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OPINION | Will Agrarian Distress Prove to be the Deciding Factor in 2019 Elections?

The Centre did not respond to demands of unconditional loan waivers and left the state governments to face the farmers’ fury.

Sunil Tambe |

Updated:March 12, 2018, 12:42 PM IST
OPINION | Will Agrarian Distress Prove to be the Deciding Factor in 2019 Elections?
The farmers will stage a protest outside the Maharashtra assembly on Monday. (Image: Network18)
In 2019, agriculture distress could be the nemesis of the BJP government at the Centre and in several other states, including Maharashtra.

Firstly, the Narendra Modi government did a complete volte-face on the MS Swaminathan Commission recommendations. Secondly, it failed to ensure that farmers get Minimum Support Price (MSP) for pulses and oilseeds. And thirdly, it did not respond to farmers’ demand of complete and unconditional loan waiver.

The Centre asked the state governments (both BJP and non-BJP alike) to face the music.

In, Maharashtra it all started in June last year, when the farmers in Puntamba village in Ahmednagar district resorted to strike and decided not to send farm produce like milk and vegetables to the cities.

The village received spontaneous support from dozens of farmers’ organisations and political parties. The state government had no choice but to accept the demand of loan waiver.

The Farm Loan Waiver Scheme was announced on June 24, 2017 and it was to benefit 89 lakh farmers across the state with burden on the state exchequer to the extent of Rs 34,000 crore. However, seven months after the announcement of the scheme, only 31 lakh farmers have been the beneficiaries and loans worth Rs 12,262 crores have been waived. The banks had to furnish the data of farmers in 66 columns in the software provided by the government and hence glitches happened.

Later, the government changed the methodology, but that did not work either. In December, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis admitted that his government made some mistakes in the implementation of the Chhatrapati Shivaji Shetkari Sanman Yojana (Farm Loan Waiver Scheme).

Farmers march

NCP chief Sharad Pawar kick-started Halla Bol Andolan in January this year from Marathawada region, which witnessed the highest number of farmers’ suicides, intensifying the protest on the issue of farm loan waiver.

This was followed by rallies in Nagpur, Aurangabad and Nasik. Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad addressed the Nagpur rally, giving clear indication that the Congress and NCP, along with other like-minded parties, would come together to fight the forthcoming assembly and general elections.

The Kisan Sabha of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has its cadre in few pockets of tribal belts in Nandurbar, Dhule, Nasik and Thane districts.

Sensing that agrarian distress could be the nemesis of the BJP government, the Marxists mobilised their cadre and resorted to a Long March to encircle the state legislature on Monday. They meticulously worked on logistics and other arrangements, including supplies and medical emergency for nearly 30,000 tribal farmers, highlighting new dimension of agrarian crisis.

They have threatened to camp in the state capital till their demands are met. The main demands are complete and unconditional farm loan waiver, remunerative prices for crops, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations and, more importantly, transfer of forest land to those have been tilling it for years, i.e. implementation of PESA [Provisions of the Panchayats (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996].

There are three principal factions of the erstwhile Shetkari Sanghatana — Raghunathdada Patil, Raju Shetty and Sadabhau Khot. Raju Shetty had allied with the BJP in 2014 elections and got elected to Lok Sabha, but on farmers’ issues, he has parted ways with the BJP. His confidant Sadabhau Khot refused to fall in line as he became minister of state in the Fadnavis cabinet.

Raghunathdada Patil, a veteran leader, has considerable following in Nasik district and is well respected across the Shetkari Sanghatana cadre. He, too, is likely to announce the agitation.

In 2014 Assembly elections, it was a four-cornered contest and the BJP could garner 27.8% votes and 122 seats, while its bête noire and partner in the government Shiv Sena cornered 19.3% votes and 63 seats. The Congress (18% votes and 42 seats) and NCP (17.2 % votes and 41 seats) together won 83 seats.

As per the agriculture census, the total number of farmers in Maharashtra is over 1 crore and total number of voters in the state is over 7 crore. The farmers hold the key in turning the tables on the BJP in 2019, provided the Congress and the NCP together steer the farm protest while managing internal contradictions of ideologies and different sections of farmers.

(The author is a senior journalist. Views are personal)
| Edited by: Nitya Thirumalai
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