Farmers’ protests

Madhya Pradesh farmers join the growing resistance against the new farm laws

Print edition : January 01, 2021

Farmers staging ‘chakka jam’ at Kolar Chouraha during the ‘Bharat bandh’ against the new farm Acts, in Bhopal on December 8. Photo: A.M. Faruqui

The protests against the farm laws are expected to be more intense in the coming days.

MADHYA PRADESH is catching up with the nationwide farmers resistance against the Narendra Modi government’s three farm laws.

On December 3, before the Bharat bandh on December 8, farmers of the State hit the streets to express solidarity with the massive sit-in that was held on the outskirts of Delhi. They organised a “chakka jam” across the 52 districts of the State against the three farm Acts. They also demanded an assurance on minimum support price (MSP) for crops.

Though the protests in the State have been sporadic until now, farmers’ associations have begun consultations at the village level to draw up a more concerted agitation programme.

Also read: COVER STORY | Farmers' protests in India turn into a tidal wave of anger

The farmers also observed December 3, the anniversary of the 1984 Bhopal gas tragedy, as “anti-corporate” day. Ashok Tiwari of the Communist Party of India (CPI), who mobilised the protesters in Chambal, told the media on the occasion that he expected the protests to spiral in the days ahead. “We are holding meetings at village level to gather support,” he said. The farmers protest in the State received support from employees of the mandi board, many of whom have not been paid their dues owing to apparent paucity of funds.

The farmers’ resentment was palpable on the day of Bharat bandh, so much so that the Inspector General (Law and Order), D. Sriniwas Rao, said more than 20 companies of the Special Armed Forces (SAF) had been stationed in the 10 zones of the State in addition to the district police force. The active and reserve force were kept on standby all through the Bharat Bandh.

Also read: COVER STORY | Political impact of the farmer unions’ Delhi siege and Modi government’s deceitful games

Rishi Raj Patel, a farmer from Narsinghpur, said every day there were processions and sit-ins in and around the district. “The Modi government chose the timeline well. It thrust these laws on farmers when the fear of the coronavirus pandemic was at its peak and there was a nationwide lockdown. But the backlash was imminent. This is the harvesting season, so a lot of small farmers are absorbed in it. After the harvest is over, protests will swell,” the farmer told this reporter over the phone.

He said the Modi government was doing everything in its capacity to create divisions in their ranks but the farmers were united in taking their struggle to its logical conclusion.

An increasing number of farmers from Gwalior and nearby regions in the northern part of the State have started marching towards the national capital to support the ongoing protest there. As early as September 22, farmers from across the State poured into Delhi to protest against the agricultural Bills passed by the government. Under the banner of the Bharatiya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh and the Bharatiya Kisan Union, farmers took out a march from the Mansarovar Complex to the MP Board Office square in Bhopal and submitted a memorandum to the officials concerned.

Trilok Gothi of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasabha said farmers had both the “will and the strength to bring the Modi government to its knees”. “What the Prime Minister and his Ministers are seeing is the tip of the iceberg. Only 2 per cent of the farmers have marched to Delhi, but they [the government] are already shaken. Imagine what will happen if all the farmers, who comprise 70 per cent of the country’s population, march to Delhi?” he asked. He said the Modi government should rollback the anti-farm laws at any cost.

Also read: COVER STORY | On the endemic contradictions in India’s path to modernisation of agriculture

Farmers’ resentment was noticeable during the 2018 Assembly election. The Malwa-Nimar region, considered the agricultural heartland of the State, voted decisively against the BJP, reducing its tally from 56 in 2013 to 28. There was widespread rejection of the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana and the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Beema Yojana (PMFBY). The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government attempted to sell them as pro-poor schemes. The Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana, launched in October 2017, stipulated that the government pay the farmers the difference in the MSP and the price at the mandi during a particular month.

However, this reporter found during a tour across the 15 districts of the Malwa-Nimar region (eight districts of the Indore division and seven of Ujjain division) in November 2018, that most of the farmers viewed the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana as a sham. In Itawadi village in Maheshwar tehsil, cotton and soya bean farmers said they were yet to receive the money due to them under the scheme.

They said the scheme was deadline-sensitive; one had to withhold one’s crops until the scheme period commenced. “This invariably favours well-off farmers who can wait. How can cash-starved farmers, who have nothing to eat, wait?” asked Champa Lal Patidar, a small farmer (“Farmers’ anger”, Frontline, December 21, 2018).

There was also marked resentment against the PMFBY. Most of the farmers said the insurance scheme was forced on them and the premium was not affordable. Dashrath Chouhan, an elderly farmer, said: “First, we do not have the choice to opt out of the scheme and, secondly, the premium is unaffordable. For example, for cotton, farmers must pay a premium of Rs.1,200 an acre. This means that if a farmer grows 10 acres of cotton, he will have to shell out anything between Rs.8,000 and Rs.10,000 as premium per crop.”

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Apparently, farmers had not heard of anyone who had availed himself of the PMFBY benefits. A young man said: “When we procure a loan, the bank deducts the premium without our consent. But when our crop fails, there is no provision for early assessment and relief. The patwari [assessor] turns up 15 days after the incident, and usually does a sloppy job. We cannot claim the insurance benefit individually, even though we pay the premium individually. The scheme stipulates that the benefit can be claimed only if the crop in the entire region covered by it fails. What kind of loot is that?” (“Farmers’ anger”, Frontline, December 21, 2018).

Farmers anger played a crucial role in the defeat of the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government in 2018. In the Malwa-Nimar region, which has 66 seats, the Congress increased its tally from nine to 35, while the BJP’s figure was reduced to 28.

An interaction with farmers from across the State gives one the sense that the protests against the farm laws are expected to be more intense in the coming days.

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