Tens of thousands of farmers, from practically every corner of India, marched on the streets of New Delhi on Friday to highlight the very difficult conditions of their lives, and to underscore that the crisis in Indian agriculture is for real, but the government wasn’t listening.
No official functionary came forward to formally take note of the agriculturists’ demands or offer assurances in any form, once again underlining that the country’s policy-making elite do not really include agriculture in their overall calculus in any dynamic manner, ready to look at structural questions and make the necessary adjustments for unfavourable events that impact output and incomes.
This makes the 60 per cent of the population that resides in the rural areas a mass to be remembered only at election time, and even then to be appealed to principally in the name of caste or religion. Promises regarding livelihood betterment are made during elections but seldom kept.
In 2014, the BJP and its candidate for Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, promised the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations, the principal of which is that prices of agricultural commodities should be set 50 per cent higher than the comprehensive cost of production.
First the Narendra Modi government told the Supreme Court it was unable to do this. Next it publicly claimed it had met its promise. But farmers complain that even partial announcements made lie unimplemented. In the absence of irrigation and other infrastructural budgetary outlays, the commitment of the Modi government in Parliament and outside to double farm incomes by 2022 is so obviously a “chunavi jumla”, or enticing statement to catch votes, an expression given currency by BJP president Amit Shah.
In the last year and a half, batches of farmers have arrived in the nation’s capital as many as four times to draw the attention of Parliament and the government to the crisis in agriculture and to the miserable lives they lead. So serious has become the suicide rate among farmers that the National Crime Records Bureau has, since 2016, stopped issuing suicide statistics for this category.
Given the magnitude of the crisis, the farmers who sought to address Parliament earlier this week have demanded a three-week special session of Parliament to discuss the farm sector threadbare and arrive at key policy recommendations. Whether this is done or not, it is evident that indifference is no longer an option. Higher farm prices and freedom from indebtedness, which leads to suicide, through a one-time loan waiver has become inescapable.
Key Opposition parties, including the Congress, joined the farmers in protest, trying to set the stage for the next Lok Sabha election. But let them make a small beginning from the states they administer....