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Indian Peasants Threaten Government with Nationwide Uprising against the Recent Killings in MP

The MSP is a fixed price at which the government purchases crops from farmers so they don’t suffer extreme losses in case of low yields

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Indian farmers
Indian farmers gather on a footpath during a protest in Chennai where they demanded profitable prices for their crops, June 9, 2017. Benar News
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  • Peasant leaders across India threatened on Friday to launch nationwide protests against the recent killings of five farmers by police in Madhya Pradesh
  • The MSP is a fixed price at which the government purchases crops from farmers so they don’t suffer extreme losses in case of low yields
  • MSP is a fixed price at which the government purchases crops from farmers

Mumbai, June 06, 2017: Peasant leaders across India threatened on Friday to launch nationwide protests against the recent killings of five farmers by police in Madhya Pradesh state during an agitation over unfulfilled government promises.

On Tuesday, farmers in the central Indian state’s Mandsaur district had come out on the streets demanding loan waivers and a hike in the minimum support price (MSP), when police opened fire, killing five protesters and injuring dozens. The state’s government has confirmed that the five died from police fire.

The MSP is a fixed price at which the government purchases crops from farmers so they don’t suffer extreme losses in case of low yields.

“We have already issued an ultimatum to the BJP-government in Maharashtra for a total loan waiver and a hike in the MSP,” Raju Shetti of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana (SSS), an influential union based in Maharashtra state, told BenarNews.

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“Leading peasant organizations will hold a meeting in New Delhi on July 16 to chalk out a strategy,” Shetti said, adding that “intensifying the stir was very much on the cards.”

Reports of sporadic violence, arson and road blockades by agitating farmers in Madhya Pradesh kept trickling through on Friday, despite a curfew clamped by the state government the day before.

On Thursday, the police detained Rahul Gandhi, the principal leader of the political opposition to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), while he and his Indian National Congress (INC) party colleagues were attempting to enter Mandsaur district.

The rightwing nationalist BJP government accused opposition leaders of instigating the farmers.

“[The government is] sensitive to the needs of farmers and [is] doing everything to meet the farmers’ demands and end protests,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh told reporters in New Delhi, while declining to respond to questions on the farmers’ killings.

M. Venkaiah Naidu, a senior BJP leader, slammed opposition parties for what he described as “politicizing” the farmers’ anger.

“The protests are being fueled [by opposition parties] to tarnish the image the BJP government,” Naidu told reporters in south India’s Tamil Nadu state.

‘If the hay is dry’

But not many are buying BJP’s barbs at its opposition.

“If the hay is dry then a single match can set the entire field on fire. This is what is happening in the rural areas where farmers have become a dying breed because of lop-sided government policies,” political commentator Rakshit Sonawane told BenarNews.

A large majority of farmers voted for the BJP, which had promised them relief, during election campaigns, said scholar Pravin Nadkar, who has spent more than three decades in India’s hinterlands studying agrarian issues.

“The sinking of these promises is a slap on their hopes,” Nadkar told BenarNews.

“Moreover, there has been a tectonic shift by successive governments from agriculture to industrialization. Not that the farmer earlier lived an idyllic life, but today, even a big landholding farmer is facing the sting of this paradigm shift. And alienation is high,” he said.

More than 12,000 farmers in India commit suicide every year because of failed crops or unpaid debt, according to government figures.

“The government is totally indifferent toward the problems farmers face,” Kishore Tiwari, leader of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, which has been documenting farmer suicides in Maharashtra, told BenarNews.

“Loan waiver for farmers was the BJP’s promise during all its election campaigns,” he added.

“A hike in the MSP is a key solution for the farmers’ woes, but the government has come out with an excuse that it does not have requisite infrastructure like gunny bags and warehouses to purchase from farmers at a high MSP. So the farmer is left with no exit other than agitate,” Tiwari said. (Benar News)

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India’s Farmer Protests Highlight Increasing Rural Distress

Political analysts also said the growing rural anger could erode support for Prime Minister Modi in the countryside ahead of next year's scheduled elections.

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Indian what reaches Afghanistan via Chabahar Port
FILE - Farmer sifts wheat crop at a farm on the outskirts of western Indian city of Ahmedabad. VOA

Vimla Yadav, a farmer from India’s Haryana state, says agriculture costs, such as fertilizers and seeds, have soared, yet produce prices have plunged, leaving her family of 10 with virtually no profit from their four-acre farm. “We don’t even get the fruits of the labor that the entire family puts in on the farm, although we slog day and night,” she laments.

Yadav is one of the tens of thousands of angry farmers from around the country who poured into the Indian capital recently, demanding a special session of parliament to discuss their demands: better prices for farm produce and a waiver by the government from repaying loans taken from banks.

The protest highlighted the deepening distress among the population in the countryside, where there is growing concern about diminishing agricultural profits because many are being driven into debt.

In a country where half the population of 1.3 billion depends on agriculture, low farm profits have long been a challenge and prompted promises by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to double rural incomes by 2022. But the growing disenchantment among the farming community could pose a challenge to Modi as he seeks re-election next year.

farmers
Police try to stop farmers during a protest demanding a better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. VOA

According to the government, the average income of a farmer is about $100 a month. But many make less, said Yogendra Yadav, one of the main leaders of the protest and founder of the farmers group Jai Kisan Andolan. The Yadavs are not related.

“For a majority of them, the income is probably less than $50 a month. That is the level at which they survive. And one of the principal reasons for that is that they don’t get enough price for their crops,” Yogendra Yadav said.

Low prices for crops are not the only problem: increasingly erratic weather patterns pose a new challenge in a country where nearly half the farmers lack access to irrigation.

In eastern Orissa state, for example, back-to-back droughts over the past two years have brought widespread distress.

“There has been very little rain this year,” said Lakhyapati Sahu, a farmer who traveled from Orissa, one of India’s poorer states. “We face a massive problem due to successive droughts.”

According to various studies, nearly half of Indian farmers have said they want to quit working on the land but cannot do so because of a lack of alternate livelihoods.

Farmer protests, farmer
Police use water cannons to disperse farmers during a protest demanding better price for their produce on the outskirts of New Delhi, India. VOA

Despite the challenge of finding work, Parul Haldar, a farmer from West Bengal, said she wants to migrate with her entire family to the city. “I will give up farming and go to Kolkata and look for work to make a living. There is no money to be earned from the farm,” she added.

Although the rural crisis has been festering for many years, economists partly blame the deepening crisis on a sweeping currency ban that led to widespread cash shortages two years ago and affected their incomes.

“Many farmers lost working capital, they had to borrow money from the banks or from the local moneylenders at high interest rates, so their costs went up,” economist Arun Kumar said. “So if costs go up and revenue comes down, then income gets squeezed.”

Protests by farmers have intensified in the past two years as they try to draw attention to the usually forgotten countryside — their recent march was their fourth and largest to Delhi so far this year. They have also held marches in other cities like Kolkata and Mumbai. In June, farmers in several parts of the country threw their produce on the streets to highlight low prices. And last year, farmers from southern India protested in New Delhi with skulls to draw attention to suicides by farmers.

Farmer
The Farmer Portal provides all the relevant information and services to the farming community and private sector. Wikimedia Commons

“Farmers are saying enough is enough, now something needs to be done,” Yogendra Yadav said. “Both the economic and ecological crisis is leading to an existential crisis, farmers are committing suicide, they are quitting farming.”

Also Read: Millions Of Urban Children in Worse Condition Than Rural People: UNICEF

Political analysts also said the growing rural anger could erode support for Prime Minister Modi in the countryside ahead of next year’s scheduled elections. Farmers make up an important voting bloc.

“Opposition to Modi is growing. Unless you have rural support, no party can win on [the] basis of urban support only,” said Satish Misra, of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi. “The distress is real. The agriculture issue needs to be addressed in a very focused manner.” (VOA)