Farmers’ protest and Opposition unity

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“All you need is the plan, the road map, and the courage to press on to your destination.”

– Earl Nightingale


 Thousands of farmers demanding better prices for their produce marched in the heart of the national capital on Friday, an event that culminated in top opposition leaders, including Congress president Rahul Gandhi, sharing the stage with protesters and launching a united attack on the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government over agrarian distress. People of Delhi witnessed an unprecedented rally. The coming together of 23 opposition parties in support of farmers coincided with assembly elections in five states at a time when rural distress — a result mainly of unremunerative prices of farm commodities and adverse weather events — has moved to the centre stage of political discourse. With elections for five State Assemblies under way, and the Lok Sabha election just about six months later, farmers’ issues are bound to further dominate politics. It also set the stage for a key meeting on December 10, when the opposition is expected to chalk out a strategy to fight the 2019 Lok Sabha elections against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The speeches were expectedly political. For the most part of their allotted talk time, leaders attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi, vowing to remove him in 2019. Every leader had one single prescription — according to them, the ouster of Narendra Modi is the panacea for all ills plaguing the country at the moment. The podium itself resembled a popular front against the BJP. The speeches were all primarily political and in sum it was a BJP hatao rally. If there was any mention of ways to alleviate the woes of farmers, other than the perennial demand for loan waivers and higher procurement price (MSP) of the state, one missed it.

The agitating farmers sought a special 21-day Parliament session to discuss the crisis in India’s agrarian economy. Their key demands included an unqualified loan waiver to mitigate indebtedness levels in farm households and better remuneration for their produce instead of promises on paper of high minimum support prices. The images of starvation and stories of farmer suicides are heart-wrenching. Protestors holding skulls of dead farmers at the rally make everyone’s head go down in shame. The basic issue of farm income and agricultural productivity remain unaddressed. There is no denying that Modi did make some tentative beginnings, with crop insurance, neem-quoted urea, and soil health cards, for instance. But apart from the PM Fasal Bima Yojana, none of the others had any significant visible impact. As a result, it finds itself against the wall in election season. In the past BJP did feel the heat in many states on the farm front and offered half-hearted, partial and scattered election-eve loan waivers in election-bound States even while adamantly refusing to consider an all-India loan waiver.

Elimination of middle-men and reducing transit wastage too need to be looked into, to make farmers’ lives better. It would sound illogical if one really blames the Opposition for seizing the opportunity. It is politically expedient to turn rural distress into ire against the government. But solution to the distress the farmer’s are going through remained a distant dream. And farmers become useful tool during election time.

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