In 2022, we will be celebrating 75 years of India’s Independence. In Indian culture, this is celebrated as Amrit Mahotsav. For us, every day and every step, every journey and every process will be dedicated to make Amritmay Bharat. And all this will be done by all of us, for all of us!” read the concluding part of the BJP’s 2014 Election Manifesto. The overwhelming majority of the Indians who reside in rural India and depend on agriculture and allied activities voted for the Modi juggernaut in the belief that the man of the 56-inch chest fame would lead a mission to revive the sagging fortunes of India’s villages. And why not? After all, the BJP had admitted in its manifesto that the rural areas had been witness to “prolonged neglect” and promised to unleash a “full-fledged programme for rural rejuvenation”.
Indeed, the BJP manifesto included several ‘radical’ promises vis-à-vis rural development and agriculture that farmers had been demanding for a long time. It appeared that the right-wing BJP had plagiarised the demands of the Left-leaning farmers’ organisations. For instance, it promised to “increase public investment in agriculture and rural development, take steps to enhance the profitability in agriculture by ensuring a minimum of 50 percent profits over the cost of the production, cheaper agricultural inputs and credit, introduce latest technologies for farming and high-yielding seeds and link MGNREGA to agriculture, implement a farm insurance scheme to take care of crop loss due to unforeseen natural calamities, strengthen and expand rural credit facilities, institute a price stabilisation fund to protect farmers from volatile world market prices” and more.
The manifesto also took a clear position on land acquisition that Modi and his party now want to erase from public memory. It read, “Land acquisition is a contentious issue due to the opacity of the land acquisition process. The BJP will adopt a ‘National Land Use Policy’, which will look at the scientific acquisition of non-cultivable land and its development, protect the interest of farmers and keep in mind the food production goals and economic goals of the country (emphasis added).”
With theBJP riding to power on the crest of these promises, which brought the party a windfall of votes across many parts of rural India, it was no surprise that a large number of farmers, especially in the ‘green revolution’ belts of Haryana and western Uttar Pradesh, joined the victory celebrations exactly a year ago. Already, many of those who owed allegiance to regional parties had shifted their loyalties to the saffron party. There were reports of farmers hoisting the saffron flag on their rooftops.
Ten months later, when Tehelka visited farmers in Bulandshahr district of western UP, the mood has seen a ‘radical’ shift. “We voted for ‘Congress Mukt Bharat’ because the party of the Nehru- Gandhis had neglected rural India,” said a farmer. “But the Modi regime has gone a step further. They are now keen to loot and kill us. That is why we want a ‘Modi Mukt Bharat’ now.”
This might have been an emotional outburst triggered by the land acquisition ordinance brought by the Modi regime, which did away with the requirement to seek the prior consent of farmers before their land could be acquired for certain categories of projects: Defence, rural infrastructure, affordable housing, industrial corridors and infrastructure projects under public-private partnerships. But the ground for this overflow of emotion had been laid over many years of being on the margins and aggravated by factors such as drastically reduced public investment and institutional credit, continuous rise in input costs, the broken promise regarding minimum support price (MSP) and the almost total absence of crop insurance schemes.
Similar tales are heard from the farming belts of rural Haryana, where a colleague of Narendra Modi in the rss was elected as the chief minister with a thumping majority. Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh told Parliament recently that no farmer has committed suicide in the north Indian state, subtly hinting that there is no rural distress. His counterpart in Haryana, Om Prakash Dhanker, went on to say that farmers who commit suicide are cowards and criminals.
“In our fact-finding visit to Haryana, we came across shocking details of rural distress that is leading to suicides. Had Modi been loyal to the promises in the BJP manifesto, most of these suicides could have been averted. Even those farmers who have unfurled BJP flags on their rooftops are now asking why they are treated like this,” says Vijoo Krishnan, national joint secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS).