Suicides by farmers in the rural areas have received an immense global and domestic media attention over the last two decades. It has come to the focus once again with the recent suicide of a Rajsthan farmer Gajendra Singh in the capital with thousands of people watching him in a political rally held by the ruling Aam Admi Party. What is bizarre is that even after this sad incident the politicians are not thinking of how to resolve the agrarian crisis which is facing thousands of farmers but are indulging in blame game and playing politics with Gajendra Singh&’s suicide. Every political party was only scoring brownie points on television channels.
What is the politics behind this? While every political party takes up the cause of the farmers during elections none of them has done anything to mitigate their sufferings. As the noted Agricultural expert M.S.Swaminathan says successive governments have failed the farmer who is looking for some succour. Look at the way the AAP behaved when the incident happened. The Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal did not have the decency to end the rally but went on with his political discourse blaming the BJP. The BJP, which is responsible for the law and order in the capital, was quick enough to blame the AAP for continuing with the rally. The Congress took the opportunity to criticise both the AAP and the BJP – the two parties which wiped it out form the map of Delhi politics.
The competitive politics playing out in and outside Parliament does not reflect any real concern for the farmer. The capital was witness to a host of rallies and Press conferences by the Congress, the BJP and the AAP. What is regrettable is that even in Parliament, the political parties took their party line rather than coming together to think of some solution. Inside the Parliament the Opposition forced the suspension of regular business to take up the farmer&’s issue. The SP chief Mulayam Singh wanted a judicial enquiry while the BSP chief Mayawati demanded that the government overhaul the process of compensating the farmers. The left parties did not lag behind. Almost all political parties demanded that the government waive farm loans. And what was the response of the Prime Minister Modi ? He put the ball in the court of the political parties by seeking suggestions from them in a rare conciliatory gesture. “Farmers have been committing suicide for many years. Governments have been working to stop this. We must all come together to solve the problem; it&’s an old problem. The government will accept all the suggestions of Opposition parties.
There is a need to think where we went wrong and what were the shortcomings in the past and in the last 10 months of the government.” The Prime Minister should have instead convened an all-party meeting to discuss the issue and find a solution. Every time there is farmer distress the government comes out with temporary relief but no one has thought of long-term relief or agricultural reforms. After all with 65 per cent of the country doing farming should not the government think of reforms in this crucial sector, which will help the poor farmer plan, produce and sell his crops ? The agricultural growth rate was estimated at 1.1% in 2014-15 compared with 3.7% the previous year, and overall food grain production was expected to fall by 3% on account of the deficit monsoon in 2014-15. However, this was before the unseasonal showers in March and the crops were damaged in nearly 10 million hectares in 14 states.
Why do the farmers commit suicide? It is because of failed crop, failure of monsoon, debt trap, lack of capacity to repay loans lack do credit facilities and not getting proper advice on crop patterns. Many sink into depression. The income from agriculture is declining because of revenues remaining stagnant, while the cost of production has been on the increase. Secondly, the fragmentation of each holding is another matter of concern. Moreover, agricultural research and extension services have virtually disappeared. Irrigation has been neglected. Above all lifting export restrictions and entry of multi nationals have encouraged the farmers to shift from traditional crops to cash crops. The Minimum Support Price has been kept below marker prices. The share of agricultural credit in total bank lending has declined from 18 per cent in the eighties to 11 per cent and the decline continues. All these have to be addressed immediately.
No doubt the Modi-government has come up with some temporary measures like reducing the threshold for crop damage from 50 to 33 per cent and a 50 per cent increase in compensation. But that is not enough. What should be worrying is that the farmer&’s suicide ratio has shown an upward graph and the issue has not been addressed by either the Centre or the state. It is time for the political parties to sit down and think of how to resolve the agrarian crisis. The top priority should be agrarian reforms. Records show that when the then US President Lyndon Johnson was blocking the PL 480 consignment, Indira Gandhi, humiliated and frustrated had vowed that she would never again beg any country for food. She demonstrated that India could be self-sufficient by going for Green Revolution. Swaminathan and other agricultural experts have been demanding that the time has come for the second Green Revolution and that could be one of the options. You cannot starve the hands that feed you.