The Congress has started wooing farmers aggressively ahead of the 2019 general elections. The All India Kisan Khet Mazdoor Congress, the party's organisation that takes the lead in agriculturist constituencies, held a protest rally in Delhi on Tuesday to highlight the plight of farmers across the country.
Speaking to Firstpost, Nana Patole — a former BJP MP and now the chairman of the All India Kisan Khet Mazdoor Congress — said the party has also planned a mega rally led by Congress president Rahul Gandhi in January 2019, in which more than 10 lakh people are expected to participate. The Congress will also share its vision for the farming sector in the proposed rally.
What is your farmers’ protest rally on 23 October all about?
At the farmers' agitation of the All India Kisan Khet Mazdoor Congress at Sansad Marg (Parliament Street) in Delhi, aggrieved farmers and farm labourers from various parts of the country — from Tamil Nadu and Kerala to North Eastern states — will surround Parliament as a mark of protest against the Narendra Modi government. After reaching the venue, a rally will be held where we will seek answers from the prime minister — "hisaab do, jawab do" — on the poor state of farmers at present.
What has made farmers across the country angry?
Both while campaigning ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections and in his first speech in Parliament after becoming prime minister, Modi had promised that the recommendations of the Swaminathan Committee would be implemented. The biggest issue is related to the price of farm produce. Farmers were assured that they would get a minimum support price (MSP) 50% higher than the cost of production. But nothing happened.
Farmers of Bihar sell their produce in markets in Punjab as they don't get MSP in Bihar. The irony is that the Union Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare Radha Mohan Singh is from Bihar. The exorbitant rise in fuel prices, especially that of diesel, has made it immensely expensive for farmers to use tractors and diesel pumps for irrigation. Farmers are debt-ridden and incidents of farmer suicide are on the rise.
There is no improvement at agriculture mandis either. Demonetisation and GST resulted in the shutdown of small industries, and children of farmers lost their jobs. No new jobs have been created. The government took out the money from farmers’ pockets, put it in banks and made them stand in queues for long hours to withdraw their own money, which is ridiculous.
The government has waived loans of crony capitalists, but is unwilling to do it for farmers. There's palpable anger among farmers across the country because of this.
The BJP would say it is a legacy issue. What is your response?
I agree that during Congress rule, mistakes happened. But that’s the reason the public ensured BJP’s victory with a majority. Now, instead of taking welfare measures for farmers, the present government is only engaged in criticising the Congress. The Modi government should follow its ‘Raj Dharma’, as stated by former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, instead of making false promises and levelling allegations against the Opposition.
Take the case of MNREGA. The prime minister had criticised it. This welfare scheme was implemented during the UPA regime, and 100-day employment was ensured. But today, labourers fail to get employment for even 10 days. The NDA government can’t get away by blaming the Congress for its failures.
The government has revised MSP. Why are farmers not happy yet?
See, I’m a farmer myself, and I know where the shoe pinches. I was a BJP MP (from the Bhandara-Gondia constituency in Maharashtra). I quit the BJP after I failed to convince Modi at his residence on the growing distress of farmers. The government had imposed 12% GST on tractors, which was a huge burden on farmers because a tractor is a basic tool of agriculture and is used by nearly by every farmer nowadays. As I represent the farmers' community, I'm accountable to them.
Now, coming down to the MSP issue. The MSPs in India are recommended by a statutory body known as the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). It gives recommendations to the government on MSPs for Kharif and Rabi seasons, and the state commissions give their individual recommendations. But now, the MSPs on crops declared by the government are not in accordance with the Swaminathan Committee's recommendations. The prices offered to farmers are much lower than what they should be.
Loan waivers can only be a limited move, and it has disastrous impacts on the economy. Is it sustainable?
Loan waivers are neither the best solution, nor the last solution. It's an emergency step to help the farmers who have been adversely affected by the BJP's policies. The UPA government did it in the past, and if the Congress comes to power, it will implement waivers for the benefit of farmers, apart from a host of other measures.
Will you take up farmers' issues in the upcoming five Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan, Telangana and Mizoram?
Sure. During election campaigns in poll-bound states this year, and also ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, the Congress will raise issues related to farmers' distress and the pathetic conditions they face. In Madhya Pradesh, we witnessed a massive outburst in the form of a farmers' agitation and violence in Mandsaur district in June 2017, which later spread to other districts. Six farmers were killed in police firing, and the BJP government in the state filed FIRs against 7,000 people. Whether it is in Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh or Rajasthan, or in any other BJP-ruled state, farmers are in an impoverished state.
What is the Congress' solution to the problem?
We will declare it in public in January 2019. Meanwhile, Rahul Gandhi promised loan waivers in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan during his poll campaigns. The Congress-ruled Punjab government has waived electricity charges of farmers. Any government — whether it is BJP- or Congress-ruled — must remember that a farmer always gives and never demands. So it is the duty of a government to take care of the agriculture sector.
What is your party's next move?
We are planning a mega rally in January 2019, in which 10 lakh farmers, agricultural labourers and those associated with the farming sector are expected to participate. It will basically be Congress president Rahul Gandhi's rally as he will be leading it. At that rally, we will announce the party's vision plan related to agriculture and farmers. If the Congress comes to power, it will ensure the implementation of this vision plan.
Updated Date: Oct 23, 2018 18:48 PM