I tried looking for tweets that showed solidarity with farmers in Mandsaur where five farmers were shot dead by the police on Wednesday while protesting for a loan waiver and better crop prices. This is a country to whom former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri gave the famous "Jai Jawaan, Jai Kisaan" slogan during a public rally in 1965. It was a slogan meant to resonate with an India which was fighting a war with Pakistan on one hand, and dealing with one of its worst food scarcities on the other. For Shastri, the farmer and the jawan were the two arms of a flourishing democracy called India.
In the India of 2017, the jawan is glorified by those in power, mostly for political purposes, whose martyrdom evokes national outrage on television sets. But in the same country, it took almost a week and five lives for the country and for the media to wake up to one of the worst uprisings in recent times. The unsung, unnamed kisaan of the country who finds mention in every election manifesto was left to fend for himself and had to figure out how to draw attention to his plight. Of course that has led to the usual battling for political points over a very large tragedy.
In the last two weeks, while we were busy professing nationalism over the India-Pak match and more, farmers in Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra were fighting an unpopular battle, news of which was being reported by regional newspapers.
In Mandsaur, farmers have been protesting for the last two weeks in particular for the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for their produce. MSP is the price fixed by the government to protect farmers against fluctuations in prices of crops. The farmers have also been demanding loan waivers and as many representatives of the farmers suggested on news channels, they wanted the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee be implemented.
MS Swaminathan, an agricultural scientist, recommended in 2006 that MSP for crops should be at least 50 per cent higher than their cost of production.
On expected lines, like most political parties do to make their election manifesto look lucrative, the BJP included this recommendation in its 2014 general election manifesto. But two weeks ago, in a news item that did not make headlines for its volte-face, BJP president Amit Shah said, "No government can meet the Swaminathan formula for calculating the cost of production as it includes cost of land, which is mostly inherited by farmers and whose value has gone up many folds over the years".
The interview given on the completion of three years of the Modi govt also failed to tell the country about the hidden hand of demonetization in the farmers distress.
In its monetary policy statement the RBI said, "Propelled by significantly higher arrivals in mandis relative to the seasonal pattern, prices of vegetables also fell markedly from July and bottomed out in January 2017, with fire sales during the demonetisation period accentuating the fall."
Post demonetization, farmers were being paid in cheques for their produce by WHO. The rest of the value was to be deposited in their accounts through electronic transfers. In a country where a farmer does not have access to basic electricity, forget a smartphone, the farmer and his household bled each day forcing it to take to the streets.
In parallel, farmers in Maharashtra attacked toll nakas and panchayat offices to make their voices heard. While Yogi Adityanath waived off farm loan worth rupees 36,359 crores in Uttar Pradesh to be seen as a man who meant serious business, the Maharashtra government which had looked the other way through the worst distress since 2014, has now promised a 30,000 crore waiver, making it another front runner of the mega loan-waiver tamasha whose consequences according to experts and economists will turn to be disastrous for the country.
This announcement came in the wake of the Sangharsh Yatra organized by the NCP-Congress in Maharashtra and constant agitations by Shiv Sena in the state. Fadnavis has united the opposition and many farmer's organizations because the loan waiver is restricted only to small farmers.
That this loan waiver may not be any real succor for farmers could be gauged when, within three days of Fadnavis' announcement, an unsung farmer committed suicide in Solapur. Considering the agrarian crisis and killing of farmers is finally in the news, the unsung farmer now has a name. He is Dhanaji Jadhav, who was a part of the protests in Maharashtra a week ago. He left a letter in his pocket before he killed himself, stating that his body not be cremated till the Chief minister Fadnavis visits his home and announces a loan waiver for all farmers.
Meanwhile on news channels, Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi courted arrest in Madhya Pradesh while being a part of the Mandsaur protests and the BJP spokespersons on news channels are calling the farmer agitation a political conspiracy. In between these war of words, farmers give up their lives in desperation every day.
Jai Kisaan no more.
(Rana Ayyub is an award-winning investigative journalist and political writer. She is the author of 'Gujarat Files', a book on the politics of Narendra Modi and Amit Shah in Gujarat.)
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