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Agrarian distress puts BJP govt on backfoot in Rajasthan

The Congress has got an opportunity to exploit the farmers’ sentiments in its favour and put the Raje government on backfoot

jaipur Updated: Dec 26, 2017 20:41 IST
Manoj Ahuja
Manoj Ahuja
Hindustan Times
Vasundhara Raje,RSS-,Bharatiya Kisan Sangh
File Photo of farmers protesting during their Mahapadav (sit-in) demanding implementation of Swaminathan Commission Report in Bikaner.(PTI File Photo)

Widespread protests by different farmers’ unions that began in Rajasthan about seven months ago show no signs of abatement. With the state government dilly-dallying on implementation of farm loan waiver announced in September this year, the Congress has got an opportunity to exploit the farmers’ sentiments in its favour and put the Raje government on backfoot.

And the Congress seems to be prepared for it. Nowadays, the party doesn’t let go any opportunity to point out that farmer suicides are on the rise in Rajasthan ever since the Vasundhara Raje-led government took charge in 2013.

What may complicate things more for Raje government in the coming days is the rural distress with farmers’ unions affiliated to the Left parties as well as Right-wing organisations are up in arms against it. While the ‘indefinite sit-in’ announced by the RSS-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh in June was called off following assurances by the government several promises made at that time remain unfulfilled.

A massive agitation by the Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Sabha, the farmer wing of the CPM, in Sikar district in September compelled the state government to announce ₹20,000 crore farm loan waiver of up to ₹50,000. The government constituted a high-level panel to study the loan waiver process applied in other states, but it is yet to implement the loan waiver.

Some other issues raised by farmers include purchase of their crops at minimum support price (MSP), increasing farmers’ pension from ₹500 to ₹5,000, removing the ban on the sale of cattle imposed by the state government and implementation of the Swaminathan commission recommendations.

While the state government has given some relief on the sale of cattle, other promises remain unfulfilled. The farmers have been complaining that they are not able to sell their crops at MSP.

“The government is buying only a small portion of farmers’ produce at MSP, rest they are forced to sell to traders at low prices incurring losses. As a result, their debts are increasing,” said CPI-M leader Amraram, adding that the government should prepare itself for a fresh agitation unless it fulfills the promises made to the farmers.

However, economists argue against loan waivers. Prof VS Vyas, a former member of the prime minister’s advisory council, said that loan waivers are not in the long-term interest of farmers. While talking about the failure of states to buy the farmers’ produce at MSP, Vyas blamed the procurement agencies for their ineptitude. “The procurement agencies are supposed to buy crops from farmers at the MSP, but they are ineffective, which forces farmers to sell at lower prices to private traders,” he said.

Almost 70% people in Rajasthan are engaged in agriculture and farmers constitute a crucial vote bank. Hence, the government cannot afford to annoy the farming community, experts said. BJP’s poor poll show in Gujarat’s Saurashtra region, which was attributed to farm distress, sends a warning signal to the party in Rajasthan ahead of the next year’s assembly elections, they added.

State agriculture minister Prabhulal Saini said the government wants to implement the loan waiver in a “proper manner” so that farmers don’t end up getting a miniscule amount, as was the case in some other states.

Meanwhile, a fresh agitation is brewing in the state with a section of farmers staging protest in Jaipur announcing that they will not pay loan EMIs, electricity and water bills.

First Published: Dec 26, 2017 20:40 IST