Rajasthan Polls: Raje Govt’s Jumlas Have Driven Farmers to Despair
Voters wonder if any leader will show the courage to turn the dream of ‘acche din’ for farmers into reality.
Days before Rajasthan votes, farmers are hitting the headlines and seem set to bang on the doors of the Indian Parliament. It’s a reflection of the depth of the agrarian crisis and the growing anger of farmers.
The key question is – how serious is the farmers’ plight in Rajasthan and will this issue impact the polls in the desert state? As in most parts of the country, farmers in Rajasthan are now restless and angry.
Broken promises have sharply intensified their despair. In 2013, before the Raje government swept to power, the BJP manifesto promised loans to farmers at 1 percent interest rate – a promise that’s yet to be fulfilled.
Early Signs of Restlessness
A few months later, Narendra Modi thrilled farmers by promising that if he was voted to power, they would earn “a minimum of 50 percent profits over the cost of production”. This implied that for every Rs 100 spent on farming, farmers would earn a minimum Rs 150.
But in response to a PIL filed in 2015, the Modi government confessed in court that implementing this promise was unfeasible, and raising the MSP in this proportion would distort the market. Far from evolving solid policies to relieve farm distress, the ‘annadata’ (provider of food) was royally ignored.
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Soon, there were grim signs that farmers in Rajasthan were getting desperate. Early in 2015, a few farmers in the Hadoti region – the electoral ‘karm-bhoomi’ of Vasundhara Raje – committed suicide. This was alarming as it was the first time that farmers in the land of bravery were taking their lives to escape the vicious cycle of debt, drought and humiliation. Ideally, it should have led to major corrective efforts, but beyond political bickering and some palliatives, little was done to change the ground reality.
Even a slight familiarity with facts, reflects the harsh reality of farmers’ lives. The average income of a farmer across 17 states continues to be around Rs 1,700 a month.
Experts say that between 1995 and 2016, nearly 3.5 lakh farmers committed suicide; and today, a farmer ends his life every 41 minutes in India. No wonder, farmer suicides that began in Vidarbha and Andhra Pradesh have now reached Rajasthan.
‘Pick & Choose’ Nature of Loan Waiver Scheme
Farmers’ misery finally led to massive protests, especially in the Shekhawati region of north Rajasthan. With elections approaching, the Raje government announced that it would waive off all loans up to Rs 50,000 for farmers, from cooperative banks. But the scheme could not stop the wave of suicides and soon a farmer in Nagaur district committed suicide when he got a bank notice to acquire his land as he could not repay his Rs 50,000 loan.
A worried Raje government soon waived his loan, but his suicide reflected the ‘pick and choose’ nature of the loan-waiver scheme that provided limited relief to farmers.
In election season, even the Modi government announced a hike in MSP – under the 2018 budget, the government fixed MSP at 50 percent over the cost of production. But in mandis across Rajasthan, farmers complain that the hike is meaningless as their crops are simply not being procured in sufficient quantity.
“What’s the sense of increasing the MSP if there is no procurement ? Even the higher MSP does not bring any great income for us as input costs have also risen a lot,” says Moti Lal, a harassed farmer at a mandi near Jaipur. He is angry with the Raje government for having failed to procure bajra despite the Centre declaring an MSP of Rs 1,950 per quintal.
Effects of Note Ban on Farmers
In Raje’s own bastion of Hadoti region, garlic has turned pungent for farmers as prices crashed in the summer of 2018. While the procurement price for garlic under the state government’s market intervention scheme (MIS) is Rs 3,257 per quintal, barely 20 percent of the over 7 lakh tonnes of garlic produced in the Hadoti region, was actually procured. The crisis led to five suicides by garlic farmers this year, and farmers and farm bodies across the state are sullen and angry.
Significantly, a recent report by the agriculture ministry admits that the note ban in 2016 badly affected countless farmers. The report on the effects of demonetisation, submitted to a parliamentary committee, says that millions of small farmers were not able to even purchase seeds and fertilisers for sowing in the next ‘rabi’ season.
No wonder, experts have calculated that farm growth under the Modi government has been far less than the average under the UPA era.
India Needs a Green Revolution
If the prime minister’s 2017 promise of doubling farmers’ income in five years is to be met, India needs a new ‘Green Revolution’.
It’s doubtful if our agricultural crisis and farmer distress can be resolved by ‘discovering’ the endless virtues of gobar, gau mutra and Vedic agriculture. In fact, by following the so-called market economy and the World Bank’s reports – related to policies our leaders and bureaucrats have aggravated farmers’ plight in the past two decades.
The World Bank-directed plan, adopted in 1996 to move 400 million people from villages to cities in 20 years, has crippled the foundations of India’s farms and farmers. Our politicians get away with lots of poll promises, but provide little relief for farmers.
No wonder, the Congress and the BJP both have promised to waive off farmer loans in election season in Rajasthan.
But neither has any plans to pursue modern economics or link agriculture to markets; and investing in tools like food processing units, retail chains or improving storage facilities to forge this link remain an elusive agenda.
The Way Forward
Inevitably, Rabindranath Tagore's view still reflects a harsh truth, “Food is a source of great wealth. Food production is a source of endless misery”. Instead of poll promises and jumlas, the need of the hour is, to evolve concrete policies to mitigate farmers' crisis.
As the election battle ignites heated passions and huge promises on agrarian issues, voters wonder if any leader will show the courage to turn the dream of 'acche din’ for farmers into concrete reality.
(The author is a veteran journalist, and expert on Rajasthan politics, who served as a Resident Editor at NDTV. He is currently a professor of journalism at the University of Rajasthan, and head of department of mass communication. He tweets at @rajanmahan. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)
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