits and not crash prices.

Despite three years of sustained efforts in agriculture by the Modi government, much remains to be done. One goal must be to reduce chemical inputs in agriculture to improve its nutritional status, as exhorted by late Anil Madhav Dave at the Vichar Kumbh (Indore, May 2016) that coincided with the Kumbh Mela at Ujjain. Speakers at the gathering made a passionate plea for reviving natural farming methods. – Vijayvaani, 13 June 2017

Rahul Gandhi arrested in Mandsaur

Shakuntala Khatik instigates mob to burn down police station

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