The Opposition needs to make good on this non-partisan issue if it wants to rein in BJP in 2019
The farmers’ agitation in Delhi galvanised what seemed amorphous and truth be told a bit incredulous, that of Opposition unity, riven as it is by conflicting ground realities, ideological positions and most importantly the mutual “otherness” of parties in the States. It presented a non-partisan plank and an expedient adhesive given the fact that farmers, who have been agitating in several States in isolation, coalesced in Delhi on their own muscle. The mahagatbandhan aspirants would have been foolish to not seize the opportunity for reviving their prospects, especially after they failed to generate a similar momentum post demonetisation. The optics of farm widows carrying photos of their husbands who committed suicide, some from Telangana carrying skeletons even, and the long march of justice seekers from the far-flung Sundarbans delta stoked nationwide empathy. Members of civil society, like doctors, professionals and students, joined their ranks and volunteered services. Some farmers even walked in their traditional attire, an assertion of their identity and right to survive their way. For the first time, farm distress presented itself as a cogent counterpoint and deterrent to the BJP juggernaut for the 2019 election. So Opposition heavyweights, like Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, former Union Ministers Sharad Pawar, Farooq Abdullah and Sharad Yadav and the Left, cottoned on to the protest desperately. Gandhi, apart from promising loan waiver within 10 days if his party came to power in poll-bound States, also linked it to the Rafale deal, which he has been desperately trying to convert to an emotional issue, asking why the money advantages given to an Indian firm could not be extended to farmers too. The Left and Farooq Abdullah brought in Ram temple, saying that it was a diversionary tactic from the deep agrarian crisis. Significantly, Abdullah used the dais to articulate loudly that Muslims weren’t against the temple but objected to it being used as a polarising tool. However, the SP and BSP were conspicuous by their absence, perhaps because they did not want to be seen sharing a platform with the Congress while assiduously insisting their alliance would be without it. A reminder to Congress to drop egos for a workable cause. The BJP, which kept a studied distance from the rally, has some introspection to do regardless of the state election results. Madhya Pradesh was enough warning that despite favourable monsoon and high yields, farmers’ debt and suicide were pressing issues. It may want to play to its core temple supporters ahead of Kumbh but cannot afford to ignore farmers, who form a significant part of its voter base, even if the party disregards them as its mainstay. Prime Minister Modi’s pro-kisan speeches then would sound hollower in comparison and as worthy as a promisory note. Also the BJP would do well to remember that this is an egalitarian challenge that is welling bottom-up and not top-down and it would be foolish to ignore its grassroots appeal.
Finally, all parties need to work on a holistic solution than mouthing platitudes. Short-term bursts of loan waivers will simply not do till we figure out that our farmers can recover costs and earn enough revenue and yields to sustain what can at best be a jumpstart option. The Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations, at least the key guarantee to ensure farmers a minimum of 50 per cent profits over the cost of production, need to get going. We need to prioritise farmers’ control over resources, primarily land, water, insurance, knowledge management and markets. A deeper look has to be taken at crop technology, cycles, type and rotation to build climate resistance. Besides, there must be an industry-scale linking of procurement, distribution, warehousing and processing. A revolutionary moment is not enough, what’s needed is revolutionary thinking if we are ever to rid ourselves of agrarian distress.
Writer & Courtesy: The Pioneer