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Atal in forget-and-forgive fest

New Delhi, Sept. 9: If elections are in the air, it must be time to remember farmers and sow a crore to fete them.

An army of farmers will descend on the capital a month before the crucial Assembly polls for a jamboree to be attended by Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Titled Kisan Panchayat, the spectacle will host 500 farmers from the poll-bound states in north India alone — and the government machinery is cranking with clockwork precision to make it a success.

Nearly 10,000 are expected to be bussed in from neighbouring areas to the capital for the carnival to be held between October 8 and 11. States scheduled to go to polls in November include Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, which account for a large number of farmers.

Initial estimates are putting the bill for the farmers’ show at Rs 1.25 crore. Half of the amount will be forked out by the department of agriculture and 25 per cent each by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the animal husbandry department. The “hosts” have also been told to give “wide publicity to the event” through advertisements.

The farmers’ wing of the ruling BJP, the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, will be involved in the event as a “leading non-profit organisation”.

Virtually the whole cabinet, many state agriculture secretaries, vice-chancellors of agriculture universities and directors of ICAR institutes will be roped in to lend the convention an apolitical aura. Businessmen representing leading industry associations will also be among the guests.

The ICAR has been asked to organise an exhibition on the theme Labhkari tikau kheti (profitable sustainable agriculture) near the venue of the Prime Minister’s congregation.

Around 100 officers from the agriculture ministry and the ICAR are to be deployed to ensure that the function goes off without a hitch.

All state-run firms and cooperatives dealing with farmers, like Kribhco and the National Dairy Development Board, have been told to help out as have been the ministries of rural development, water and irrigation, environment, food, small-scale industries and consumer affairs.

The scramble coincides with a BJP fear that farmers are unhappy with the ruling party on a number of counts ranging from drought to a perception that their interests are not being pursued adequately at the Cancun global trade talks.

The farmers are also miffed with the government for having frozen the prices at which the state-run food storage and distribution agency, the Food Corporation of India (FCI), buys rice from them.

The FCI buys as much as 85 per cent of the rice produced in the northern states and a price freeze means that farm incomes, despite a bumper crop, do not go up perceptibly.

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