| An old woman listens to Manmohan Singh. (PTI)
Hyderabad, July 1: As finance minister a decade ago, he spoke like a reformer. As Prime Minister now, Manmohan Singh is speaking in the voice of the farmer’s son.
“I myself come from a farmer’s family and I can understand your difficulties, pain and agony,” he said on his first visit outside Delhi since becoming Prime Minister on a tour of villages of Andhra Pradesh.
Getting off the dais to speak to members of suicide-struck farming families, Singh said: “From what I have heard and seen here, I realised that in the last four drought-hit years in Andhra Pradesh, farmers have suffered a lot. I know there can be no compensation for the pain, tragedy and difficulties faced by you but the Centre and the state government will do everything that is needed to make your life successful.”
The village, Somayajulapalli, had last seen a VIP 75 years ago when a nawab came on a hunt when the area was a hilly terrain covered with dense forest. The rocks are still there.
It’s also a part of Kurnool district where over 50 farmers have committed suicide since 1998. Some 17 have killed themselves after Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy’s Congress government took over, trouncing . Chandrababu Naidu’s Telugu Desam in the elections.
“Ab aap ko kya chahiye (what do you want now)'” Singh asked the families that had gathered.
Maheswaramma broke down. Education for her young child and a house — those were the promises from the Prime Minister.
K. Eswaramma had borrowed Rs 83,000 from moneylenders and wanted the government to rescue her from the bottomless pit of repayment.
Bayamma, whose husband hanged himself in the fields, asked for a house.
“I cannot compensate fully for the loss of your beloved family member — a husband, a father, or son. But I will try to mitigate your suffering arising out of the dire act of your family member,” Singh said.
If he cannot keep these promises, being a reformer may yet prove to be easier than being a farmer’s son. There is a message in the Prime Minister choosing to meet farmers first after assuming office instead of addressing the World Economic Forum or some business club in plush Vigyan Bhavan.
It’s a message Singh delivered himself along with cheques of Rs 1.5 lakh to bereaved families given by the state government and promised another Rs 50,000 from Delhi. “It was my first visit outside Delhi after becoming Prime Minister and I have come here to take stock of the situation and share (my) feelings with you,” he said at another village, Dharmapur, in Mahboobnagar district.
In both villages, Singh’s agenda was water, housing and education. For Somayajulapalli, he announced a Rs 1-crore grant for an irrigation tank, 100 houses for victims’ families under the Indira Awas Yojana with a grant of Rs 25 lakh, concrete roads and drainage, water supply through pipeline and a Rs 10-lakh new building for the local school.
Back in Hyderabad, he announced a Rs 60-crore grant from the calamity fund for distressed farming families and release of 1.87 lakh tonnes of rice for food-for-work programmes in areas that have seen four-five consecutive years of drought.
Singh said all public sector banks in Andhra would take steps in a month to extend financial assistance to at least one member of each of the families of farmers who had committed suicide.
| Manmohan consoles a woman in Mahboobnagar district. (AFP)
Such announcements have been made in the past by Prime Ministers and proved fallow after raising expectations. And expectations are already dangerously up, though not untouched by scepticism.
B. Parvtamma said government officials had built a two-room house for her family in flat 48 hours before the Prime Minister’s visit to Somayajulapalli.
“My husband had committed suicide on May 22. Although the officials came and enquired, nothing moved till last week. They gave me a cheque for Rs 1 lakh and assured other help. But they came on Sunday and said they will build me a house. Within 48 hours it was ready. But I do not know if the PM will come and visit it,” she said.