Agriculture distress sweeping through the country was the major factor in deciding the fate of the governments in five states where election results were declared yesterday, and if it is not addressed, it will have a huge impact in the general elections scheduled next year.
The BJP lost in Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, and suffered heavy losses in Madhya Pradesh, where, at the time of writing this article, it appeared the state was headed for a hung assembly. It is significant to note that in the three states, the farmers have been up in arms against the government for the last few years.
In Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district, five protesting farmers were killed in the police firing in June last year, and one was beaten to death. In all the three states, the police slapped hundreds of cases against the farmers who were just fighting for the minimum support price.
Continuing with Madhya Pradesh, the government came out with a ‘Bhavantar’ scheme in which the chief minister, Shivraj Singh Chauhan, claimed that the difference in the minimum support price and the market price of the produce will be directly transferred to the farmers’ bank accounts. But that did not happen because of the many conditions imposed by the government.
One of the conditions required the farmers to register themselves in the mandis even before the harvest. And the government did not even purchase the full produce. For instance, the average produce of maize was 60 quintals per hectare but the government only purchased 19 quintals per hectare. The average market price per quintal of maize was Rs 600 to Rs 800 and the minimum selling price was Rs 1,425 per quintal, but the total difference wasn’t paid. The promises made in the Bhavantar scheme weren’t realised on the ground.
Similarly, the prime minister’s crop insurance scheme failed miserably, leaving the farmers absolutely convinced that they haven’t got any crop insurance for the last four-anda-half years. However, the farmers in poll-bound states did get some benefits but the number remained at 25%, making it amply clear that the scheme was merely a poll gimmick.
In the last one month, farmers are being paid 50 paise for a kg of cabbage, onions, and tomatoes. Last year, they were paid Rs 2.5 lakh per truck of these produces (18-20 tonnes) and this year, they got a measly Rs 5,000 to Rs 8,000 per truck. This year the average income of the farmers has dropped to Rs 1,700 per month, and it is a no-brainer that the anger has been directed towards the party ruling at the Centre.
In Chhattisgarh where the BJP was routed, the Congress had assured the farmers that it will purchase the paddy crops at the rate of Rs 2,400 per quintal (which is the double of what the farmers were getting). Similarly, the Congress declared that within ten days of coming to power in the state, farm loans of Rs 2 lakh and less will be waived off.
Going back to the Mandsaur police firing, what it did was bring together an alliance of 208 farmer organisations under the banner of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee. The farmers took out Kisan Mukti rallies in 19 states, covering 10,000 km, they organised a Kisan Mukti Sansad in Delhi on November 21-22, and held more than 500 Kisan Mukti conferences all over the country. And the last but not the least: the Kisan march on November 29-30 in Delhi demanding a special session of the Parliament to pass two Bills – waiving of loans and guaranteeing purchase of produce at minimum support price.
This march drew the support of 21 opposition parties. During the elections, on the one hand where there was frustration among the farmers, the support by major opposition parties created a hope. That is why they voted for ‘parivartan’.
The message to the Centre is clear: The farmers, for the first time in the country’s history, have come together to challenge the Centre. The PM may have gauged the unrest on the ground against the government which probably prompted him to address the issue of minimum support price in his recent poll speeches, but it was too late. And what he offered in return was too little.
— The writer is the president of the Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, and a two-time MLA from MP’s Multai