By Richard Mahapatra
Cheers, farming is finally a political agenda in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s virtual address to farmers reiterates: The agrarian country must put farmers at top of political agenda.
One can’t miss the symbolism in Prime Minister Modi’s address to farmers amidst the protests in Delhi. On Christmas Day, he pushed a button to release Rs. 18,000 crore to be directly transferred to farmers’ accounts under the PM Kisan scheme.
That moment I remembered Santa Clause’s fabled gifts and instantly did a mental correction. Might be it is just an impression expected in this festive season? But the next moment Modi mentioned: “On Christmas day, it is a gift to farmers.”
Modi addressed virtually to some 80 million farmers, as the Union agriculture minister claimed. This means he addressed over 50 per cent of India’s total farmers engaged in cultivation. This makes his address “historic”, a term that is officially attributed to almost every step or decision he takes.
He assured the farmers that the fear of doing away with the minimum support price regime and the corporatisation of agriculture is misplaced. “The government is not doing that,” he repeated many times.
However, a significant part of his address was devoted to opposition parties’ “politicisation” of the farmers and their concerns. One point after another, he listed how those in opposition or non-BJP parties have been using the farm crisis to remain relevant in politics. “Nothing happened when they were in government for decades. Small farmers became poorer, and they kept on winning elections. My government is adopting a new approach to agriculture. This is a threat to their existence,” he repeated many times, while listing all schemes of his government.
In his interactions with farmers – chosen from all regions of the country, north, south, northeast, east, west and central – he interrogated them on two key concerns of the agitating farmers: “Did doing business with private players led to you losing your land?” and “Did you not earn more by selling outside the government regulated markets?”
The farmers interacting with him replied in negative. He requested them to spread the message in their villages.
But while accusing opposition parties of “politicising” the farmers’ issues, he set the agenda that one can cheer about: Bring farmers and farming into mainstream political agenda.
He mentioned how the West Bengal government has not implemented the PM Kisan scheme. In this election-bound state, the BJP is aspiring to dislodge the ruling TMC government led by chief minister Mamata Banerjee.
He mentioned about why Kerala has not set up APMCs till now while the ruling party supporting farmers in Delhi/ Punjab. In Kerala, the BJP is aspiring to make inroads.
More to it, he mentioned how in Rajasthan local elections those opposing the three farm laws actually lost. “Electoral verdicts support our laws,” he said.
Without addressing the specific demands of the protesting farmers – repeal of the three farm laws – he just made it clear that it is a fight between the ruling and the opposition parties. He just kept the protesting farmers aside from his speech.
But here is the development to cheer. A farmers’ agitation has grabbed the Prime Minister’s attention, rather in grip, that he had to resort to this spectacular event to address the concerns. By making it a ruling-opposition political party issue, he has brought agriculture into political discourse.
(Richard Mahapatra is managing editor, Down To Earth. This piece first appeared on his Facebook wall.)