Farmers' protests: Loan waivers won't solve BJP's problems

Last Updated: Fri, Jun 09, 2017 12:33 hrs
On Day 2 of farmers' strike, shortages pinch Maharashtra

The plight of Indian farmers in various parts of the country is disastrous. From farmer suicides to now five farmers being killed and several injured in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district. This happened on Tuesday when police fired on protesters.

Angry farmers ransacked and set ablaze a police outpost after the firing as the administration clamped a curfew. The BJP government at the time denied any police firing. The Home Minister Bhupendra Singh said, “In one of the incidents police had to fire in self-defence when a mob attacked the police station. In the other incident, the police fired when there was firing from the mob.”

On Thursday, 62 people were detained in connection with the protest in Mandsaur. Also, contingents of the Rapid Action Force (RAF) were deployed in Madhya Pradesh's violence-hit Mandsaur district where the situation remained tense.

The agitation started on June 1st when farmers begin a ten-day-long agitation in Madhya Pradesh demanding better price for their produce. The situation escalated on June 6th with the killing of the 5 farmers in Madhya Pradesh. On that evening, The Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan announced a judicial inquiry into the firing and compensation of Rs 1 crore each to the kin of the dead and Rs 5 lakh each to the injured.

The Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi criticized the government regarding the farmers protest –

The next day he announced he will be visiting Mandsaur to meet the families of those who were killed – On Thursday however, he wasn’t allowed to cross the border into Madhya Pradesh and was detained. There he lashed out against the government and the Prime Minister saying to reporters “He can’t give the right rates for their agricultural produce, can’t give them bonus, and can’t give compensation... He can only give them bullets.”

A DNA editorial stated that the protests are symptomatic of deeper problems –

“Apart from Mandsaur, Neemuch, Ratlam, and Indore districts have reported cases of vehicles being torched and police officers being manhandled. State Home Minister Bhupendra Singh has ordered a judicial probe, but the actual chain of events that led to police shooting still remains unclear”

“Whatever the truth of the events leading to the killings may be, it seems irrelevant to the farmers coming out in droves in Madhya Pradesh, enraged, no doubt, by the price collapse — a consequence of bumper crop production.”

The financial plight of farmers in the country is dire. The government has on occasion waived loans due to the farmers’ inability to repay agricultural debts. Writing in Firstpost, Kota Neelima an independent researcher, calls the poverty and politics of loan waivers cold-blooded populism –

“The question is, why should the waiving of the loan of a poor farmer be the patronizing act of the state that discovers them before every election and forgets them afterwards?”

“The farmers understand that they are alone in their hopelessness; they have seen promises turn to lies too often and for long. They have only one thing of value left with them, their vote, and the electoral democracy has devised ways to ensure that even this does not belong to the farmer.”

The piece criticizes the politics of loan waivers and why it has been ineffective in helping the state of farmers:

“It is a heartless democracy that thinks of dying farmers as a vote-bank, or to begin the fight for loan waivers just before the next elections. This cold-blooded populism cuts across parties and applies as much to the government as the opposition parties who are courting arrest on the roads of Madhya Pradesh. The discovery of the plight of the Indian farmer is an opportunistic performance by the politicians that should no longer convince the voter.”

The agitation and protests by farmers happened in Maharashtra as well. Earlier this month, farmers threw away fruits and vegetables on roads as part of the protest demanding better procurement prices.

In an opinion piece for The New Indian Express, Shubhangi Khapre writes that the protests that have taken place in Maharashtra are about politics and power as well. The piece states –

“The Fadnavis government in the state was not helped by the party’s internal struggles in dealing with the farmers’ strike which has continued despite the announcement of a loan waiver. Union minister for Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari expressing reservations over a loan waiver for farmers may also have had a role in the continuing protests.”

At a press conference earlier this week, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said he will hold discussion with any ‘genuine’ farmer to find a solution. He said, “The State government is ready to talk to any real farmer leader. It won’t matter if the leader is having differences of opinion with us. But we will not talk to someone who has political intentions. There are leaders who are shooting from farmers’ shoulders”

There were similar incidents as well where protests consisted of spilling milk and dumping vegetables, earlier this month.

The Hindu editorial called for reforms to ‘de-risk’ the agricultural sector and for a long term solution –

“As the strike nears the end of its first week, prices of essential goods such as milk, fruits and vegetables have risen steeply, causing distress to consumers. It is notable that the protests have come soon after the Uttar Pradesh government waived farm loans earlier this year, setting off similar demands in other States. Yet, while Maharashtra’s farmers have caught the attention of the government, the focus on quick fixes has pushed aside the real structural issues behind the crisis.”

The same editorial highlights the reason for the fall in prices of agricultural goods –

“The price slump, significantly, has come against the backdrop of a good monsoon that led to a bumper crop. The whole system of agricultural marketing has led farmers to feel cheated, and it was only a matter of time before they organized themselves to protest.”

“Expediting steps to reform the Agricultural Produce Market Committee system and introduce the model contract farming law would go a long way to free farmers from MSP(Minimum Support Prices)-driven crop planning.”

For Firstpost, Mihir Shah a former member of the Planning Commission argues that loan waivers will not solve the problem and are the worst forms of populism. The report states –

“I am totally opposed to farm loan waivers as it will undermine the integrity of farmers. When state governments announce farm loan waivers, it is a knee-jerk reaction.”

Shah questions the reason for farm loans and that the waiver has created bigger problems.

“Why are farm loans being given at all? Instead, the government should focus on the real issues that affect the agrarian sector. Since it hasn’t, you have agitations hitting the road with farmers protesting.

With the situation remaining tense, and the protest spreading to other parts of the country, it seems the BJP has its hands full and a full blown crisis on its hands, it remains to be seen how the episode will play out.

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