By ALOK AGARWAL.
The dastardly state violence that killed 6 farmers protesting in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, last month was a culmination of the simmering anger and discontentment among farmers that the Aam Aadmi Party felt during its statewide Kisan Bachao Yatra initiated earlier this year. As our yatra neared its end, news of the Mandsaur violence rocked the nation. Even if the acute agricultural distress had not made national headlines, a cowardly killing of protesting farmers has brought the plight of India’s farmers to the forefront.
Despite the rising numbers of farmer suicides and farm loan default, the Shivraj Singh Chauhan government has played a detrimental role in pushing farmers over the edge. The extremely low price for agricultural produce, the failed Fasal Beema Yojna, poor quality seeds and never-ending indebtedness has caused the crisis to spiral out of control.
Farmers Took Ownership of AAP’s Agitation
With the goal of understanding the issues of farmers in Madhya Pradesh and organising them politically so as to make the government hear their voice, we set out from Bhopal on our Kisan Bachao Yatra on 1st May. For two weeks before the yatra, our team travelled across the state and met with chaupals in several villages. Farmers took it upon themselves to fund this effort of the party and offered small portions of wheat grain as their contribution to the campaign. Between 15th and 30th April, our team had collected over 100 quintals of wheat. The wheat grain was their way of expressing support and endorsing the party’s efforts to raise a voice on their behalf.
Covering over 10,000 kms through all 51 districts of Madhya Pradesh, 310 public meetings in 130 assembly constituencies and public consultations at 45 mandis of the state – the yatra lasted for 42 days. Most chaupals were held during the mornings and evenings, and in the interim, we visited mandis and interacted with thousands of farmers in the process.
Throughout the yatra, we felt a persistent air of despondency throughout the state. There was a clear sense of despair and hopelessness. The debt situation has become a death web for the farmers – once caught in this web, farmers cannot escape. Basic infrastructure like roads, electricity, and water supply has not reached many of these villages, but the farm loans have reached here in the form of government and personal credit. In such a situation, they either resort to selling off their land, or giving up on life altogether.
During the yatra, we heard some strikingly tragic stories of government apathy. In Gram Bangarda, District Khandwa, farmer Datar’s crop failed because of unfavourable climatic conditions. Under Pradhan Mantri Beema Yojana, he was entitled to compensation, so he set out to claim his cheque from the concerned office. After travelling some distance for the claim, he received a cheque of ₹12 and 72 paise, against the loss he incurred of ₹12,000.
Devastated by the abysmal compensation, he returned home with absolutely no money. The next morning he was found dead, having consumed lethal pills the previous night. Contrast this with the Delhi government’s policy of ensuring farmers receive ₹50,000 compensation per hectare for crop loss. Perhaps with an Aam Aadmi Party government in the state, we would not have lost Datar.
Devilal from Ujjain was asked to build a toilet under the Swachh Bharat Yojana. With much hardship and difficulty, Devilal constructed the toilet, but has never received the money he is entitled to receive. In Narsinghpur, a poor woman came up to me and told me her gas stove and LPG cylinder had been taken away because she couldn’t pay her electricity bill of ₹4000. She pleaded and begged with the officers but failed to earn their consideration. Another lady said her sewing machine was taken away.
Farming in the state is becoming unsustainable and most farmers are quitting in favour of becoming daily wage labourers instead. The state unit has decided to form the “AAP Kisan Sangthan” to take this fight for justice forward in Madhya Pradesh.
Alok Agarwal is the Convenor of AAP’s Madhya Pradesh unit and a well-known activist in MP’s social arena. He has been involved in activism since his youth and he plunged into the ‘Narmada Bachao Andolan’ right after passing out from IIT Kanpur in 1989.