For over a month now, farmers from Tamil Nadu have been protesting against the Union Government in the national capital. Demanding waiver of loans by nationalized banks, the protestors have adopted innovative methods to display their plight and attract the Government’s attention. In the last few weeks, they have protested outside the Speaker’s house, hanging chain of skulls of farmers who’ve committed suicide in Tamil Nadu, they have protested in front of the PM’s residence by stripping naked and at other times they have staged mock funerals for each other and have also stuffed their faces with mice and snakes to make the Government to listen to their demands. So far, the response from the Union Government has been nothing more than assurances and the usual bureaucratic dilly-dallying.
Opposition parties have smelled an opportunity to embarrass Modi Government and the protest is expected to only stiffen in the coming days, unless the Union Government can make up its mind and act on the issue. The following are the facts of the matter-
1. Parts of Tamil Nadu, especially around Thanjavur and Thiruchirapalli have been in the grip of a severe drought since the failure of Winter monsoons last year. Annual quarrels with Karnataka over Kaveri waters has effectively brought ruin upon the farmers whose lands are starved of water.
2. Farmers’ suicides are on the rise in the region.
3. AIADMK under late J Jayalalitha had promised a loan waiver to farmers if brought back to power, a promise that was acted on when the State Cooperative Banks waived off loans to farmers. But the loans to nationalized banks still remain. Jayalalitha made repeated appeals to the Union Government demanding drought relief which the Union government has met in small measure.
Led by P. Ayyakannu, a farmer from Thiruchirapalli, who was formerly allied to the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, Tamil Nadu farmer protests in New Delhi have gathered steam over the last few days. Ayyakannu has some experience in leading protests in his Home state, which has been recognized by the Madras High Court as well.
Ayyakannu’s organization Desiya Thenninthiya Nathigal Inaippu Vivasayigal Sangam (National South Indian River Interlinking Agriculturist Association), has been leading innovative protests in the national capital. While protesting for loan waivers and the establishment of Kaveri river Management board, Ayyakannu is emphatic about his main demand, that is the implementation of MS Swaminathan committee report which talks about a Minimum Support Price of crops at 50% higher than the cost of cultivation, which Ayyakannu feels will solve all problems.
In an age of loan waivers, Yogi announced it recently and Punjab, Maharashtra and Karnataka are on the cusp of announcing it, It is strange that the Union government is not acquiescing to the protestors demands. One reason is because, were the Union Government to agree to bearing the cost of loan waiver in Tamil nadu, other states would follow suit. The Centre is not wrong in contending that any such move would only encourage fiscal indiscipline by the state governments. That having been said, Union minister of Agriculture, Radha Ram Mohan Singh had assured the Rajya Sabha that financial assistance would be given to Tamil Nadu to tackle the drought situation in the state. Nothing seems to have moved in this regard in the last one month.
Observers have noted the presence of legions of advocates besides the bare chested protesting farmers. Observers have also noted the efficient manner in which replacement of weary protestors, worn down by Delhi heat and climate by able bodied youngsters from Tamil Nadu is being executed.
Some of the demands of the farmers, for instance Rs. 40K crore as assistance to Tamil Nadu are startling. Wouldn’t farmers in the protest be content with a loan waiver?
Why would they demand a specific amount
of monetary aid, which the state government can anyway demand and negotiate with the Centre? The nature of some of the demands for example, a Kaveri Management board clearly aims to ruin BJP’s electoral chances in Karnataka. Perhaps Opposition and State leaders are using the farmers as a tool to score political points against BJP and the Central government.
Like Anna Hazare and his anti-corruption platform was used to further Arvind Kejriwal’s political interests, will the genuine cause of Tamil Nadu farmers’ protests will be sacrificed to political interests, only time will tell. For now, the Centre must get its act together and get cracking to extend help to millions of desperate Tamil nadu farmers