New Delhi: Agrarian crisis emerged as a major political concern in 2018, fuelled mainly by a fall in crop prices and a poor procurement mechanism which will provide opposition parties a common ground to rally against the BJP ahead of the next year's general elections.
The anger brewing against the perceived "anti-farm policies" of the government could be measured by the poor performance of the BJP in the rural parts of Hindi heartland states in the just-concluded Assembly elections, that saw the BJP ousted from power in all three states.
In past one year, the national capital alone saw at least five major rallies of farmers, despite the BJP-government coming up with a new price-fixation formula and a score of schemes to impress the tillers of the soil.
The police firing in Madhya Pradesh's Mandsaur last year that led to the death of six farmers, sparked agitations throughout the country over rural distress, which snowballed into a major political and social issue this year. The simmering discontent among farmers gained political traction in 2018.
Various opposition parties have been raising their voices against different issues to suit their electoral needs but they showed unanimity in expressing their solidarity with the demands for better crop remuneration and farm loan waivers during the November 30 farmers' rally in the capital.
At the same rally, Congress President Rahul Gandhi had said: "The voice that is reverberating now across the country is of the farmers who are in deep distress and crisis."
For the first time, the 2019 Lok Sabha elections will be fought on issues revolving around rural distress, said Yogendra Yadav of Swaraj India, who is credited with bringing over 200 farmers' outfits under one banner -- the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC).
"There has always been agrarian distress in the country. However, it never got an occasion to become a principal factor in the elections. The BJP's defeat in the Assembly polls, coupled with the newly-achieved unity among farmers, has ensured that farm distress would take a centre stage in the 2019 elections," Yadav told IANS.
He termed the BJP regime led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi "the most anti-farmer" government in the history of the independent India because of its "unsympathetic" treatment of farmers in the past four-and-a-half years.
Many videos throughout the year went viral on the social media, featuring angry farmers throwing their harvest and milk on the roads in the absence of remunerative prices.
Amid protests, the government increased the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for certain agriculture commodities. However, the farmers found this not at par with their demands and expectations.
Also, poor procurement of commodities owing to inadequate numbers and delay in the opening of purchasing centres by the government agencies forced the farmers to make distress sales.
In the case of vegetables, while the retail prices hovered between Rs 20-30 in major cities, the prices received by farmers for semi-perishable commodities such as potatoes and onion slumped to Rs 1 per kg.
The Agriculture Ministry seemed "ineffective" to create a redressal mechanism, activists said, though it came up with three procurement plans. Notably, Union Minister and Senior BJP leader Nitin Gadkari had in June this year acknowledged that there was agrarian crisis due to surplus crop output and sought action to address the problem.
And yet, the BJP-government failed to take corrective action by analysing the demand-and-supply situation, said Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader and Lok Sabha member Raju Shetti, who quit BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) over farmers issues' last year.
"The government has been quite aware of the farmers' issues. However, it did not take required action to ensure remunerative prices for farmers and the procurement of their harvest was ineffective," Shetti added.
Noted agronomist Ashok Gulati said there was "lack of understanding" and "lack of vision" in the current BJP regime. He said the government did not carry out the required market reforms but resorted to just slogans and announcements.
"Even after the Mandsaur firing episode, the government did not act," he said.
Any government needs a smart agriculture minister for effective implementation of schemes, he added.
Interestingly, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh chose to attend a Yoga session with Baba Ramdev in Bihar two days after the Mandsaur firing.
(Saurabh Katkurwar can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)