Most political parties turn blind eye to Maharashtra farmers' woes

Narendra Modi's visit to Yavatmal shatters hopes of farmers; he avoided addressing the demand for remunerative prices to farm produce

By Aparna Pallavi
Published: Wednesday 26 March 2014

Till about a week ago, farmers of Vidarbha were hopeful that the coming elections would at last see some political action on their long-neglected grievances. For the first time, all political parties have brought agriculture prominently into their agenda. Following the unseasonal hailstorms which laid waste nearly 2 million hectares of agricultural and horticultural crops in the state, BJP leader Gopinath Munde, on March 20, issued a “five-day ultimatum” to the Maharashtra government for announcing a relief package, failing which the party would take to streets. BJP’s prime-ministerial candidate Narendra Modi was also to start his campaign with a discussion with farmers in Yavatmal.

But the farmers’ hopes were shattered within a few days. Modi’s visit to Yavatmal proved to be a damp squib, with the leader talking only of production enhancement and use of technology, while carefully avoiding the crucial question of providing remunerative prices to farm produce, which the farming community has been demanding for years.

Modi all for GM

“Modi came to Vidarbha as the brand ambassador of GM seed and capital intensive technologies. All he did was show his ideological bankruptcy on farming issues. He had nothing to say about farmers’ income, health or food security,” says Kishor Tiwari of Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti. “He tried to cash in on the UPA’s failure, but did not have a clue where and how the UPA policies failed.”

Munde’s histrionics on relief have not translated into any action either—not a comment has been issued on his behalf on relief  to farmers since the day he gave “ultimatum” to the government. “With the elections nearing, I don’t think Munde Sir can devote time to the issue,” a party worker told Down To Earth on the condition of anonymity.

“There is no genuine focus on farmers’ problems despite high levels of awareness about agrarian crisis in the society,” says Chandrakant Wankhede, veteran farmer leader and former editor of Marathi daily Sakal. “Because of the hailstorm, the leaders had no option but to talk about the farmers’ plight. Now they are back to business as usual.”

No one is talking farmers’ income

The crucial issue of ensuring a secure income for farmers has been given a miss by all major political parties. Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) is the only party in the fray which has included a commission on farmers’ incomes in its agenda and promised implementation of the Swaminathan Committee Report that recommends that the minimum support price (MSP) for agricultural produce should be at least 50 per cent higher than the production cost.

Gajanan Khatu, AAP spokesperson on agriculture, says, “Farmers have to be provided not just remunerative prices, but also secure supplementary income from non-agricultural sources. Most political parties, however, have a GDP- based approach, which talks of either production enhancement, which has not succeeded in raising farmer incomes, or about technology, which is capital intensive and beyond the reach of most farmers.”

AAP, he said, proposes to bring in transparency into the production cost calculations and implementation of MSP. Apart from this, it also proposes to call for change in industrial policy to make it friendly to small industries catering to local and rural markets. “Currently only large industries are coming up in rural areas, which take away people’s resources, but neither provide them jobs nor produce locally useful goods. We need non-invasive industries which can use the skills of local people and manufacture goods useful for the local populace, so that money circulates within villages and talukas instead of going into the coffers of multinationals.”

No farmer leaders in the fray

Another uncomfortable fact staring everyone in the face is that no party has fielded farmer leaders for the upcoming elections. Of the 361candidates nominated for the 10 Lok Sabha seats in Vidarbha, only one candidate— Wamanrao Chatap from Chandrapur—has his roots in farm activism. Even Yavatmal, notorious for farmers’ suicides, does not have a single farmer leader in the fray.

Surprisingly, BJP state spokesperson Keshav Upadhye refuted the fact, saying that the party had fielded “farmer candidates” like Nitin Gadkari, Nana Patole, Ramdas Tadas and Gopinath Munde—all are party bigwigs and former ministers.

“This is how farmer leadership is viewed in electoral politics,” says Tiwari, “Five star candidates with assets worth crores of rupees are projected as farmer leaders because they own agricultural land.” Tiwari rues that there has been very little space for farmer leaders in electoral politics. “The reality is that issues of small farmers do not get votes.”

Chatap, surprisingly, says farmer leaders like Tiwari and Vijay Jawandhia do not make good electoral candidates because they are opposed to GM technology. “After all, elections are about winning, and unless a candidate has what it takes, he will not be selected.”

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