The farmers’ agitation in western Madhya Pradesh has grabbed nationwide attention after six people were killed in police firing at Pipiliya Mandi, 20 km from Mandsaur town, on June 6. This was unfortunate, but the firing wasn’t the trigger for the violence, it was the other way around. The violence started earlier, with the agitation infiltrated by anti-national forces. Acts of hooliganism were visible from day one. The mandis were forcibly occupied, and trucks carrying milk, foodgrain and vegetables seized, and the cargo thrown on the roads. This created an extreme shortage of edible items, with children unable to get milk.
Even if the protest was for a just cause, the methods were unacceptable. These provocative tactics may have led to the firing tragedy. The policemen responsible will be punished if found guilty, but the onus of keeping an agitation orderly and peaceful is primarily on its organisers.
Dilip Mishra, a Congress office-bearer, is seen in a video threatening that farmers would return bullets for bullets. In another video that went viral earlier, Shakuntala Khatik, Congress MLA from Karera, was seen instigating a crowd to set a police station on fire. The Congress seems to be desperate to secure a foothold in the space it has lost. Except Karnataka, it’s not in power in any major state. Its planks like “intolerance”, “anti-demonetisation” or “beef ban” have failed, so it was quick to seize on the farmers’ agitation. Its script seems predetermined. Immediately after the firing, it sought the CM’s resignation.
It seems to have forgotten Madhya Pradesh had seen an unprecedented jump in agriculture in the past decade, with 20 per cent growth in the last five years, almost five times the national average. The Congress left Madhya Pradesh in shambles, and the BJP government inherited negative growth in agriculture. But the CM, who proudly calls himself a “Kisan Putra”, has turned it around. Under him, the state has shed its “Bimaru” tag.
Madhya Pradesh has emerged as India’s new rice bowl. Its 2018 Vision Document plans to raise the irrigated area to 33 lakh hectares. The agitators were troubled by demand side problems, not supply side ones. Prices crashed due to the bumper harvest of tomato and onions. These perishable items are not procured by governments anywhere. We need more cold storage chains and food processing units to remedy this.
This time it wasn’t the field but the mart. That explains why the agitators tried to choke the market. In contrast, the January 1998 Betul agitation, during Congress rule, was about compensation for damaged crops. The centre of protest was the tehsil office at Multai in Betul district. Digvijay Singh was chief minister. There was police firing on January 12, 1998 that claimed 24 lives. No major Congress leader visited the victims’ families, instead the Digvijay government filed a large number of cases against Sunil Mishra, the leader seen close to George Fernandes.
Agriculture remains highly regulated in India. A proper balance between free choice for farmers and state intervention is in the realm of policymaking. The Narendra Modi government has taken measures to address both supply and demand side problems. An huge Rs 48,572 crore was allocated for agriculture in FY 2016-17. The National Agricultural Market Portal (eNam) has been launched, which networks APMC mandis to create a national market for agricultural commodities through a mobile app and a website. Till March 31, 417 mandis in 10 states were linked. Loan waivers aren’t a permanent solution. While India is self-sufficient today in food, the woes of farmers haven’t ended. The 1960s’ Green Revolution wasn’t technology alone; as PL-480 wheat imports were reduced, farmers produced more.
Several factors must be perfected for agriculture, like certified seeds, appropriate soil, proper nutrition, power supply, irrigation, etc. The Modi government is treating farmers’ welfare on an equal footing with agricultural growth. The Congress seems unable to accept that a person of humble origin has risen to be a popular PM. It is adopting 3D strategy — Disrupt (Parliament and government work), Disinform (false propaganda) and Defame (give the PM a bad name). Such tactics won’t work. Let’s treat agriculture as a non-partisan issue than a political squabble.