Farmers on a Holiday

D. Narasimha Reddy

This should be the news. But, as usual media gets it wrong. It says . If farmers are on a holiday, so what? Farmers are also entitled to holiday. Modern economists would say our GDP will grow, with more people holidaying. But, this is disaster. What started off as a reaction at one of the protest meetings, over the tardy, or zero, procurement of grains by the government, this ‘unique’ protest is snowballing and is likely to gather momentum. It started with a few villages in ‘konaseema’, in , and now is reportedly spreading to Krishna, Khammam, Prakasham and Guntur districts. It has also deepened in East and West Godavari districts. Rice bowl of India is on the boil.

Most people try to analyse this protest to the bones, and would usually conclude on ‘some reason as the reason for farmers declaring a holiday. But simply speaking, farmers are disgusted. They are disgusted that over years, every government has cheated them, in the name of MSP, procurement, market prices, etc. They are miffed that government does not think their ‘suicides’ as important. They are worried that government, in the form of Manmohan Singh, gives the slogan that yield should increase at any cost, which boils down to the meaning that ‘farmers are mere machines to produce more and more’. Year after year, for the past 40 years, including 2011, government again says that they would usher in second Green Revolution, and ensure more corporate profits. They are angry that government puts all its might to ensure ‘profits for the private companies’ and would say ‘markets will taken their own course’ when it comes to fair prices for their produce. They are shocked to see that a dealer in their midst can easily build palatial houses, own a car and run for politics, while they toil to give him margins year after year. They cannot stomach the fact that the balance sheets of seed, pesticide and fertilizers companies overshoots the graph, while they continue to remain as ‘dots’ on the GDP graph.

Protests by farmers have been in varied forms, including suicides. While suicides might have ruffled a few feathers, that effect did not last long. Even now, suicides are continuing and spreading to new areas. However, farmers suicides have lost their ‘news’ value. People are no longer shocked. Life is normal, about the ‘abrupt ending of life’. It is business as usual. Maybe, it is now to be coined ‘suicides as usual’. Now, the farmers have stumbled upon another potent weapon. If this spreads, it would create shortage of grains and hunger. Without food, everyone would be in trouble.

But, the likes of Manmohan Singh, Pranab Mukherjee and Sharad Pawar are not bothered. Pranab Mukherjee has gone to the extent of ‘filling’ the trust deficit of corporate honchos, explaining what they did, for what reasons, in a recent meeting. Sharad Pawar was worried and makes an enormous effort of writing letters to Chief Ministers, asking them not to interfere with the profiteering of seed companies. Manmohan Singh in usual self postures to the nation that they would not turn any stone, until unless ‘there is no alternative’ situation. All these three are not aware of farmers declaring holiday, and as a result lakhs of acres of paddy acres lying fallow. Farmer’s economy is in shambles.

It should surprise a normal Indian to know that godowns are overflowing with grains, even though food grain production has achieved only a small percentage of increase. However, this situation is not due current season of ‘low’ market prices. It is because of years of ‘low’ prices, negative balances and apathy of government. There is a huge trust deficit, to borrow the latest cliché. Instead of putting in place innovative CBMs (confidence building measures), as usual, Chief Minister, Ministers and officials blame everything but themselves. If anyone thinks this CM is hapless, one should compare it with his firmness in allotting lands to industries and his initiative in another ‘ring road’ around Hyderabad. History shows that ring roads around Hyderabad have fetched crores to everyone in the ruling class, in the past 15 years.

Just to answer any market pundits jumping into the discussion saying why should government pay farmers. In the mecca of markets, in USA, government pays more than 100 percent subsidies to farmers, whenever there is surplus agricultural production, in the name of soil conservation. This buyout should not burden the government more than Rs.200 crores. In comparison, governments did spend more than Rs.3,000 crores on outer ring road and about Rs.1400 crores to increase road connectivity to Hyderabad’s glam airport.

Governments, political leaders and parties being what they are, the ‘silence’ of the vast majority of otherwise ‘vocal’, influential non-producers, called consumers, is baffling. Maybe, they are sure that their food would anyway come from anywhere in the world, as their ‘purchasing power’ surpasses even the residents of US, Switzerland or Norway.

Ultimately, my lament is if the consumers or connoisseurs of Indian food and Indian agricultural products remain ‘silent’, even this unique, non-political instrument would be a failure. Such a failure would mean more suicides and more violence. If the ‘haves’ want democracy, it cannot be at the cost of ‘brutalisation of Indian agriculture’.

My appeal to all walkers in the KBR park, in Hyderabad, who walked alongside the present CM before, to walk into his chambers and ask him to start procuring grains from the farmers, off-load grain godowns by increasing grain distribution to the poor and hungry, ‘shut-out’ suggestions and letters from ‘corporate friendly’ Sharad Pawar and organize meetings with farmers to build their trust in the government, democracy, agriculture and life.

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