Interestingly, when a farmer’s delegation met a prominent Union minister and reminded him about the BJP’s promises, the minister replied, “You should not confuse our election manifesto with actual governance. It’s not easy to implement our promises in rural development and agriculture.” A critical analysis of the NDA’s policies reveals that the government is keen to implement policies contrary to what was stated in the BJP manifesto.
This duplicity is probably leaving the ruling party leaders with little choice but to be insensitive towards rural issues, even to the extent of branding suicide victims as cowards and criminals.
The agrarian crisis in Haryana has led to several cases of young and healthy farmers committing suicide or dying of heart attack after their crop failed. Take Rivada village of Gohana tehsil in Haryana, for instance. Known as a village where almost every family has a member in the armed forces, it is now witness to suicides by close relatives of serving and retired soldiers. Yudhvir, a farmer who committed suicide recently because of indebtedness, had been taking care of the family of his brother Jagvir, who had lost his legs while in the army. There are several such cases of “cowardly and criminal” suicides in households with a long tradition of military service.
Even many of the “natural deaths” attributed to heart attack are actually in vicduced by the agrarian crisis, which leads to massive indebtedness among farmers. Rising input costs and no guarantee on the MSP has forced farmers to borrow huge sums from moneylenders at exorbitant interest rates ranging from 24 percent to a shocking 120 percent in districts such as Bhiwani, claims the fact-finding report of the AIKS. Yet, public sector banks are averse to giving agricultural loans, driving the farmers deeper into the clutches of rapacious moneylenders.
The unfinished and now aborted agenda of land reforms has made landless and marginal farmers lease land from absentee landowners. In irrigated areas, the annual land rent per acre is 46,000. Almost all the farmers who committed suicide in Haryana in recent months had leased in land. Given the exorbitant rise in production costs, Modi’s much hyped — “the highest ever” — compensation of 11,800 per acre for crops lost to natural calamities is little more than a cruel joke. The AIKS report also includes testimonies from farmers who were given compensation of 5, 63 and 200 per acre in several parts of the state.
The story of agrarian distress in the northern parts of India is echoed in all other states facing intense agrarian crisis, including Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Gujarat. Governments in all these states are also keen to downplay the distress.
One of the first proactive steps taken by the Modi regime was to dilute the rural employment guarantee Act introduced by the UPA. Modi called the MGNREGA a “living monument” to the bad governance under Congress regimes since Independence. Several studies have shown how the Act played a major role in arresting rural poverty and distress migration despite delays in payment of wages and a large number of beneficiaries having to make do with much less than the promised 100 days of employment. But, instead of trying to plug the loopholes in the implementation of the Act, the NDA did quite the contrary by cutting the allocation for the programme in the interim Budget presented in 2014. As a result, during 2014-15, 70 percent of the wages were not disbursed in time and only 3 percent of the households got 100 days of employment.
The Modi regime’s apathy towards farmers and agricultural workers was also reflected in a drastic reduction in the fund allocation for the rural development ministry in Arun Jaitley’s “first full Budget” presented in February. The ministry was given approximately Rs 10,000 crore less than the allocation in the previous Budget.
Modi also broke his promise to fix the MSP at 50 percent or more above the cost of production. The Centre told the Supreme Court on 20 February that it is not feasible. The government has also decided to gradually dismantle the State-run Food Corporation of India, which procures food grain from farmers, and dilute the National Food Security Act 2013.
The unkindest cut, however, was the attempt by Modi and Jaitley to sell the land acquisition Bill as a step towards “pro-farmer” reforms. The prime minister has put his weight behind the Bill and is most likely to make sure that it is passed. Getting it accepted by the rural poor won’t be easy, though. Gone are the days when villagers — especially Adivasis and Dalits — had little choice but to quietly allow their land to be taken over. The past couple of decades have seen a massive growth in movements against development- induced displacement, which has historically affected Adivasis and Dalits more than any other section of society. As per Planning Commission estimates, 40 percent of the people displaced between 1947 and 2004 were Adivasis and 20 percent were Dalits, whereas they comprise 8 percent and 16 percent of the Indian population, respectively.
As subsistence for the rural poor becomes increasingly precarious, not many are willing to give up the security provided by control over agricultural land and access to forests. That is why whenever the government tries to push through a development project, it meets stiff resistance from the locals. So, while Modi’s model of development depends largely on successful land acquisition for corporates, the biggest challenge to it is coming from the poorest citizens of rural India.