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'Farmers need policies that make agriculture viable'

Bengal polls 2021: East Burdwan farmer poses questions for the BJP

Pradip Biswas, a graduate from Burdwan University, says these queries are not political — they are rooted in his lifelong experience of farming

Snehamoy Chakraborty Burdwan Published 17.04.21, 01:45 AM
Pradip Biswas, a farmer from East Burdwan, shows his field in  Hatgobindapur village on Friday

Pradip Biswas, a farmer from East Burdwan, shows his field in Hatgobindapur village on Friday Munshi Muklesur Rahaman

Pradip Biswas, 54, a farmer who owns seven acres of land in Hatgobindapur village, has been looking out for senior BJP leaders these past few months to ask a few questions.

In the run-up to Saturday’s polls in eight East Burdwan constituencies, scores of BJP leaders had visited the district to tell farmers that the Mamata Banerjee government had denied them the benefits of the Prime Minister Kisan Samman Nidhi Yojana. Among them were Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Union home minister Amit Shah and BJP president J.P. Nadda.

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“People like me heard them out, but some of our questions remain unanswered,” Biswas said. He reeled off his queries:

⚫ If the BJP government at the Centre is kind enough to give farmers an annual dole of Rs 6,000, why can’t it do something to control the prices of fertilisers, which have in the past six months risen between 55 per cent and 100 per cent?

⚫ If the Centre is so farmer-friendly, why can’t farmers like him get subsidised diesel?

⚫Could the Centre not show some compassion for the farmers agitating on Delhi’s outskirts since November end?

Biswas, a graduate from Burdwan University, said these questions were not political — they were rooted in his lifelong experience of farming, an occupation that has become increasingly unrewarding, especially for those with smaller holdings.

“I bought diammonium phosphate (DAP) at Rs 2,400 a quintal six months ago. Now I’m buying the same fertiliser for Rs 3,800 per quintal,” he said.

“I need six quintals of DAP to cultivate the boro paddy on my seven acres of land, so I’m paying Rs 8,400 more. The prices of other fertilisers have doubled in the past six months.”

Biswas says Modi’s attempts to provide relief to farmers is welcome but the farming community needs policies that make agriculture viable so that there is some incentive to till the land.

“If the farm economics is in our favour, why should we beg for doles?” Biswas said. “What’s the reason for making all the farmers look like beggars?”

The East Burdwan farmer’s sentiments echo those of the tens of thousands protesting the Centre’s new farm laws, which threaten to change the rules of the game in Indian agriculture.

Biswas said he grows paddy at least twice a year. As the land’s productivity is linked to fertilisers and diesel (which runs the irrigation pumps), he is dependent on the Centre’s policies.

“Ask any farmer and he will tell you he needs a favourable environment where his input costs are under control and his produce gets a fair price,” he said.

“This government increases the input costs and reduces the chances of us getting a fair price by coming up with strange legislations. Then they offer us an annual dole of Rs 6,000. Isn’t it an insult to all the farmers?”

Most of East Burdwan’s 4.55 lakh farmers — and their over 65 lakh peers elsewhere in the state — would not be as articulate as Biswas but there’s little doubt that many of them have the same questions for the BJP.

The farmers of undivided Burdwan were with the CPM till 2011. The party’s farmer wing, the All India Kisan Sabha, still enjoys considerable clout in the region because of its regular campaigns for farmers’ rights.

Over the last few years, however, the political equations have changed. Mamata Banerjee — often dubbed “more left than the Left” by CPM leaders — has reached out to the farmers with initiatives like the Mati Utsav, an annual programme that offers farmers a bouquet of benefits and incentives.

Despite its stellar show across Bengal in the 2019 Lok Sabha polls, the BJP had secured leads from only 2 of East Burdwan’s 16 Assembly segments.

This time, the BJP has laid special emphasis on (East and West) Burdwan, an insider said, adding that the party knew that winning Bengal was impossible without winning Burdwan.

“East Burdwan is a district of farmers, who play a significant role in at least 12 constituencies. So, we have taken a lot of initiatives to woo the farmers since 2020,” a BJP leader in Burdwan said.

“Our national president, Jagat Prasad Nadda, had started an outreach drive called ‘Ek mutho chaal’ (a door-to-door campaign seeking a fistful of rice) from this district. Now, a large number of farmers are with us.”

Trinamul has not sat idle. Mamata has announced a Rs 10,000 annual allowance to counter the BJP’s central dole. At her rallies in East Burdwan, the chief minister has repeatedly cited how her government has helped farmers and resisted forcible land acquisition.

Some farmers are, however, unhappy even with the dole of Rs 10,000 for they had expected subsidised electricity from the state government and higher minimum support prices, which lie principally in the Centre’s domain.

“We don’t need any dole, from the BJP or from Trinamul,” said Sukanta Mondal, a farmer from Ausgram, East Burdwan.

“No government seems to understand that farmers always want to earn money from their produce. It makes them happy. We need the government’s help to get a better price for our produce.”

Amal Halder, state secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha, said: “The BJP has no idea what the farmers want; so its campaign is based on the promise of a dole.”

He added: “The good thing is, the farmers have not been swayed by Modi’s promises. They want policies that lower the prices of fertilisers and diesel and give them a fair price for their produce.”

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