The 50,000 farmers mobilized by the Bharatiya Kisan Union from western U.P. succeeded in their mission to enter the Union Capital and rushed back home soon after midnight of October 3-4; they tried to make the point in the dramatic way that they are in distress.
In an effort to try to assuage their distress and give them hope, the Union Government announced on October 3 that the minimum support price for six winter sown or ‘rabi’ crops had been increased up to 21 per cent, including of 6 per cent in the MSP of wheat to Rs. 1,840 per quintal (100 kg) for the 2018-19 season. Is it an eye wash or something concrete?
However, the farmers withdrew from Delhi faster than the time they took ~ almost six days ~ to reach Delhi from Haridwar. Their intention was apparently to show that they are barely alive even as they are dying or fasting and being hit by cow vigilantes and upper caste people. Vigilantes are alleged to be harassing them even as frontal saffron groups torment them day and night.
They did not wish to clash with the law enforcement authorities even as they were greeted by showers of police water cannons or tear-gas. They did not wish to be caned, nor did they wish to break the law beyond the insufferable point. Will they continue their protests now and again when Parliament resumes its sittings for the winter session in November, just a month away? Time will tell. The government tried to meet their demand for fair prices for their produce but will they be really paid? Just now it is sugarcane at stake. The crunch comes with the paddy crop within weeks as rice is the staple diet of most of India, though wheat and lentils (roti and ‘dal’) plus potatoes have been the prime food in northern India; it is spreading east, west and south as the first and second choice, even as the number of meat and fish eaters as milk and poultry consumers increase by the day.
The authorities feel harassed, yet the farmers say they are even more harassed and get hit by cow vigilantes and other tormenters. Both sides are playing the cat and mouse game relentlessly as they make their brownie points. Whatever the farmers get from the authorities in the public and private sectors is believed to be a pittance, far below the cost price? Is it 50 or 150 per cent above the cost price? Who fixes and calculates the cost price? Is it the farmers, the government or market forces? The second and third categories call the shots as they pay what they lay down as the right price or even less. The farmers feel let down. They are at the receiving end because might is right for those who hold the purse strings.
The market forces, the moneylenders or the big zamindars or the talukdars have the muscle and even muscle men; the farmers say they are stuck up in their small and unviable farms; they are cheated when a glut of farm produce pushes them at the feet and mercy of the forces that call the shots; they have only to bend and yield to the people with cash. The farmers insist they have few rights and the opposite side seeks to crush them.
At the apex is the Dilli Durbar and at the regional level, it is the State Government: in the most recent protest, they targeted the nearly clean shaven saffron-robed and dimunitive Yogi Aditya Nath, who is basking in the glory of his rule over the largest State of India with a population of 225 or 250 million people. He is ever smiling from ear to ear. His hubris rests in Lucknow, but his power spreads from Muzaffarnagar in western U.P. to eastern U.P., with his personal temple kingdom as the Mahant of a huge and rich temple complex in Gorakhpur; and his writ runs over most of the Ganga belt and cow belt in the Hindi heartland. He is full of bluff and bluster. He does not boast of a 56 or 66 or 76 inches wide chest, he is pleased with his own appearance and ruddy cheeks. He is almost done with his first year in office as Chief Minister; for the remaining four years, he has no fears about a downturn in his fortunes, with Modi and Amit Shah protecting him.
Quartz website sent reporters to speak to a few farmers who tell their tales of woe. Forty-eight years old Nripjeet Singh from Bhuk Saura village in Rampur district had “no option but to take out his three children ~19, 17, and 14~ from a local private school because he could not afford to pay their fees anymore; he has an outstanding debt of Rs. 10 lakhs. The future is grim. Last month, when he left his village to join the farmers’ rally starting from Haridwar, rains were playing havoc with his crops. He has little hope of a good yield now.
“All they have done is politics in the name of cow, cow dung, and caste”, says the farmer. He had voted for Mr. Modi and the Yogi Aditya Nath bandwagon in 2014. He is not sure which political party he will vote for. He does not trust assurances given by the government; he seeks an unconditional loan waiver, as well as minimum support prices, promised for food crops in the year 2006 and recommended by the Swaminathan Commission”.
As the protesters refused to disperse, the government relented at midnight on October 3 and let them in. The farmers then called off the protest to avert arrest, detention and caning or water canons.
Another farmer, Rathi (42), sells his sugarcane produce from his six-acre farm to the government, but he has not been paid for it. “But I have to pay interest on fertilizer or compost, pesticides and new seeds”, he says. Rathi is unable to repay his bank loan of Rs. 4 lakhs. The Government announced loan waivers of less than one rupee per head, but increased the cost of power supply, besides dearer fuel prices. He alleges that the riot police slashed the tyres of his tractor at the barricades put up at the Delhi boundary.>
Lalit Sethi is a Journalist of long standing and a commentator on Political and Social Issues.