However much the killing of six farmers in police firing at Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh may have shocked and enraged the entire country, the BJP could not be any less bothered. The Shivraj Singh Chauhan government first tried to dispute if the bullets were fired by the police. Then we were told that the people killed were ‘anti-social elements’ and not genuine farmers. Now when the two facts have been unquestionably settled for the public and the media at large, the BJP blames it on the opposition’s ‘conspiracy to defame and destabilise’ the state government.

Prime Minister Modi who tweets on every loss of life in foreign lands has predictably had no time to talk about the Mandsaur police firing and the farmers killed. The Union Agriculture Minister too was busy celebrating yoga in his constituency with Baba Ramdev -whether farmers are killed in Mandsaur or in his own town Motihari, such killings could hardly distract his yogic concentration. And now even as Shivraj Singh has undertaken a fast, ostensibly to ‘pray for peace’, his colleague Kailash Vijayvargeeya has put things in perspective for all of us. Mandsaur is just a single district in a big state like Madhya Pradesh and the loss of five or six lives in such a big state is no big deal!

The ongoing farmers’ agitation in Madhya Pradesh and neighbouring Maharashtra reflects a massive pent-up anger of rural agrarian India. The official propaganda about Madhya Pradesh has been celebrating a record double digit growth in agricultural production in the state. But this very bumper harvest coupled with growing imports of pulses has rendered agriculture more unprofitable for the common farmer. The cash crunch caused by demonetization and the crisis of agricultural credit has only worsened their plight. With sale proceeds hardly matching the ever increasing input cost, farmers are being forced to go on strike or even contemplate a cut in production, giving up production for the market to return to subsistence farming.

The ongoing agitation naturally revolves around two common key demands – loan waiver for farmers and fixation of support price on levels that guarantee at least 50% margin over and above input costs. Ever since Modi promised a loan waiver for UP peasants in the UP elections, the demand for loan waiver for farmers has gained ground in several states from Tamil Nadu and Madhya Pradesh to Maharashtra and Gujarat. In Madhya Pradesh almost all peasant organisations have been fighting on this issue, and when the Shivraj Singh Chauhan government worked out a separate deal with the RSS-affiliated Bhartiya Kisan Sangh leaving aside the key demands, the common farmers understandably exploded in anger. The police firing has only helped spread the agitation and steel the resolve of the agitating farmers within and beyond Madhya Pradesh.

The deep rooted structural nature of the agrarian crisis and its social ramifications including the most disturbing phenomenon of farmer suicides have received almost no attention from successive governments in recent years. The UPA-I had set up a national commission on farmers under the chairmanship of eminent agricultural scientist MS Swaminathan and to its credit the Swaminathan Commission submitted a comprehensive five volume report between December 2004 and October 2006. But let alone implementation, the report has never been properly taken up for even a serious discussion in Parliament.

The key recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission – land reforms, irrigation reforms, credit expansion and restructuring and remunerative support price ensuring 50% margin over cost of production- remain the key agenda of the peasant movement, but the BJP government keeps negating them in every possible way. Even as the country was demanding justice for the fallen farmers of Mandsaur we heard a Niti Aayog expert, Professor Ramesh Chand, blame the peasants for their ‘unreasonable expectations’ and politicians for ‘spoiling’ the peasantry with ‘populism’. Professor Chand’s prescription is liberalisation of the agricultural economy, introduction of extensive contract farming laws and moving more and more peasants away from agriculture: in other words, handing over the entire agriculture sector to corporate control.

To carry out this agenda of corporate restructuring of Indian agriculture, the Sangh-BJP establishment has unleashed its two-pronged strategy of violent suppression of peasant protests on one hand and sharpening communal polarisation on the other. We saw sugarcane growers pitted against each other in Muzaffarnagar, and now we see dairy farmers and cattle grazers being divided on communal basis. But the current phase of peasant protests displays the potential of united resistance in the face of all these odds. And the Maharashtra government’s belated announcement of a complete loan waiver shows the strength of peasant power which had earlier forced Modi to go back on his aggressive land acquisition mission.

Historically peasant resistance has played a great role in powering the democratic advance of the Indian people and energising the revolutionary communist movement. From the peasant-adivasi revolts of the 19th Century to the Gandhian satyagraha of the early 20th Century to the communist-led peasant revolutionary wars of subsequent years from Punnapra Vayalar, Tebhaga and Telangana to Naxalbari, Srikakulam and Bhojpur – peasant mobilisation has been central to every major democratic awakening and assertion of the Indian people. The growing peasant unrest in the country has similar potential for the present phase of anti-fascist resistance. From land reforms and loan waiver to irrigation/infrastructure and remunerative pricing – the entire agenda of the peasant movement must be taken up for powerful peasant mobilisation. Mounting a powerful counter offensive against the Modi government is the need of the hour and every victory won on the peasant front will prove decisive in defeating the Sangh-BJP fascist onslaught. 

Box 1

Farmers Suicides Continue Unabated in MP After Mandsaur Massacre

AIKMS against farmer suicide

On December 7, 2016, the Madhya Pradesh government had stated on the floor of the Assembly that 531 farmers and farm labourers had committed suicide in the State between July 1, 2016 and November 15, 2016.

In the weeks following the June 6 2017 massacre of six protesting farmers at Mandsaur, the spate of farmers’ suicides in the state continued. These include 5 farmers’ suicides between 10-20 June in Sehore, Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s own home district. Since June 8, 17 farmers (and counting) have ended their lives in Sehore, Hoshangabad, Raisen, Dhar and Vidisha districts.

Mukesh Yadav (23) of Lachaur village in Sehore, depressed due to a poor harvest, consumed poison in his field and died on 16 June in Sehore’s Nasrullaganj.

Khaju Khan (75) of Bapcha Kala village in Sehore, upset at his inability to buy seeds and manure, hanged himself to death from a tree on 16 June.

Jagdish More, 35, harassed by pressure created by the bank for repayment of his debt, consumed poison in Rampura area of Dhar Police Station on June 17.

Imrat died after consuming sulphas pills in Chandlaun village in Gotegaon, Narsinghpur. He bought a piece of land 10 years ago but could not manage to get it registered.

40-year-old Babulal Verma from Hoshangabad district died at Bhopal’s Hamidia Hospital early on 15 June after he immolated himself.

65-year-old Laxmi Gomasta killed himself in Narsinghpur district after consuming sulphas tablets on 19 June night. He was distressed because he had taken a loan of Rs 4 lakh and was unable to repay it after his wheat crop was destroyed in a fire.

A 55-year-old farmer Bansi Lal Meena hanged himself in his village, Jamoniakhurdh in Sehore district, on 19 June. He had taken a loan of Rs 2.3 lakh from Punjab National Bank to dig a well and procure seeds; a loan of Rs 3 lakh under the Kisan Credit Card scheme and another Rs 3 lakh from the local money lenders, but could not repay the loans because of a poor crop yield.

A 35-year-old farmer Jeevan Singh Meena of Sayarbamora village in Vidisha committed suicide on 18 June, unable to repay his debt and worried about the future of his three daughters.

Murlidhar, a 25-year-old farmer from Harda district, attempted suicide by consuming Sulphas pills on 19 June.

Pyarelal Oad (60) hanged himself to death in Neemuch district’s Pipliya Vyas village on 21 June, unable to repay a bank loan worth Rs 2.5 lakh.

Box 2

Agrarian Crisis And Farmers’ Suicides

At least one farmer is committing suicide EVERY HOUR in India. (source NCRB data on farmers’ suicides for 2015)

    • • 42% rise in the number of suicides by cultivators between 2014 and 2015. [Of the total 12,602 farm sector suicides in 2015, 8,007 were farmers while 4,595 were agricultural labourers. In 2014 of the total 12,360 farm sector suicides, the corresponding numbers were 5,650 farmers and 6,710 agricultural labourers, meaning that suicides by cultivators rose 42% while that of farm hands fell 31.5% between 2014 and 2015. Overall suicides in farm sector rose by 2% in 2015 compared to 2014.]

• Every day 35 farmers and agricultural workers are committing suicide in India. Bankruptcy and indebtedness witnessed the sharpest spike in 2015, registering an almost three-fold increase as compared to 2014.

• Interestingly, in 80% of the farmer-suicides due to debt, loans have been taken from banks and micro finance institutions, not moneylenders.

• 91% of farmer suicides in India are in 6 states – Maharashtra, MP, Chhattisgarh, AP, Telangana, Karnataka.

• The income from farming would never enable a farmer to be out of the debt trap. Economic Survey (2015-16) admits that the average annual income of the median farmer from cultivation, net of production costs, is less than Rs 20,000. That translates to an income of less than Rs 1,600 per month per farmer!

Minimum Support Price – Modi’s Broken Promises

Before being elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi promised farmers a minimum support price (MSP) that will ensure 50% profitability over costs, but in reality it has actually come down. (Live Mint 02 June 2016):

    • • The numbers are stark when support prices per quintal are compared to production costs. For instance, in 2009-10 support prices for paddy were Rs 950 per quintal as against an estimated cost of Rs 670 per quintal, according to data published by the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices. This translates to a profitability of nearly 42% for farmers. In 2015, support prices were Rs 1,410 per quintal against costs of Rs 1,324 per quintal, or a measly 6.5% profitability.

• In the 3 years between 2014 and 2016, Modi Government increased the support prices of rice by a mere 3.9% (average) per year, compared to average 9.5% increase per year in the three years preceding the NDA coming to power. Similarly, support prices for wheat went up by 4.1% (average) per year during the NDA regime, compared to 7% rise in the preceding three years.

Box 3

BJP Mocks and Derides Suicide-Stricken Farmers

MP Home Minister Bhupendra Singh in June 2017, after agitating farmers were shot dead by MP police: Farmers’ suicides in MP are a result of family disputes and not because of debt in agriculture. (http://www.business-standard.com/article/news-ani/farmers-suicides-are-result-of-family-disputes-says-mp-home-minister-117061301174_1.html)

Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh on 8 June 2017, asked about ongoing farmers’ protests and Mandsaur firing, declared, ‘Do Yoga’ (Yoga kijiye) (https://thewire.in/145303/farmers-protests-radha-mohan-singh/)

Union Urban Development Minister Venkaiah Naidu on 23 June 2017: ‘For farmers, seeking loan waivers has become a fashion.’ (https://thewire.in/150482/naidu-says-loan-waivers-have-become-a-fashion/)

Haryana Agriculture Minister OP Dhankar on 29 April 2015: Farmers who commit suicide are ‘cowards’ and ‘criminals’. Since ‘suicide is a crime as per Indian laws’, farmers committing suicide are criminals under the rule of law. Coward farmers, who are committing suicide, are running away from their responsibilities and leaving their families with liabilities. (http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/farmers-who-commit-suicide-are-cowards-haryana-agriculture-minister/)

Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh in Parliament in July 2015: Impotency and love affairs are the top reasons behind farmers’ suicides (http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/impotency-love-affairs-top-reasons-behind-farmer-suicides-agriculture-minister-radha-mohan-singh/article7460976.ece

BJP MLA from Madhya Pradesh Rameshwar Sharma in Feb 2017: “Mare vo kisaan hain jo kisaan kum aur subsidy chaatne ka vyapaar zyada karte hain.” (Suicidal farmers are less of farmers and do business of subsidy licking.) A real farmer never commits suicide. Those who made money using illegal ways, borrowed money and consumed alcohol, have defamed the farmer community.” (http://www.financialexpress.com/india-news/madhya-pradesh-those-who-commit-suicide-are-subsidy-lickers-not-farmers-says-bjp-mla-rameshwar-sharma/556004/)

MP Home Minister Bupendra Singh in a written reply to a question by Congress MLA Shailendra Patel in the MP assembly in July 2016: Farmers committed suicide because they were possessed by ghosts. (http://www.rediff.com/news/report/mp-govt-blames-ghosts-for-farmer-suicides-in-mp/20160720.htm)

Gopal Shetty BJP MP from north Mumbai on 18 Feb 2016: Fashion among farmers to commit suicide. (http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Fashion-among-farmers-to-commit-suicide-says-BJP-MP/articleshow/51034851.cms) Box end

Nationwide Farmer Protest against Mandsaur Killing

Nationwide Protests against Firing on Farmers in Mandsaur

The Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Mahasabha held nationwide protests on 15 June against the firing on farmers in Mandsaur, MP. Here you see one such protest in Haryana, a state with high agriculture GDP which now is reporting farmers’ suicides.