For any politician, visits to Vidarbha make for poignant visuals of desolate countryside and desperate farmers that form the backdrop for pro-farmer and anti-establishment rhetoric. Assuming Rahul Gandhi seeks to go beyond, here is a wish list for his Vidarbha visit:
First, farmers have a schedule too. Poor farmers employed as farm labour are paid by quantity of harvest or hours of work. Such work would be scarce this time of the year and farmers may not be able to leave their only source of livelihood, even if they are eager to meet you. So, plan your visit according to the farmers’ schedule, not yours.
Second, don’t let your "advance teams" go about "scouting" for the right farmers to visit. Every farmer you meet in Vidarbha will have a heart-wrenching story to tell about dependence on rains and failure of crops. You will need to hear them all to realise why farmers no longer have happy stories to tell.
Third, don’t rush back; Delhi can wait. It takes time for the farmers to tell a stranger about their lives, however famous the stranger may be. Schedules can be redrawn, choppers can be recalled and tickets can be postponed. Stay in Vidarbha, until Vidarbha becomes a part of you.
Fourth, do listen to the farmers. Yes, experts will tell you all you want to know about the agrarian distress, the macro-pictures, the micro-studies. Only a farmer can tell you the pain of losing his land to repay a debt. Only a farmer’s son can share his anger for dropping out of college to work as wage labour.
Fifth, don’t forget to meet the widows. The widows of farmers who had committed suicide won’t speak easily about their troubles. They are strong women who single-handedly bring up their children, take care of the elderly parents of their husband and also manage their farms. They refuse to be defeated by fate and are inspired by the hope in their children’s eyes.
Sixth, remember the farmers of Vidarbha have seen this before. Big names in politics have visited them and promised them all kinds of solutions. Perhaps, even you have been there before. So don’t fatigue them with talk of a better future. Tell them the truth, they deserve it.
Seventh, leave your entourage in Nagpur. Walk with the farmer instead to see his field, his cattle, his simple universe of difficult choices. Politicians from Delhi usually cannot fit in the narrow village lanes, they must stop where the paved roads end. Farmers never had friends visit them from Delhi, those who will stand in the sun to examine a dried well that has changed lives.
Eighth, engage with the less-visible aspects of farm crisis. Visit traders who lend farm inputs and take the produce as repayment. Meet the bankers whose hands are tied with rules about farm lending and loan recovery. Solutions to the crisis will have to include every one of them to succeed.
Lastly, talk to the youth. Not as a constituency, but as a nation. Young boys and girls who have to budget their dreams and borrow their books represent the struggle it is to be an Indian today. And if this is not what the country looks like from Delhi, take a bit a Vidarbha with you when you leave.