Mar 31, 2009

Left in Electoral Lurch: Do Farmers Count?

Farmers have themselves to blame for the plight they are in. No wonder, they have been relegated to the bottom of the pit.

Elections are around the corner. And like in every general elections, farming and agriculture appear to be something that the political parties do talk about before they go to the ballot, but to be soon forgotten thereafter. We are already seeing that the election manifestos of various political parties talk about agriculture, water, livelihood security and the plight of farmers.


During the election process itself you would however notice that these issues are seldom mentioned, and completely off the economic agenda for the next five years. One obvious reason is that even farmers and farmer groups have failed to make a serious effort to put agriculture on top of the political agenda. They have tried it here and there but haven’t succeeded so far. Come elections, and the farmers forget about farming; and what takes over are other politically hot issues, sometimes local issues, and farming gets lost in caste configurations.


Farmers’ political strength

If only farmers had seen to it that they are not forgotten on the political map, I see no reason why and how the political parties could have avoided putting farming and agrarian issues on top of the political as well as the national agenda. Isn’t it sad that one-fourth of the world’s farming population — 600 million farmers that India has — has failed to use the democratic process to its advantage? If the farmers had realised their collective political strength, they would have been ruling the country by now.


Farmers have themselves to blame for the plight they are in. No wonder, they have been relegated to the bottom of the pit.


In 2004 general elections, it was essentially the rural anger against the ‘India Shining’ brigade that put the UPA by default in the saddle. Soon after coming to power, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did talk about reviving agriculture. He did repeatedly say that agriculture is passing through its worst crisis, and needs immediate attention. But he could not see beyond industry, and his government laid a red carpet for the corporate takeover of agriculture. Almost all laws have been suitably amended to favour corporate control over natural resources.


Farmers meanwhile continued to demonstrate their anger against the apathy and neglect of farming through the serial death dance being enacted throughout the country. Since 1997, more than 1.80 lakh farmers have committed suicide. The tragedy is that even this human sacrifice, massive from any political standards anywhere in the world, has failed to shift the national focus on the plight of farmers.No political party has actually extended more than lip-sympathy to the plight of the farming community.


Nor do I expect the political scenario to undergo any drastic change in the coming elections. This is primarily because the farmer leadership has failed the farming community. In many parts of the country, I find farmer leaders are keen to contest elections than to make any meaningful contribution to the welfare of the farming community.


In the 14th Lok Sabha there were nearly 350 members who came from the rural areas and claimed to be representing the farmers, and yet they were never to be seen when agriculture issues were discussed. As many as 57 MPs never debated and 78 had no questions to ask. In the past too, MPs were rarely seen to be concerned about farmer issues. Even in debates about WTO negotiations, I haven’t seen more than 10 members in the House. Contd....

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Deccan Herald, Mar 31, 2009. http://www.deccanherald.com/Content/Mar312009/editpage20090330127138.asp

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