New Delhi: Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra continue to be tense as the farmers’ protests have entered the sixth day. On Tuesday, five agitating farmers, who were demanding a loan waiver and higher minimum support price, were shot dead in MP’s Mandsaur district. While the police have said they didn’t fire a single bullet, the deaths have sparked outraged and raised questions on the ability of Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister to control the protests. The CM, however, has blamed the Congress for stoking the violence. Naresh Tikait, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, the largest farmer outfit in India, spoke to Uday Singh Rana and lashed out at Shivraj Singh Chouhan. Edited excerpts:
Five farmers were shot dead in Mandsaur during the protests. What is your initial reaction?
I think Madhya Pradesh is witnessing a dictatorship under Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. This is how he has dealt with protests in the past as well. The way farmers were shot dead is worse than even the British. It is shameful and he should apologize. Governments should listen to farmers, not shoot them. This is also a larger problem with BJP state governments. They need to learn how to listen and manage emotions.
You are a resident of UP, where Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath had announced a loan waiver for farmers. Don’t you think the government is trying to resolve farmers’ issues?
I am not happy with the progress that the Yogi government has made either. So far we have only heard announcements from the BJP government. Not even a single farmer has benefitted from the CM’s announcement. What good are these promises if they are not met? In fact, Yogi Adityanath has not called any farmers’ organization even once to sit and discuss the issues that farmers are facing.
What are these issues and what do you think needs to be done?
They will know what the issues are if they simply talk to us once. One of BJP’s biggest promises was that they would ensure payment to sugarcane farmers on time. They have not even started working on a framework yet. In 2015, unseasonal rains had wreaked havoc on the wheat crop across North India. BJP talked big about how farmers need to be paid compensation for crop loss. Thousands had died in UP alone. Yet, they have not moved a muscle. Issues of land acquisition need to be discussed. Input costs for farmers are on a constant rise and yet, farmers don’t get a fair price for their produce.
But Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised that farmers would get a 50% hike in Minimum Support Price (MSP). Don’t you think that will help?
But when will he implement the promise? It’s been three years since Modi became PM and that promise has remained just that — a promise. We don’t want empty promises anymore. We are willing to assist the government in any way they want but they should at least talk to us.
India has been witnessing prolonged droughts over the last few years. Monsoon has arrived in parts of the country. What should the government do to prepare better?
The biggest problem is that there is a communication gap between the government and farmers. The government is simply not talking to the people, not listening to farmers, so how will they know what needs to be done? We cannot keep depending on monsoon alone. The government should launch a mass drive to make farmers aware of things like rainwater harvesting and water conservation. They should reward farmers who become role models in water conservation. Government experts should help farmers in identifying means of agriculture that use water judiciously. From groundwater to drought, farmers face water-related crises every year. I don’t think the government is even serious.
What is your message to Shivraj Singh Chouhan?
I just want him to know that shooting innocent farmers is a disgusting act. It is the way of dictators and not of elected representatives. Madhya Pradesh is a neighboring state and there is a kinship among farmers. What if the protests spread to Uttar Pradesh as well? We (BKU) will never allow protests to turn violent, but we will have to take the streets in a peaceful protest if it comes to that.
Are you planning a stir of your own?
Yes, we are. But the first step is to write to the Prime Minister. We will demand Rs 25 lakh compensation for the families of all deceased farmers and government jobs for their next of kin. If he does not respond, we will have to plan our next step. Farmers are being treated worse than terrorists in this country. BJP wants us to chant ‘Jai Jawan’ (Hail the soldier), but what about ‘Jai Kisan’ (Hail the farmer)? Can anybody deny the farmers’ contribution in nation building?