New Delhi: As the 2019 Lok Sabha elections approach, opposition leaders on Friday united to lend their support to the farmer agitation in Delhi. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal, Nationalist Congress party chief Sharad Pawar, Loktantrik Janata Dal’s Sharad Yadav, CPI(M)’s Sitaram Yechury and National Conference leader Farooq Abdullah posed a united front against the ‘anti-farmer policies of the Narendra Modi government’.
On Friday, up to 50,000 farmers marched from Ramlila Maidan, where they spent the night, to Parliament Street. The farmers are protesting non-remunerative prices for their crops, which pushes them into cyclical debt. They are demanding a constitutional guarantee for remunerative prices and a one-time complete loan waiver. The farmers also demand that a special session of parliament be convened to discuss the agrarian distress.
“You give food to the nation, you wake up at 4 am to give your blood and sweat to the nation. Nation is not run by one person or one party, it’s run by its women, youth and farmers,” Rahul Gandhi said as he addressed farmers at Parliament Street.
Gandhi also insisted that farmers are rightfully demanding loan-waivers. “When Modiji can waive off Rs 3.5 lakh crores of 15 rich people of the country why can’t he do it for farmers. They (farmers) are not seeking free gifts but only their rights.”
In its election manifestos for the ongoing assembly elections in five states, the Congress party has said that it will waive all farm loans if voted to power. Its campaign has focussed heavily on rural distress, a chronic problem that has affected many parts of the country for a long time.
At the protest in Delhi, Gandhi was also joined by Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal, who called the government’s flagship Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) ‘Kisan daka yojana’.
“The farm insurance scheme of the Centre is essentially a scheme to rob farmers,” Kejriwal said. “A country where farmers are hungry cannot succeed. BJP in the last election promised to implement Swaminathan report but it didn’t do that. Now in Supreme Court, the government has said that it cannot implement Swaminathan report.”
One of the core demands of all farmer movements across the country for the last year and a half has been the implementation of the recommendations of the 2006 Swaminathan Commission. The key recommendation of the commission was the minimum support prices (MSP) be set at 1.5 times the cost.
The government has claimed that it has fulfilled that demand. But, as The Wire has reported, that claim is false.
Sitaram Yechury of the CPI(M) accused the ruling BJP of diverting attention away from the real issues of the people of the country. “The BJP’s brahmastra is the Ram mandir. They rake it up every five years, but we will have to tell them that today the marginalised, the workers, the farmers are all united,” he said.
“The growth rate of agriculture has come down under the Modi government as against the growth seen during the UPA era. We will unseat the BJP and bring an alternative, and raise your issues in the Parliament,” Yechury added.
The pitch raised by opposition leaders got a mixed response from the farmers who were listening. Some were hopeful, others were more cynical.
“When they were in power, they did nothing for the farmers. All political parties are the same. The government is only for the rich. The poor will always be crushed,” said Parminder Singh, a farmer from Punjab.
Sujeet Singh, also from Barnala in Punjab, disagreed. “No, the Modi government is the most anti-farmer government in India’s history. It has raised the prices of inputs like urea, fertiliser and diesel. The prices that farmers get for their produce have not been raised,” he said.
Twelve-year-old Rohit, who travelled from Kasganj in Uttar Pradesh, said he does not want to follow in his parents footsteps and become a farmer.
“There is no hope,” he says. “Kheti sirf barbaadi hai (Agriculture will only destroy us).”