Bhartiya Kisan Union (BKU) leader and spokesman Rakesh Tikait, son of legendary farmers’ leader and BKU founder Mahendra Singh Tikait, has led a number of peasant agitations. Last year, he led the Kisan Kranti Yatra from Haridwar to Delhi in which tens of thousands of farmers marched towards the national capital, and which forced the Narendra Modi government to accept their several demands. He has held protests on farmers’ issues several times at the venues of World Trade Organisation (WTO) meetings across the world. In an interview to RAMAN PANDIT, Tikait spoke on a range of issues concerning farmers and the crucial agricultural sector. Excerpts:
Q: Various governments have come and gone but the plight of farmers has always remained abysmal. Many farmers commit suicide. Who is responsible for their misery?
A: Definitely, governments are responsible for farmers’ misery. We don’t have good policies in favour of farmers at both micro and macro levels besides which each government has to face the pressure of international agreements. At the time of making policies, governments should listen to farmers’ representatives who know their issues. Like in the case of Land Acquisition Act (passed by the previous UPA govt), the government had involved such people and farmers’ organisations. Otherwise this law would not have been in this form. Now, farmers are getting benefited by it. And, the most important thing is weak farmers’ movements have been the prime factor behind their misery. Without strong movements, we cannot expect better results.
Q: In the last several years the country witnessed many farmers’ protests. Lakhs of farmers marched towards Delhi to press for their demands. How do you see this?
A: What we have extracted from the government is due to our strong movements. Movements and agitations must be there. Weak farmers’ movements and weak farmers’ organisations will weaken the condition of farmers. No political party will help the farmers, only strong movements will help them.
Q: Last year, lakhs of farmers marched from Haridwar to Delhi under the aegis of the BKU. Has the Modi government kept the promises given to them?
A: They fulfilled some of their promises ~ not all. But the significant thing is that now the issues of farmers are on the agenda of all political parties. Both the government and the Opposition are talking about their issues. The Modi government has started to give Rs 6000 to farmers every year and has imposed hundred per cent duty on import of sugar. But all this is the result of strong movements. Before the election both the parties (the BJP and the Congress) invited us to discuss the farmers’ issues so that these could be incorporated into their respective manifestos.
Q: The BJP had promised loan waiver in UP before Assembly elections there. Later, the Congress had also promised loan waiver ahead of the Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Is this the solution for agrarian crisis?
A: The loans taken by farmers must be waived at once. But later on, each party needs to mention in its manifesto that such loans will not be waived any more. Instead, we should look into the reasons why farmers are forced to borrow. Actually, the government decides minimum support price (MSP) for many crops but, in reality, farmers are forced to sell their produce below MSP. Government should pay the difference between the actual price and MSP and this should be connected with the digital India campaign. Once farmers sell their crops at designated centres, the amount should automatically be transferred to their bank accounts as per MSP. Haryana is the only state in the country which has paid the difference of about Rs 500 on pearl millet. In addition to these measures, we have to make policies so that farmers do not need to take loans.
Q: In Western UP, sugarcane is a major crop. And farmers’ bodies demand hike in the price of sugarcane every year while sugar factory owners have their own grievances. What is its solution?
A: The solution of this problem is commercialisation of sugar. We have different rates of LPG and electricity for domestic and commercial consumers. On the same lines, the rates of sugar should also be different for domestic and commercial consumers. This will benefit the mills owners and ultimately the farmers.
Q: In the last Budget, the Modi government announced the proposal to give Rs 6,000 each per year to farmers. Will it benefit them or it is just an election gimmick?
A: Definitely, this benefits the farmers. Actually, our demand is implementation of the Telangana model. In Telangana, each farmer has been given Rs 20,000 per hectare as additional support by the state government.
Q: Will Congress chief Rahul Gandhi’s promise of giving Rs 72,000 to each of the country’s poorest 20 per cent households per annum be a game-changer in the current general elections?
A: This is good. We welcome it. Now competition has started between the government and the Opposition and this will definitely benefit the poor and marginalised. If they form government, they must fulfill their promises. And if they don’t, we will start a strong movement.
Q: During the Mahendra Singh Tikait period, the BKU used to be a thriving organisation but it seems to have weakened relatively. Why?
A: At that time, a single party used to govern the country and the Opposition was weak. We were apparently the largest Opposition on the ground. After 1990, the Opposition got more strength but the BKU is still a thriving organisation of farmers.
Q: What will be the BKU’s next move?
A: Our next plan is to force the government to abolish several laws which are anti-farmer. Suppose a farmer takes a loan from a bank on his agricultural land. If he fails to repay the loan, the bank starts the process of auctioning his agricultural land while he is not permitted to sell off the land to repay the loan. This diabolic law should be abolished. The government should either allow the farmers to sell off their land or seize land equal to the amount of loan at circle rate. Other than this, crops should be purchased at MSP and payment should be transferred into the account of farmers directly. If the next government will not fulfill these demands, the BKU will be forced to start a massive new agitation.