| A woman wades through a flooded canal in Vidarbha. File picture
Waifad, Maharashtra, June 29: In the whirl of trucks and the thunder of roadrollers, Manoj Chandurkar almost says it feels like a carnival celebrating death.
“For 48 months no one came to mourn the 1,600 farmers who killed themselves, but in the past 48 hours, it’s like a mela,” the cotton farmer said, almost hating the national attention on his village Waifad in Wardha district.
In Andhra, where the Prime Minister had gone immediately on taking over because farmers were killing themselves, or in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha, it’s the same pattern ' first the deaths and then the camera and lights.
Waifad is only 20 km from Wardha town, known for Seva Gram, the ashram Mahatma Gandhi established and spent time in from 1934 to 1948 and which Manmohan Singh will visit. Land for the ashram was given by Jamnalal Bajaj, the grandfather of businessman Rahul Bajaj, whom the Congress recently declined to support for the Rajya Sabha.
Populated largely by adivasis, the village woke up to a flurry of activity on Tuesday when it was chosen to be one of the three the Prime Minister would visit to talk to farmers and understand why they have been killing themselves. It’s been going on for five years.
Today, hundreds of workers toiled to get ready the helipad where Singh’s chopper would land. Roadrollers were flattening the freshly tarred 2-km stretch from the helipad to the 51-year-old Central Primary School, painted peach for the occasion, where 35 farmers from nearby villages would gather to listen to Singh.
“We thought the Prime Minister would come to meet all of us. But the authorities are not allowing that. Only 35 would get to go in,” says 42-year-old Chandurkar, among the fortunate.
The majority of Waifad’s farmers carry crop loans they are unable to repay because of a sharp mismatch between rising cultivation costs and low returns from cotton. Once the cotton procurement scheme offered a minimum support price of Rs 2,700 per quintal, but the rate is now Rs 1,740.
With farmers unable to repay loans, the rural credit mechanism broke down in Vidarbha and money-lenders took over. In 2005, the government announced a Rs 1,075-crore relief package and ordered a massive crackdown on money-lenders and private credit lines also dried up.
Interest waivers on defaulted loans have not helped farmers like Kisanji Masram, who borrows Rs 7,000 and repays it each year. His cotton and tuar crop was washed away by last monsoon’s rains, forcing him and his two sons to work others’ fields.
“Male kahich maafi nahi (No waivers for me),” says the 65-year-old.
Masram is one of the three farmers whose homes line the main road to Waifad’s primary school and were chosen by the SPG for the prime ministerial visit. Neither Masram nor wife Laxmi knows who’s visiting tomorrow. “I don’t know how the Prime Minister looks,” she says, adding as an afterthought, “I will ask him to give me a new house.”
As soon as she finishes, a cavalcade of at least 20 cars stops briefly by the house on way to the school.
The roads in Waifad are muddy from the first monsoon showers. A cover of black crushed stone lies over the slushy ground like a black carpet on which the Prime Minister will step as he looks up Masram. The visit to Gandhi’s ashram comes first, then the second ritual, Masram.