Farmers, one way or the other, may yet be the undoing of the BJP-led government in Maharashtra.
It was hardly likely that Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis would give in to the demand by the combined opposition to waive off the loans of farmers – the political advantage would clearly have gone to the opposition parties. But he could have drawn lessons from his Uttar Pradesh counterpart Yogi Adityanath’s book and be visibly seen to have brought relief to some farmers at least on small loans, as the Yogi has done. The UP government is seeking to fund these loan waivers through corporate bonds and while Fadnavis avowed he would consult Yogi and evolve the same methods in Maharashtra, it turns out that the government felt Australia and New Zealand would have better solutions than Uttar Pradesh for our farmers.
The junket by an all-party delegation to these countries is nothing short of brazen tourism at the tax payers’ expense – the legislators are accompanied by their wives and will also stop by Singapore, where there is no farming. It is a shoppers’ paradise, however. But how does the homestead and corporate farming in Australia or New Zealand have anything in common with Indian farmers, I simply fail to understand.
The junket comes just as farmers have given notice to the Maharashtra government – of mass suicides and a “strike’’ wherein the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committees across the state will be boycotted by farmers unless the government waives off their loans. These farmers of ours are starving and dying because of misplaced government policies but, very soon, the people of Maharashtra could be starved too – or at least have to pay huge prices for cereals and vegetables that will have to be brought in from other states if the farmers do end up acting on their threat.
The fact that the farm land crisis has united the entire opposition could not have escaped the attention of the government and I wonder whether the all-party delegation to Australia and New Zealand was, in fact, meant to break this unity. Opposition parties seem to be well aware of this, for former chief minister Prithviraj Chavan chose to target only the agriculture and food ministers of the state, asking Narendra Modi – and not Fadnavis – to recall them for such a show of disrespect to the dying farmers.
Chavan has not clarified if it is okay by him if his party legislators go junketeering at government expense at a time when it cannot even find the small change to bring relief to farmers.
This quite unnecessary junket reminds me of one that nearly happened, and was called off amid media outrage, in Goa during the last term of the government when legislators were headed to Brazil for the Rio Olympics. They could have brought back as little to the country and their state as did the delegation from Uttar Pradesh a year earlier when they went to Turkey and other exotic nations under the pretext of studying how to tackle droughts!
For all that we have accused the previous governments in the state of corruption, I do not have any recollection of such junkets by the then legislators, though the chief minister and individual minsters did travel together or individually to different nations to ink deals on behalf of their governments. But when legislators travel abroad under the pretext of study with no memorandum of understanding coming forth at the end of their tours, one can be sure the `study’ was euphemism for a pleasure trip on tax payers’ money. In view of the agrarian crisis in Maharashtra, this is nothing short of cavalier, thoughtless and even heartless.
Australian farming – and even that in New Zealand – is an entirely different ball game from the kind of pressures our own farmers’ labour under. There is nothing these two nations can teach us in this department unless and until we teach ourselves how to deal with the market forces that are driving down farmers, and until we compel these nations, and particularly the United States, to remove the subsidies to their farmers which are driving down prices of agricultural produce in international markets.
In the absence of such initiatives from our own government, these legislators might as well go hunting for some famed Australian fig leaves (the natural kind, not the lingerie brand). They would need the cover against farmers’ ire when they get back!