The RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh launched protest meetings across Rajasthan on Thursday
For the BJP government in Rajasthan, trouble is brewing. And this time, it is from farmers of a body backed by the RSS, the BJP's ideological mentor. The Bharatiya Kisan Sangh on Thursday started indefinite protests across the state including a sit-in right in the heart of the capital Jaipur with a long list of demands including a loan waiver.
The move was triggered by the Vasundhara Raje Scindia government's refusal to buy mustard at a minimum support price (MSP), or a floor price. Prices of mustard in Rajasthan, the country's largest producer of mustard, plunged after a bumper crop.
This forced farmers to sell their harvest cheap to private players. It is estimated that the farmers would have got around Rs 37 for every kg if the government had procured mustard. Instead, farmers are forced to sell the oilseeds about 30 per cent cheaper, for about Rs 26 to 28 a kg.
Kailash Gandoliya of Bharatiya Kisan Sangh insists that their protests had nothing to do with politics, the Congress or the ruling BJP.
"For two years, we have been facing drought. Now that we have a good mustard crop, the rates went below the minimum support price. We asked the government to buy at the support price but they did not pick up a single quintal," he said.
The RSS' farmers' body also wants a special session of the assembly to discuss the agricultural distress and implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report set up by the Centre that said farmers should get a return of at least 1.5 times over their investment.
But farmers say they weren't even able to recover their investments.
Phool Chand Verma is one of them; he has an outstanding farm loan of Rs 1.2 lakh that he had taken for his 3-hectare plot of land. For every kilogramme of onion that he produced this season, Mr Verma told NDTV, he had invested Rs 6. "But in the mandi (farm produce markets), I am getting Rs 2 a kilo," says Phool Chand.
The farmers are demanding a loan waiver but insist that the government should take long-term measures to pull them out of agricultural distress for good. It is estimated that the number of people engaged in farming in Rajasthan has shrunk by 30 per cent over the last two decades.
"Loan waivers are not a solution. For how many years will the government waive loans? Actually the government should assure a good rate for farm produce so that we can make a profit. That is the only way to stop farmers from getting poorer each year," said Kamli Khan, a farmer from Sikar 100 km from the state capital said.
With the Sangh affiliate joining the protests, the state government is worried.
Agriculture minister Prabhu Lal Saini said the government would look into the Bhartiya Kisan Sangh's demands. "They are part of our family... Whatever can be resolved at the level of the state government, we will address," he said.
But it isn't going to be easy. In the last four years, the government says it given 53,000 crores in interest free loans. If it were to buy mustard at the floor price, it would have needed 500 crores more.