BJP thinks repeal of farm laws will help in UP but I think they are mistaken: AIKS President

Farmers in Uttar Pradesh have been very angry over shortages of inputs, price-rise, non payment of dues and several other issues, says Dr Ashok Dhawale, president, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS)

Ashok Dhawale
Ashok Dhawale

Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra

Dr Ashok Dhawale, president, All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and one of the leaders of the Samyukta Kisan Morcha (SKM), an umbrella organisation of 500 farmers’ bodies, has been at the forefront of the farmers’ movements over the past three decades. He spoke to Santoshee Gulabkali Mishra on the road ahead for farmers. Excerpts:

Do you see the repeal of the farm laws as a positive signal?

The Prime Minister took a U-turn on farmers’ demand for repealing the laws but he did not say even once that the laws were flawed or were against the farmers’ interests. He never apologised to the farmers for their hardship; all that he said was that he was sorry he failed to explain that the laws were for the farmers’ own benefit.

The laws were arbitrary, undemocratic, were brought in without consultations and were decidedly anti-farmer, anti-people and pro-corporate. Therefore, the PM’s U-turn was historic and significant. It has been the longest and largest farmers’ protest since Independence against an extremely cynical and arrogant government at the Centre.

BJP-RSS had staked everything on these farm laws. They wanted to enable both domestic and foreign corporates to make windfall profit from trading in agricultural produce.

They probably think they will win UP elections by repealing the farm laws. But I strongly believe they are mistaken. We know farmers of Uttar Pradesh are sick of the BJP government. For Paddy the official MSP is Rs. 1,940 per quintal, but farmers in UP are getting only Rs. 1,100 per quintal, so they are being robbed of Rs. 840 per quintal.

There are huge shortages of farm inputs in UP and black-marketing is rampant. On top of this, diesel and petrol prices have become prohibitive. The budget of UP farmers has gone haywire. These issues are not connected with farm laws but farmers are angry, very angry.

Maharashtra tops in farmers’ suicides but the state government is evidently unable to prevent them. What is the role of state governments?

Suicides by farmers started in 1993-94 in India. Data from NCRB reveal that over four lakh debt-ridden farmers have committed suicide from 1995 to 2020. Among them one lakh committed suicide during the last six-seven years and several lakh farmers have been forced to sell off their land.

Almost all state governments follow neo-liberal policies introduced in 1991-92. These policies clearly did not help farmers. A change in policy is needed by both the Union and state governments. But the reality is that the Union government controls the lion’s share of funds and resources available and also funds the largest number of schemes.

Bihar did away with Agriculture Marketing Boards (Mandis) in 2006 while Kerala has extended MSP to vegetables. What are the lessons to be learnt from the two states?

Bihar presents the worst-case scenario. In 2006 Bihar repealed the APMC Act. Since then, farmers there have never received the MSP for paddy @ Rs 1940 per quintal. Most of them are paid between Rs 800 and Rs 1100 by traders.

Kerala never had an APMC Act because it always produced cash crops. But for paddy, for example, Kerala government is paying Rs 2850 per quintal, which is Rs 900 more than the MSP. It is the highest in India and shows that if there is political will, farmers can be given a better deal. Despite the limitations that state governments have, a lot can still be done by states for agriculture.

Women farmers have stood with men shoulder to shoulder in the farmers’ protests. But they hardly own any farmland; they are always working as farm-labour. How do you see their future?

My sincere ‘Laal Salam’ to women farmers who have been an integral part of the protests. They do not own land, I agree. We have always demanded joint-patta and joint ownership of land.

It is a work in progress and we are determined to ensure that women do not just walk in the protest but become co-owners of the land.

(This article was first published in National Herald on Sunday)

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