Sat. Feb 16th, 2019

Indian Farmers: Leaderless and Powerless

Farmers have not been able to make a strong political statement or exert pressure on the government (Representational image)

In the absence of a strong and credible leadership, sporadic farmers’ marches will not let agrarian crisis become a powerful political agenda

Our food producers, throughout the country, are in severe distress, and thousands of farmers have been on the roads – to make their urban countrymen and government, understand their plight. In the last few months three protest marches have been organized by farmers. Far from the stability of self-sufficient village economy, today a complete collapse of Indian agriculture system seems imminent. There is little doubt, this has happened, majorly, because of the callous neglect of successive governments.

To put the grim scenario in perspective, while Indian farmers were ghastly exploited during the British period but even then, suicidal tendency among farmers was not prevalent to this extent, as we see today in ‘free’ India. From the often used slogan of ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan’ to the altogether absence of kisan from the vocabulary of Indian democracy, it has been a downward journey of several decades for generations of farmers. This is despite the fact that agriculture contributes nearly 16 % to India’s $2 trillion economy and employs about two-thirds of its 1.25 billion people! The extremely disdainful attitude of successive governments and the continued severe economic distress in our fields is a worrying sign not just for the economy but for Indian democracy as well, where a large population of people remain unheard.

However, despite the recent protest marches, farmers have not been able to make a strong political statement or exert sufficient pressure on the government. Infact, they have never been able to do that in the last one decade or so. The latest protest march in Delhi was organized under the umbrella body of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), which, though claims to have support of 207 organizations of farmers and agricultural workers – but seems to have little achievement as a pressure group. As a result, the latest march of farmers at Ramlila Maidan ended in a jamboree of political leaders, from various opposition parties, joining hands for a photo-op, with no concrete plan or road map to address this issue politically. Also, sadly and Ironically, none of them have any credentials to speak or represent farmers of the country, as they have done little for them when they were in power.

Given the acute nature of crisis, we need strong policy measures and a clear road-map for implementation in a time bound manner. In a democratic system, it is only possible when ‘agrarian crisis’ becomes a strong ‘political agenda’ and Parliamentarians prioritise to take it up in the Parliament. What is required is ‘mainstreaming’ of the farmers’ issues, which has been on the periphery for decades now.

There is a need for large-scale public discussions and debates on issues pertaining to agrarian issues and rural India at large, both – inside and outside the Parliament. Due to lack of seriousness given by our elected representatives to rural India, mainstream Indian media, will continue to report with its deeply ingrained urban bias and India as a nation cannot expect to have a functioning democracy, if such a huge population continues to be a silent victim of apathy, double standards and mis-governance.

Lack of strong and credible leadership is a major hurdle in farmers’ protests transforming into a farmers’ movement. What Mahendra Singh Tikait could do at Delhi’s Boat Club lawns in 1988, when nearly five lakh farmers from western Uttar Pradesh occupied the entire stretch from Vijay Chowk to India Gate and forced Rajiv Gandhi government to accede to his 35-point charter of demands, no political leader can even think of doing that now. Delhi’s power elite, even those claiming to be from rural backgrounds, simply lack that trust and respect among farmers. Moreover, in the last one-decade there have been attempts to pacify farmers by focusing on their non-farms demands, and flaming demands and protests on the lines of Jat quota agitation and others, thus deviating from the larger issue of introducing more fundamental changes in the agrarian sector.

Indian democracy has too many distractions, and to bring its focus on agrarian crisis – it need to become a powerful political agenda. A sustained farmers’ movement – demanding deep-rooted changes in the agrarian ecosystem of the country, is what we need today and not just sporadic marches.

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