Most farmes are born into debt, live in debt and die in debt. And yet election after election, it’s the farmer that every single political party homes in on as its major vote bank. The ruling party allocates sops such as a higher support price for his produce. The opposition taps into agrarian distress to garner votes and dislodge the ruling party. The farmer, a mere pawn in the hands of political parties. That’s the scenario in poll-bound Karnataka, where PM Modi marked the 75th birthday of his chief ministerial nominee B.S.Yeddyurappa at a farmers event where the BJP leader sported the mandatory green shawl and was gifted a plough on a stage decked with agricultural produce. BSY claims to speak on behalf of the 75 lakh farming community in the state of whom at least 2,525 debt-ridden farmers have taken their own lives, as does CM Siddaramaiah. In reality, SHYAM SUNDAR VATTAM explains how ragged that green tag has become as farmers seek to regain their once powerful political voice
In the eighties, the farmers' movement in Karnataka came into its own, with the launch of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha by Prof M D Nanjundaswamy (MDN), Mr Babagouda Patil, Mr K S Puttanaiah, Mr Sundaresh and Mr Srinivas, with the KRRS fast becoming the forum that put farmers interest front and centre.
The movement was so powerful that they took on the then Congress government led by CM R. Gundu Rao and successfully dislodged his dispensation when police firing on agitating farmers led to a number of casualties. Mirroring the powerful farmers movement in Uttar Pradesh led by Mahendra Singh Tikait, the legendary 'Prof MDN' and others came to call the shots here too. One call from Prof MDN would shut down the busy Bengaluru-Mysore Highway from dawn to dusk. The signs put up by Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha banning the visit of recovery officers from banks and corrupt politicians into villages, bore testimony to the strength of the peasant movement in Karnataka.
But the movement lost its momentum, with the farmers agitation losing ground with the demise of Prof MDN and Mr Sundaresh, and a vertical split in KRRS with Mr Babagouda Patil severing his ties with the organisation and joining the Bharathiya Janata Party (BJP), and the subsequent split in the KRRS when Mr K S Puttanaiah parted ways with the group due to conflict of interests to launch his own organisation. Though, efforts were made to patch up differences among the various farmers' organisations, the movement never regained its early punch.
In the absence of apolitical leaders like Prof MDN, disinclined to join politics, the farmers' organisations became directionless as its cadres were drawn into politics. Political leaders who had stayed away from expounding farmers' issues, knowing they would be called to account by Prof MDN and his ilk for their empty talk now donned the role of saviours of farmers despite doing little for their welfare. Farmers' issue became an all too convenient poll plank with netas paying lip sympathy. Governments changed but farmers continued to stay at the bottom of the food chain in more ways than one.
Mr Chamarasa Mali Patil, a noted KRRS leader of north Karnataka and a close associate of Prof MDN, however refutes the charge that the farmers movement died in Karnataka, saying instead that it has only lain dormant, and the movement that had shaken many governments in the past, may no longer take a backseat. The sudden death of renowned farmer leader and Melukote MLA, Mr Puttanaiah this February is no doubt a blow, farmers concede, but at the same time, the green shoots of a fresh beginning which seeks to bring all committed leaders under one umbrella is already underway.
While the current grouping has neither the muscle nor the power it once had in the eighties and nineties, the KRRS (sangha) has plans to reinvent itself as a political movement under the aegis of 'Swaraj India' and field candidates in all the seats where the sangha was strong. Their goal is to have at least 20-25 farmers' representatives in the 224 member State Legislative Assembly. Mr Yogendra Yadav, a noted political scientist will be coming to Karnataka on March 9 and 10 to discuss the fielding of candidates under the 'Swaraj India' forum in the coming Assembly polls, allowing the KRRS to retain its apolitical tag and keep its focus on farmers' issues.
For- APC, a toothless body, say farmer leaders
Taking on the incumbent government, Mr Patil said the Agriculture Price Commission set up by the State government was a "toothless' body with no powers to implement its own plans".
"Even introduction of online trading of agricultural commodities at all APMCs across the State, is a sham with number of loopholes," he said, adding that traders persuade farmers from online trading by offering an additional Rs 150 or Rs 200 per quintal. Naturally, farmers who require money on the spot, approach the middlemen. "Our sangha is taking representatives from national media to select APMCs in north Karnataka to show this online trading is anti-farmer. Both state and union governments talk at length about farmers' welfare but in reality they help capitalists. Even 'Krishi Honda' (agriculture pond) is a scheme to hoodwink farmers. We are going to expose all this in the coming days."
Against- APC: Implement our recommendations
Reacting to comments that Agriculture Price Commission had failed to solve farmers problems, Mr T Prakash, chairman of the commission said it was the first experiment conducted by state government to help farmers. There was no rule that all recommendations made by the commission must be accepted by government or reject all of them. In fact, price fixation was controlled by both state and union governments but the commission was still fighting for the cause of farmers. After field studies and interaction with all stakeholders, they want the government to accord a statutory body status to the commission, earmarking Rs 3,000 crore as Price Stability Fund, starting a pulse board on the lines of Karnataka Milk Federation exclusively for pulses and including jawar and tur dal under PDS. Tomato and onion could be purchased directly from farmers by bringing it under MSP and use it in food security programmes like Indira Canteens and mid-day meal scheme. Implementation of all these recommendations will help improve economy of farmers as well as check farmers' suicide.