Editor : Satish Ohri    Edition : Jan - Feb 2019

Whither Jai Kisan

There was a time when India wholeheartedly reverberated to the slogan of ‘Jai Kisan’ in acknowledgement of the country’s debt to the farmer for feeding the teeming millions. It used to be raised along with ‘Jai Jawan’ slogan in honour of the soldiers who guard our frontiers and make the country safe and secure from foreign invasion. But let us keep the Jawan (soldier) out for the present because the debate is about the farmer the majority of whomlives in distress. The farmer continues to feed the nation, only his plight has become more pitiable than ever before. People defending the right of farmers to their land become suspects in the eyes of the law and their patriotism is questioned. As for the country’s indebtedness to the farmer, what can be said when the mainstream media by and large underplayed the protests and the march of farmers who had arrived in Delhi from various parts of the country and the government responded with silence or gave out some clichéd explanations with plenty of whataboutery. Instead of ‘Jai Kisan’ what is heard these days is a crescendo of slogans which aim at denigrating rivals, castes, communities, religion and so forth. The new political slogans, at their loudest during election time, do not contribute to the wellbeing of the people though they do help mobilise people to serve certain political ends. The idea behind the ‘Jai Kisan’, coined at a time when the nation was going through a food and other crisis, was to express solidarity with the Kisan (farmers). Despite all that jazz about the express speed of India’s progress which is supposed to be inching towards the top rankings, the hard fact is that India remains an agriculture economy—and poor. Well over 60 per cent of the population lives in villages where farming is the main preoccupation; most farmers living on bare subsistence level. For the past several years, there has been a disturbing reoccurrence of farmers committing suicide, largely because they were not in a position to repay the loans they had taken toplough their meager landholdings. What is demonstrates very clearly is that the farmers have not been earning enough to pay for even the input costs of their crops. In fact, during the last Lok Sabha polls, farmers’ suicide was among the more prominent issues to figure in campaigns by the Opposition parties, particularly by today’s ruling party. While the government of the day was blamed squarely for the suicides the Opposition parties had promised in their manifestos and campaign speeches to fix all the problems of the farmers when they came to power. In the last four and half years the number of farmers’ committing suicide has gone up and so has the agrarian crisis. It is indicated by the frequency of farmers’ march. By November, there had been two such marches to Delhi in as many months. Though Opposition parties lent their support to the protesting farmers, their marches have been organised by apolitical organisations. The one in Delhi in November was supported by 200 organisations. The Opposition may have political motives behind its support to the farmers but that cannot be decried. However, all the political parties need to understand that they have to be serious in taking up the farmers’ cause which basically amounts to assurance of better returns so that farming does not become a liability and a crushing financial burden. Former prime minister, H.D. Deve Gowada, born into a farmer’s family, made an interesting point at the farmers’ rally in Delhi in November. He wondered why cannot the government work for ‘easy of farming’ when it devotes so much time and attention to ‘easy of doing business’. Narendra Modi has promised to double the farmers’ income by 2022. Unfortunately, it is less likely to be achieved and may end up as another ‘jumla’. The farming sector has to progress at double the present rate. It also means that farmers will not have to take their lives; they will have to get better returns. All political parties promise loan waiver to farmers though on coming to power they sometimes develop cold feet. It is said that from the point of economy, waiving the farmers’ loan is not really good. All political parties also promise higher ‘support price’ which perhaps needs to be defined more clearly. It makes little sense when ‘support price’ is found inadequate and the states are unable to lift the farmers’ produce adequately.

The cycle of drought and floods does cause havoc to farming. But the crisis is triggered more by inadequate or low prices for the produce. Middlemen and traders’ cartels exploit the farmers because of the states’ incapacity to procure adequate stocks, barriers to inter-state movement of food grain and export bans etc. A question has been asked if the government can raise fuel tax to keep up with the rise in the crude price in the global market, why the farmers cannot be similarly compensated. A counter question will be that there are also big farmers who will benefit immensely when they actually do not need much help from the state in the first place. That may be correct but the majority of Indian farmers have small and uneconomic holdings. Talking of big farmers here will be diversion because then it may also be asked why they have been kept out of the tax net so far? The country should consider itself lucky that despite the widespread distress among the farmers which is turning into rage, protests by thousands of them, men and women, have been by and large peaceful and non-violent. In recent years, only one at Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh had ended with police firing and deaths which may well take its toll on the tally of the ruling party at the hustings. What the farmers demand is their right; they are not begging for favours. It is deplorable that while the government moves quickly to write off huge loans of ‘willful defaulters’ or those who are in a position to pay, itis slow to address the loan default and other problems of farmers. Why cannot the government provide more funds for strengthening the official machinery for adequate off take of farmers’ produce, improving irrigation facilities, providing basic inputs etc? Help to farmers is to help feed the 1.3 billion people of the nation. There is something wrong when the failure or reluctance to meet the farmers’ demands or solve their problems stands in contrast with the rulers’ obsession with narrow ideological and religious issues that far from helping or strengthening the nation actually weaken it.

-Our Special Correspondent

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