As a farmer in Maharashtra, I know that when PM Modi was elected in 2014, he received huge support from the farming community. Most of us fell for the development agenda Modi reiterated throughout his campaign and his promises for the upliftment of farmers.
I was one of those young-generation farmers who were hugely influenced by Modi’s eloquence and promises for a better Bharat. However, as a farmer, the last 3-4 years have been a very tough ride. Modi’s speeches still continue to be as eloquent as ever, but the situation of farmers has worsened more than ever. The time has arrived that we mull over the reasons we supported Modi in 2014 – and the ground reality of his promises four years down the line.
Despite the favorable weather over the last few years, farmers are struggling for livelihood. The farmers, whom Modi promised to support, are under major threat from reduced incomes. With the falling prices of farm produce and mounting debts, farmers are suffering terribly and there seems to be no hope for things to improve in the near future. The government’s actions have betrayed farming families (like mine). In fact, we are very scared about our financial condition.
On one hand, we talk about India being one of the fastest-growing markets for businesses around the world. On the other, our own farmers (who still constitute above 60% of India’s population) lack an access to fair markets and prices.
Almost every crop we grow costs more to produce than what we sell it for. During the last four years, my family’s farm in west Maharashtra managed multiple harvests of grapes, pomegranates, tomatoes and grains. Unfortunately, every single harvest/crop consistently failed to reaching a break-even point. The situation is the same everywhere – input prices have gone up steadily, but the prices that farmers receive have gone down drastically. This has only piled up the debts for the farmers.
With the sharp dip in farm income and the dearth of basic infrastructure, all odds seem to stacked against the producers. In regard to the electricity supply in rural areas, it would seem that we are still as backward as we can get. In the region where I farm, in a day, we receive electricity for less than 10 hours, that too with many disruptions. Farm insurance and/or farm assistance policies are either lacking, or the ones in place only help the companies, lenders and bureaucrats (via corruption).
The strain in today’s farm economy is no accident – it’s the result of implementing policies designed to make corporations richer at the expense of farmers. Modi’s campaign may be focusing more on the urban areas. They may believe that the urban voters will take them over the line this time – no matter how much farmers and the rural communities suffer. Even so, I would say they are taking a huge gamble by only appealing to urban voters (via the same ‘development talks’) and neglecting the rural communities, which still make up a significant portion of our voting population.
Prior to an election, one of the cards almost every political party plays nowadays is the “loan waivers” for farmers. Loan waivers do provide relief to a certain extent. However, it has never solved the farming crisis by itself, nor will it ever do so. What will truly help farmers is a strategy to make agriculture a profitable and sustainable venture by taking some sound steps (providing access to fair markets, low-interest agricultural loans, basic infrastructure such as electricity and water supply, and implementation of the sound farm assistance policies). It’s time that parties take some time out of their busy schedules (of playing political games) and do some concrete work that will ensure that farmers get their fair share.
In 2014, Modi’s speeches had given a new hope for farmers. We hoped that Modi would be our champion. He sounded like he would stand by our side against all the odds. We cheered Modi’s promises to support the ‘Make in India’ programme (which would open up markets for local farms), his pledge to electrify every single village and making India corruption free. And most of all, we liked his promises towards helping the kisan and majdoor.
But we have been let down. If the Indian farmer is to survive, they must get their fair share. I don’t know how much time Modi and his government have to reverse the course. I hope they do reverse it – and by doing so, they may seize another opportunity. But if they won’t fight for us, we farmers will bring the fight to them.