With everything else appearing to have failed, Maharashtra chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh has turned to social psychology to stem the tide of farmers' suicides in Vidarbha. He has approached new-age guru Bhayyu Maharaj to teach farmers the way to lead meaningful lives.
"Bhayyu Maharaj is well respected and has quite a following in this region,'' Deshmukh told the two-day Congress chief ministers' conference in Nainital, on Sunday, while reporting on the steps he has taken to contain the crisis.
The chief minister argued that ground level measures needed to be complemented with steps to improve the socio-psychological mindset of the farmers. "Why not yoga as well?'' quipped a participant.
Besides Deshmukh, there were many others who offered off-beat suggestions to tackle the problems of the farmers. Uttaranchal Chief Minister N D Tiwari wanted farm graduates to be recognised, similar to MBBS doctors, a venture capital fund for agriculture clinics and harnessing nanotechnology for agricultural research.
The nature of proposals, in a good measure, also reflected their desperation in resolving the agrarian crisis that — along with terrorism, naxalite violence and communalism — has dented the Congress' claim to safeguard the interests of the "aam aadmi".
The chief ministers’ conference, attended by AICC leaders in charge of the states and seven Union ministers, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, tried to find corrective measures.
That was not easy. The AICC leaders and the chief ministers found common ground on issues like agricultural credit, procurement and minimum support price, loan waivers and import tariffs — which the PM too said required review if agriculture had to be made remunerative.
But the common interest did not extend to special economic zones. In line with Sonia caution on the SEZ issue, Digvijay Singh wondered why farmers could not be stakeholders in the projects.
There was no clear response to that. Many, chief ministers justified SEZs in their states claiming that would not be on agricultural land and that farmers would be adequately compensated if they were. But the Punjab chief minister had a different view. “In Punjab, 85 per cent of the land is well irrigated,” Amrinder Singh said. “Where do I set up a SEZ then?" he asked. No one had any answer.