Jaipur: The burgeoning peasant unrest in Rajasthan is set to become a statewide stir and engulf the cities too, if left unaddressed. Come July 9, there is a plan to "shut all villages" for a day. The next step is a "curfew" on July 17, where any visiting politician or government official will be gheraoed. On July 22 a total Rajasthan bandh will be called, with all of the state's 45,000 odd villages in lockdown: no movement of food, grain, milk or vegetables will be allowed. The intention is to force the government to accept farmers' demands for fair prices and debt waivers.
The plan is being intricately planned by various farmer organizations. Nearly 50 of them sent representatives for a meeting in Jaipur on Saturday to chalk out the strategy for gradually stepping up the pressure.
Return of farmer politics
The call for a complete lockdown has brought to fore how peasant politics is making a comeback in India after years where it ceded ground to caste and identity issues.
News18 has been traveling in Rajasthan for a week to cover rural unrest. Every day, reports of multiple farmers meetings happening in all parts of Rajasthan came in. The two main issues are fair prices for farmers and debt forgiveness. However, the roots of farmer angst go deeper than this. At the Jaipur meeting, the anger was barely concealed.
Om Prakash Jhangar, a farm leader cum professor from Northern Rajasthan told the audience that after the famine of 1965-66 the government asked farmers to produce more, which they did, but kept the prices depressed. Wheat, Bajra, pulses, peanuts and mustard are all money losers, he said.
Rajinder Singh Raju, a farmer from Ganganagar said that in the 1960s a bale of cotton and a tola of gold were the same price, while today gold is 10 times more expensive than cotton.
Christophe Jaffrelot recently wrote that the income disparity between rural and urban India has increased in the past 25 years because of the slower growth of agriculture compared to industry and services. "These figures reflect the government's lack of interest in agriculture, which has manifested in declining investments - in irrigation, for example - and diminishing subsidies - for fertilisers, for example," Jaffrelot wrote in the Indian Express.
Lack of investment in agriculture has resulted in diminishing returns for farmers. Market prices for products an insufficient government price support system has resulted in peasants not getting a fair value for their crops.
However, what adds to the anger is the government's apparent coddling of other sections, like state employees.
"Government employees’ salaries go up every time the pay commission recommendations are accepted, but the government has never instituted a farmers commission to look into our prices," Ram Gopal Vishnoi, a farmer from Bikaner said.
Farm loans are another sore issue: "Of all the loans outstanding in the country farmers loans constitute just 1%, the rest belong to corporate houses," Rajinder Singh Raju, a prosperous farmer from Sri ganganagar thundered. The statistic he cited may or may not be true, but the perception remains that farmers are hard done when it comes to loan waivers.
The image of corporate fat cats who borrow from banks and fail to repay is strongly embedded in the psyche of India's farmers. Another farmer made a telling comparison: When a corporate borrows it is the company which is liable for repaying the loan, not the promoter or CEO. When a farmer borrows he/she is solely responsible. "Unlike Vijay Mallya did, can a farmer ever think of fleeing to London? The only option for a farmer is a rope to end his life with," the farmer said.