'If the BJP thinks they can suppress the farmers' movement by opening fire, they are wrong.'
'It will create a boomerang effect which will be very difficult to manage.'
It's been a week and Maharashtra's farmers have been continuing their protests to demand a loan waiver and higher minimum support prices.
A similar protest in neighbouring Madhya Pradesh took a violent turn on Tuesday, June 6, when at least five farmers were killed and others injured in two separate incidents of firing in Mandsaur.
Rediff.com's Syed Firdaus Ashraf spoke to Ashok Dhawale, joint secretary, All India Kisan Sabha, to find out why India's farmers are angry and upset.
Why are farmers in Maharashtra and other states protesting?
There is a crisis in agriculture and it has not happened all of a sudden.
This crisis has been accumulating over the years. Farmers were getting the impression that government policies were not framed in their interest.
On the contrary, they feel the policies were framed against their interests.
For years, farmers have borne this injustice, but a time comes when the injustice can no longer be tolerated.
That is exactly what is happening in Maharashtra and in Madhya Pradesh where police firing led to the deaths of farmers.
Aren't such protests and the deaths of farmers in firing unprecedented?
Tuesday's event in Madhya Pradesh was very bad. Six people have died. This is unprecedented.
In Maharashtra, there has been no farmers' strike like this. This is historic.
There have been agitations, morchas before, but now it has been a week and the strike is still going strong.
Even during (the late Shetkari Sanghatna leader) Sharad Joshi's time, this kind of strike was never seen.
The strike is not being led by anyone, there are no leaders visible.
It is not exactly a leaderless movement. There are many organisations working on it, which have formed a core committee.
But there is no face attached to this strike.
That is a good thing because it shows that the movement is led by the farmers and is popular.
That is its strength, not weakness.
But there is a definite centre which is guiding it and it is in the form of a co-ordination committee which has leaders from various streams.
This is led by intellectuals among the farmers.
Is it difficult for the government to meet the farmers' demand to waive loans?
The government has no political will to address the issue of farmers.
Secondly, all their policies and direction are helping the corporate lobby to the detriment of every other section.
Among that section, the farmers are the largest. So, they are facing the biggest brunt of it.
The government only wants to make the corporate lobby rich and happy.
How does the corporate lobby come into the picture? This is a farmers' strike.
Take the example of crop prices which are dictated by corporate groups.
I will give you the example of cotton.
Raw cotton is used in factories for making cloth.
The corporates owning these factories want to get cotton at the lowest price and so the government keeps the minimum support price (MSP) of cotton very low.
Similarly, you take the example of wheat.
The government has reduced import duty on wheat from 25 per cent to 0.
We are importing wheat from Canada, the USA, Australia.
Now, you have a situation where the government has announced Rs 1,625 per quintal as the price for wheat to Indian farmers, but when you import the same wheat from abroad, you get it at Rs 1,300 per quintal.
Now, if foreign wheat is coming in cheap, who will pay Rs 1,625 per quintal to Indian farmers?
There must a reason why the government is doing this.
There is a reason. Atta (flour) companies are owned by corporates. They were the ones who told the Modi government to do away with wheat imports.
Why are corporates not buying wheat from Indian farmers instead of importing it?
Because they are getting it cheaper, at Rs 1,300 per quintal from abroad, so why pay more to Indian farmers?
When you read a little bit more, you will understand that during elections the government is funded by these corporate lobbies.
When they came to power the Bharatiya Janata Party government has to take care of the interests of this corporate lobby.
Farmers are still voting for the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in every election in huge numbers.
Yes, that is the fun of the bourgeoisie process.
Take money from the bigwigs and ask votes from the poor people.
That is the strategy which was adopted by the Congress earlier and now it is being done much more shamelessly by the BJP.
In the information age where things are so transparent, why are farmers not getting the right price for their produce?
Talking about transparency is to fool the people.
The M S Swaminathan Commission, which was set up by the Manmohan Singh government, its recommendations have not been implemented.
The panel submitted its report in 2006-2007. But the Congress never implemented it.
Modi, in his 439 public meetings before the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, said -- and so did the BJP's manifesto -- that they will implement the Swaminathan Commission recommendations if they came to power.
But even they haven't done it till date.
What are the commission's key recommendations?
The MSP will be declared and fixed to cover the entire cost of production along with 50 per cent profit.
Every farmer, whatever he produces -- wheat, tur dal, rice or cotton -- or whatever cost he incurs, he will be reimbursed that 50 per cent profit on the produce.
And this was said by (M S)Swaminathan, the father of India's Green Revolution.
Till date, the Modi government has not given this to farmers which they promised in their manifesto.
On the contrary, the government is giving farmers an MSP which is less than the cost of production.
BJP President Amit Shah said last week that the Modi government has given an MSP that is 43 per cent higher than the production cost.
Amit Shah is talking nonsense about farmers, total nonsense. No such thing has happened.
In February 2015, the Government of India, which is ruled by the BJP, submitted an affidavit in the Supreme Court of India saying, 'Although we have promised in our manifesto that we will give remunerative prices to farmers as per the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, we are unable to do that because we find it impractical to do so. Therefore, we cannot do it.'
This was the affidavit given by the BJP government in the Supreme Court after one year of coming to power.
So what nonsense is Amit Shah talking?
But, on the ground, farmers don't realise these things, do they?
The farmers have realised it now. Therefore, they are on strike.
The BJP says the Opposition is behind the protests.
Every government in power says the same thing.
This movement is leaderless and the farmers are angry with the Modi government.
Take the example of loan waiver.
For big corporate companies, their outstanding loans to banks have come to Rs 11 lakh crore.
Corporates have not paid back this loan to nationalised banks.
Don't you think it is bad economics if you don't repay loans, be it farmers or corporates?
You stop giving loans to corporates. They can afford it and are making profits.
Right now a report has come that just one per cent of India's population owns 59 per cent of the country's wealth. Three years ago it was 48 percent.
After Modi came to power, this number has increased by 9 per cent.
Why do these corporate groups need a loan waiver?
The farmers are only saying implement the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission and if the government does that, there is no question of farmers going into debt.
But if farmers are guaranteed 50 per cent returns on their costs, what happens to food inflation?
How will the middle class and service class afford food prices?
So 4 lakh farmers committing suicide in the last 25 years is all right?
On the contrary, if farmers get more money, all the industries will run much better because farmers in rural areas will have purchasing power.
Today, we have recession because your own countrymen don't have buying capacity to purchase the goods that are being produced by the industries.
Is the Swaminathan Commission recommendations the only solution to this crisis?
That is the most scientific answer to this problem.
There is no better formula to solve the farmers' problems than implementing the recommendations.
But the Congress government didn't implement it. Why were no protests held then?
There were protests then too, but it was not that intense. But now it has accumulated.
The BJP manifesto promised it, so why they are not doing it?
Are farmers disillusioned with the BJP?
Yes, they are disillusioned.
Farmers are disillusioned with Modi. There is no doubt about it.
And if the BJP government starts killing farmers by firing on them, there will be a much bigger uproar.
If the BJP thinks they can suppress the farmers' movement by opening fire, sadly, they are wrong.
It will create a boomerang effect which will be very difficult to manage.
The government must come to its senses by waiving loans and implement the Swaminathan Commission report.
If it has got sense, it will do it.
If it is wedded to corporates, then it will not do it.
Then it will have to face the consequences from the peasantry.