regular-article-logo Thursday, 18 July 2024

Just anger

How do you sell your harv­est for a loss? Most farmers told me that they had no heart to go out to the markets and sell their produce for a price that would not recover their production costs

Jaideep Hardikar Published 14.06.24, 06:44 AM
Representational image.

Representational image. File Photo

As rural India gears up for a fresh kharif season, the newly-formed National Democratic Alliance government under the prime minister, Narendra Modi, has a big challenge ahead when it comes to addressing the simmering agrarian crisis. Mere electoral doles are not enough. The Centre needs to work seriously on raising the incomes of the rural masses for an uptick in the rural economy.

After drawing a blank during Modi’s decade in power, the rural electorate has sent a quiet warning to Modi 3.0 by voting resoundingly against the incumbent government in many states. Empty slogans, like the one about doubling farm incomes, have only extended the distress and shattered the trust and confidence that the rural masses had in Narendra Modi in 2014.


A few youths in a village in Maharashtra’s suicide-torn Yavatmal told me in mid-May that Modi could have practised what he preached in the last 10 years. “Hya boltech jast, pan karat kahi nahi (This man speaks a lot, but does nothing),” was their refrain when referring to the prime minister’s inflated talk and hollow action. This time, the working-age youth who are without steady work or income were among the most vocal within the electorate.

Maharashtra turned out to be the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Waterloo. Except for the coastal Konkan belt, all the major regions like Vidarbha, Marathwada, and western and northern Maharashtra went with the Shiv Sena (Uddhav Balasaheb Thackrey), Nationalist Cong­ress Party (Sharadchandra Pawar) and Congress alliance. At the heart of their anger was a sense of betrayal driven by a breach of promises that Modi made.

Heed the warning

I saw loads of unsold soybean from over three years stacked in rural households because prices are down. Cotton prices have been sluggish. The sugar sector is in a crisis. The onion producing regions saw a bloodbath from December 2023 due to a sudden ban on exports, leading to staggering losses for farmers and traders. Milk prices are not commensurate with rising production costs. Small ruminants, despite a high demand, are fetching low prices for their keepers, mainly women. Spiralling fuel prices are pushing up wage labour rates. There is little off-farm work. Highly educated young men and women in rural areas were working on the rural employment guarantee programme sites digging roads. Climatic aberrations are routine. Young men are unable to find suitable brides. The list of factors stacked against them goes on and on. Stagnant farm incomes and farmers’ unabated protests in the north, along with unemployment and no new industrial growth, explain the electoral backlash for the BJP in some states.

How do you sell your harv­est for a loss? Most farmers told me that they had no heart to go out to the markets and sell their produce for a price that would not recover their production costs. One farmer in Beed told me that the Ram temple would not fix prices. That is the reason why the BJP’s reversals in states such as Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, where the agrarian masses had swung in its favour in the two previous elections, are so stunning. The distress people are in has been a contributory factor in the dip in the BJP’s fortunes.

Thankfully, as per the India Meteorological Department, 2024 might have a good monsoon. But would the Centre ensure better prices for the crops? With upcoming elections to the state legislatures in Haryana and Maharashtra, two states where the BJP saw a reversal of its electoral fortunes in 2024, rural voters are waiting to see what steps Modi 3.0 takes to fix the stagnant rural economy. Hollow promises and big talk will not work. While the rural voters sent a seething warning to the now-diminished Modi, they have also put the Opposition on notice to keep working.

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