Peasant leaders across India threatened Friday to launch nationwide protests against the recent killings of five farmers by police in Madhya Pradesh state during an agitation over unfulfilled government promises.
On Tuesday, farmers in the central Indian state’s Mandsaur district had come out on the streets demanding loan waivers and a hike in the minimum support price (MSP), when police opened fire, killing five protesters and injuring dozens. The state’s government has confirmed that the five died from police fire.
The MSP is a fixed price at which the government purchases crops from farmers so they don’t suffer extreme losses in case of low yields.
“We have already issued an ultimatum to the BJP-government in Maharashtra for a total loan waiver and a hike in the MSP,” Raju Shetti of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana (SSS), an influential union based in Maharashtra state, told BenarNews.
“Leading peasant organizations will hold a meeting in New Delhi on July 16 to chalk out a strategy,” Shetti said, adding that “intensifying the stir was very much on the cards.”
Reports of sporadic violence, arson and road blockades by agitating farmers in Madhya Pradesh kept trickling through on Friday, despite a curfew clamped by the state government the day before.
On Thursday, the police detained Rahul Gandhi, the principal leader of the political opposition to India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), while he and his Indian National Congress (INC) party colleagues were attempting to enter Mandsaur district.
The rightwing nationalist BJP government accused opposition leaders of instigating the farmers.
“[The government is] sensitive to the needs of farmers and [is] doing everything to meet the farmers’ demands and end protests,” Home Minister Rajnath Singh told reporters in New Delhi, while declining to respond to questions on the farmers’ killings.
M. Venkaiah Naidu, a senior BJP leader, slammed opposition parties for what he described as “politicizing” the farmers’ anger.
“The protests are being fueled [by opposition parties] to tarnish the image the BJP government,” Naidu told reporters in south India’s Tamil Nadu state.
‘If the hay is dry’
But not many are buying BJP’s barbs at its opposition.
“If the hay is dry then a single match can set the entire field on fire. This is what is happening in the rural areas where farmers have become a dying breed because of lop-sided government policies,” political commentator Rakshit Sonawane told BenarNews.
A large majority of farmers voted for the BJP, which had promised them relief, during election campaigns, said scholar Pravin Nadkar, who has spent more than three decades in India’s hinterlands studying agrarian issues.
“The sinking of these promises is a slap on their hopes,” Nadkar told BenarNews.
“Moreover, there has been a tectonic shift by successive governments from agriculture to industrialization. Not that the farmer earlier lived an idyllic life, but today, even a big landholding farmer is facing the sting of this paradigm shift. And alienation is high,” he said.
More than 12,000 farmers in India commit suicide every year because of failed crops or unpaid debt, according to government figures.
“The government is totally indifferent toward the problems farmers face,” Kishore Tiwari, leader of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti, which has been documenting farmer suicides in Maharashtra, told BenarNews.
“Loan waiver for farmers was the BJP’s promise during all its election campaigns,” he added.
“A hike in the MSP is a key solution for the farmers’ woes, but the government has come out with an excuse that it does not have requisite infrastructure like gunny bags and warehouses to purchase from farmers at a high MSP. So the farmer is left with no exit other than agitate,” Tiwari said.