Farmers are not fools. Modi and Rahul should know better

While our politicians continue to beat a dead crop, the man tilling the land no longer sheds a tear for it.

 |  3-minute read |   20-05-2015
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If only the farmer were a fool. And if only our politicians spent more than the customary ten minutes with him, they would realise that the farmer can actually see through the political charade and perhaps even understand that loss of crops is no longer an issue for them anymore.

The only reason the farmer humours these heavily publicised visits by politicians is because they have, over time, become hardened cynics. Besides, a cheque worth a lakh or two always helps.

While I'm no authority on the agrarian crisis India presently faces, in the past two months I have been reporting extensively on the issues bothering farmers from across Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Rajasthan, after unseasonal rains hit them this year. Now they are afraid the new Land Acquisition Bill will further marginalise them.

While Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi is attempting to inch closer to political relevance, taking kilometres-long padayatras to highlight the plight of farmers, the distressed tiller on the ground is aware that the carrot being dangled in front of him is for sheer political brownie points. He is also aware that even before the ink on the cheque handed out to them dries, the cause of more than 60 per cent of India's workforce will be forgotten.

In Mathura, I found, the wheat farmers have taken a big hit due to weather disturbances since February. Most people I spoke to in the five villages wanted to leave farming and become daily wagers. Others had hard questions to ask.

"Two days ago diesel prices went up by three rupees. Do you know how much the government raised the minimum support price of our grain?"

During UPA-1, the minimum support price (MSP) was increased by as little as 1.8 per cent between 2005-07. However in the election year, MSP dramatically rose to as high as 33 per cent. The irony is not lost on the farmers.

So when Rahul Gandhi says that the UPA regime had made sharp increases in MSPs as opposed to the ones given by the Modi government, the farmers we met could count the exact election years during which the sharp increases were made.

They are no fools, our famers.

The agrarian belt of Mathura and Agra has seen a number of farmer suicides this year. Death at times seems an easier option when faced with successive crop failures and insurmountable loans. The farmers around Agra know, even if they take their lives, officially the government will not declare it as “suicide”. However, the death could result in possible loan waivers, and maybe a neta looking for a photo-op would spare the family a small fortune.

While loans are difficult to repay, they are definitely not easy to come by. "No bank wants to give us any loan. They know we won't be able to pay it back. So we end up seeking local money lenders," one farmer confessed.

In Haryana's Sonipat, the joke doing the rounds is if anyone has seen the face of a government official, meant to conduct surveys to gauge crop damage and assess remuneration. "What will they come to assess now? I have already cleared my field to sow the next crop. Maybe they will come by the time this crop dies," one farmer smirks.

Modi's announcement on "skill development of farmers" is another point of amusement for them. "Our skill is farming, has any politician ever tried to better this, instead of asking us to sell our land and go work in factories?" or "Achhe din only come for the government and the salaried classes".

So while Rahul Gandhi may take a walk through dead fields that should have been ripe with produce and the airwaves are crackling with support from Modi to our farmers, sadly the man tilling the field has little or no time for the dead crop. He literally has new seeds to sow and pray for the gods to be kind to this time around, cause in his heart of hearts, he knows, nobody else cares whether it bears fruit or withers.


Preeti Choudhry Preeti Choudhry @preetichoudhry

The writer is a journalist with India Today TV.

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