From committing suicide to opting protest, how Indian farmers transformed themselves amid existential crisis

Kolkata: The waves of farmer’s agitations across the country are beyond anything that has been seen since 80’s. India being an agrarian society with around 70% of its people depending directly or indirectly upon agriculture has started showing clear indication of discontent as neoliberal policy reforms made their situation extremely vulnerable.

The agrarian crisis that picked up pace from the late 90’s had its origin in the combination of trade liberalisation exposing cultivators to highly subsidised volatile global market prices and continued reduction in public expenditure for agriculture resulting in extreme distress migration and suicide of more than 3 lakh.

What is new this time is that we are witnessing a phase of transformation where farmers are taking the route to protest instead of suicides. Cultivators are angry upset and desperate at the same time and perhaps in recent memory facing existential crisis which is reflected in the involvement in series of protests. The spectacular Mumbai long march in the late 2018, ‘Kisan Sansad’ and huge conglomeration of workers and peasants in the national capital, ‘Kisan Mukti March’ as well as local protests in various parts have rekindled the hope of millions towards organised movements.

NDA prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi had promised to double farm income which after being elected was consciously not looked upon. The average farm income have declined drastically and worst, it has taken the most anti farmer policies ranging from tabling land acquisition bills , crop loans , enforcing debt repayments from already distressed cultivators.
Another milestone of election manifesto was implementation of ‘Swaminathan Commission’ which was never discussed along the 4 years tenure.

The most significant development that is evident from the recent political reading is that the nation is not responding to the prevailing discourse of fanatism and jumlas. These endorsed acts of hooliganism are not appealing to the people anymore like it did before. Instead huge mobilisation of people demanding basic necessities emerged. The continuous struggle of peasants and workers have paved course of transformation of priorities.

The left political forces especially the mass organisation’s like All India ‘Kisan Sabha’ and CPI-M in particular with barely significant base in recent elections have for the first time in recent memory succeeded meeting the agenda. The previous governments have ignored the basic demands but not for long and the marginalised people are making their presence felt even as those in power continue to remain mute.

The policies of Narendra Modi government which has pushed the rural economy to the extreme extent possible resulting in the wrath of farmers nationwide can be assessed;

• The new farm insurance scheme, ‘Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana’, has consumed as much money as earlier schemes without increasing the proportion of farmers benefiting from it. The promise of welfare schemes like pension for farmers and peasants was forgotten. The national land use policy was never enacted as well as The Agriculture Produce Market Committee Act (APMC) was not reformed.

• The government backed off from the biggest pre poll promise of MSP. Narendra Modi reneged on its commitment of ensuring 50% profit over the cost of production to the farmers. Moreover, in February 2015, it filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court refusing to implement this promise citing films reasons. Adding to this, the cabinet changed the definition of cost of production for purpose of calculating the Minimum Support Prices. It failed to maintain the routine annual increase in MSP. Even the much publicised hike this year is much lower than the annual increase announced by UPA in 2008. The govt’s failure to implement forced the farmers into distress sell of ‘kharif’ and ‘rabi’ crops amounting to atleast 5000 crores in 17-18 alone.

• The response to nationwide drought was extremely poor. The central response was limited to a revision in eligibility ceiling for compensation. Despite repeated push from the Supreme Court, the government didn’t take any proactive steps in terms of either declaration of drought, ration delivery or response to drinking water crisis.

• The lack of political will in implementation of Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Schemes (MNREGA) has hit the rural poor in general and farm labourers in particular. After an unsuccessful attempt to dismantle the scheme, the govt choked the fund cheating several distresses.

• Modi government’s ill advised and implemented policy of demonetization and GST dealt a severe blow to agro market just when the farmers ere recovering from drought. A sudden shrinking of cash led to demand contractions and fall in price whose effects can be felt even now. Another drastic measure of regulating livestock market and sudden violence relating to cow has disrupted livestock economy.

• The govt diluted the Forest Rights Act for the adivasi (tribal) farmers and various other environmental conservation laws in order to help the transfer of common land and resources from adivasi to industries.

The economic questions of ‘roti, kapda, makan’ were taken up by the various mass organisation’s of left and a continuous mass struggle has achieved to create an alternative discourse to the religious narrative of Hindutvaa politics. The shift of narrative is clearly reflected in the recent polls and the left is the undoubtedly responsible for the dramatic shift of political discourse.

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