Security forces are holding back thousands of farmers who have gathered on the outskirts of Delhi from entering the city. Barricades have been set up to block their way and roads have turned into war zones.
Tear-gas has been used against the farmers and many of them have been hurt in the lathi-charge. It is not clear how the hurt farmers are being provided medical assistance.
What do the farmers want? And why is Delhi afraid of them?
Delhi & the Farmer
The government in Delhi is apprehensive that, if allowed, the farmers will walk on the well-paved roads of Delhi under the beautiful Fall foliage. The elderly among them might even decide to rest under the trees and mess up the aesthetics of the Capital. They might even bring the dirt of their agricultural fields to the fashionable spots of Delhi, and who knows; some of them might even end up in Khan Market. Such crisis must be checked with alacrity and efficiency.
On the other hand, the farmer’s life is dependent on whether Delhi accepts their demands. They want better prices for their produce; the Minimum Support Price (MSP) declared in July 2018 falls short by approximately 40 percent.
The demand for C2 + FL (comprehensive cost, includes rent and interest on owned land plus imputed value of family labour) in place of A2 + FL (actual cost plus imputed value of family labour) is therefore a valid demand.
Demand for loan waivers and free power may not find resonance with neo-liberals who will turn a blind eye to the fact that between industry and services, they account for 86 percent of non-performing assets (NPAs), as per the Anand Rathi report.
A Spectre Is Haunting Delhi
But the spectre of farmers at South Block might be disturbing to those in power. PM Modi did not even once mention in his speech on 2 October 2018 at the Rashtrapati Bhavan to commemorate the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who was a farmer himself.
The farmers are demanding employment for a family member of any farmer who commits suicide.
According to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), 3.2 lakh farmers have committed suicide between 1995-2015.
This has certainly reached epidemic proportions. Instead of methodologically reducing farm suicide numbers by a statistical sleight of hand, why does the state not evolve a coherent policy to end farm suicides?
Then there is the danger that the farmers might block traffic and throw daily life into a tizzy. The government wants people to get to their offices so that the economy functions. Businesses of the state and industry lose if roads are blocked, and that’s why the assembly line of men and women must reach the ‘production’ facilities. This is non-negotiable; after all, political funding has a personal relationship with deep pockets.
Slogans and acronyms on farmer-friendly policies can only be a fig leaf for a government that is, in fact, passionately and avowedly corporate-friendly.
The astounding data of Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana shows nearly half of the increased gross direct premium of insurance companies came from crop insurance.
In 2017-18, insurance companies have collected Rs 24,450 crores in premiums, while only Rs 402 crore rupees have been paid to farmers in claims.
Ministers, MLAs, MPs Get Benefits. Why Not Farmers?
The government in Delhi is also scared that the farmers, if allowed to reach Rajghat, may end up actually resembling the Mahatma’s non-violent soldiers fighting homegrown neo-colonials. Farmers demand that a pension system for farmers over 60 years of age, like there is for ministers, MLAs, MPs, soldiers, bureaucrats, post-retirement. Why shouldn’t a farmer get the same benefit?
Even the silence of the Mahatma at Rajghat will speak more than the speeches of the phony interlopers of his legacy.
All demands of the farmers will have to be personally addressed by the government. The ministers may have to make time in their busy daily schedule, probably shift the meeting with the international delegation to the evening, and meet the farmers instead. Then the government will promise to ‘look into the farmers’ demands,’ serve tepid tea in indifferent sarkari cups and end the meeting. Nothing will come out of the meeting, especially when the farmers ask for relief from GST.
12 percent GST on farm machinery and 28 percent on agricultural equipment has a crippling effect on a sector that constitutes over 16 percent of the GDP. But will Delhi listen to the farmers?
What Delhi Wants – Just Vote – from a Distance
Even the farmers would know that nothing will improve their lives, and nothing will stop farmer suicides. The farmers, especially, would know that the government in Delhi does not care. It never did. And that is the fear of the government in Delhi. That, perhaps, it has filled the villages with darkness because of its obsession with making the cities shine. That, maybe, now that darkness has surrounded Delhi and wants to cover Rajpath as well.
The power centres of Delhi expect that the unrepresented will remain in the shadows of our desperate villages and never demand their rights.
‘Please vote’, the politicians insist; that is the best way to show the anger, the desire for change. ‘Please vote’, they say, because that is the best way to be heard in Delhi.
The fact is; ‘please vote,’ because the government in Delhi doesn’t want to see, hear or know the masses that are being stopped on its outskirts. Do not come into the beautiful cities, don’t walk into the gleaming bazaars, don’t disrupt PM speeches. Just vote from a distance. And wait.
Well, no more.
(Kota Neelima is an author and researcher. Her latest book is ‘Widows of Vidarbha: Making of Shadows’ by Oxford University Press, 2018. She tweets at @KotaNeelima. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)