The slogan, “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan” was immortalised by former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri, who, during his 18-month-long tenure had underlined the need for the nation to be always grateful to our soldiers, who guard our frontiers and the farmers who feed us. When the 1965 war with Pakistan took place, Shastri was at the helm of affairs and the firm manner in which he handled the critical situation was both a tribute to his leadership abilities, as also to his comprehension of the multiple problems faced by the country.
The forgotten kisans (farmers) were given a pride of place in order to send a redoubtable missive that in a food starved state, their contribution should always receive requisite recognition. Fifty-two years on, when India is both supposedly self reliant and an emerging power, the plight of Indian farmers remains an unsettling and disquieting concern. What is appalling is that our economy remains largely agrarian and more than 60% of the population is employed in the agriculture sector.
Successive governments have made tall promises to address the grievances of those who till our land, but at the grassroots level, reality is lamentable. In fact, the situation is spiralling out of hand. According to available data, in 2016, approximately 14,000 farmers committed suicide in various parts of the country, primarily because they were unable to repay their loans. The figure could be on the rise, unless the Centre and the state governments collectively put forth an implementable plan and not merely a removed-from-reality strategy formulated by bureaucrats and economists, who have scant knowledge of the actuality of the condition.
The crisis in Madhya Pradesh, where six persons were killed in police firing, could well be the beginning of a nationwide stir by the farmers, who continue to be deprived of adequate compensation for their crops due to the pathetic policies of those in power. While it is true that if the Madhya Pradesh government had handled the growing unrest among the farmers with compassion and empathy, the matter would not have escalated. Evidently, the administration did not adequately advise the Chief Minister, thereby allowing the agitation to soar out of control. The distressing matter is that a similar discontentment is brewing in neighbouring Maharashtra and is thus threatening to blow up beyond proportion. It is a coincidence that the first two states hit by the fresh stir happen to be governed by the Bharatiya Janata Party, which unfortunately, is trying to cover up the limitations of its own governments by giving it a political hue, instead of addressing the core issues in this complicated scenario.
It is but natural that the Congress and other political parties would try and encash on the developments, yet the onus of finding a solution lies with the Central and state governments. Bhupinder Singh Mann, president of the Bharatiya Kisan Union, has reminded the Prime Minister of the assurances he made from the ramparts of the Red Fort during an Independence Day address, where he pledged to double the income of the farmers. Prior to this, he had spoken of paying the kisans at least 50% more than their cost of production. In Uttar Pradesh, the Prime Minister had hinted at a loan waiver. It is obvious that once the expectations have been raised, the disappointment is always magnified when the implementation does not take place.
In addition, nothing has been done to improve the storage capacity of the agricultural produce or to assist the farmers who have to travel long distances to mandis, without getting sufficient compensation for their crops. The step-motherly treatment to the farmers could very well precipitate into a point of no return crisis, unless the Prime Minister steps in and gives a road map, which has clarity and obtainable objectives.
The supreme irony is that on one hand, a clear focus remains on the contribution of our brave soldiers, whose sacrifice is highlighted on a daily basis, while on the other, the plight of the farmers continues to prey on one’s mind as a tormenting question. It is apparent that the priority attached to the agriculture sector is pitiably low in the government list. How else would one explain that successive governments have failed to honour two Indians who have contributed more than many others in the past conferred with the Bharat Ratna? The reference is to Dr M.S. Swaminathan, the father of the Green Revolution and to Dr Verghese Kurian, the man who ushered in the milk revolution, and the mastermind of Amul. Did they not deserve the nation’s highest award?
Several top BJP leaders have acknowledged Shastri’s emphasis on the need to back our jawans and kisans. However, the present dispensation finds it politically more prudent to highlight the role of the soldiers, since it is in line with their political thinking, but have not found it worth their while to underline the role of the kisans, who form the backbone of the country.
Iqbal’s couplet, echoes the alarming dimensions of the unrest: “Jis Khet Se Dahqaan Ko Muyassar Na Ho Rozi, Uss Khet Ke Har Khosha E Gandum to Jala Do (consign to flames every ripening ear of wheat from a field that fails to provide the daily bread to those who till it). The farmers’ agitation is a wakeup call. Between us.