Farmers’ Agitation : At What Cost to the Country?
All is well that ends well. But that is not always true. This saying may help one to draw an illusory satisfaction. That can be said to be true of the farmers’ 13 months old agitation which came to an end in December 2021. But it has cost the country a lot, besides putting the general public to great harassment and inconvenience. Their bubble of the claim that their agitation is purely non-political burst soon when they started hobnobbing with non-NDA political parties. A section of the farmers now feels that it is the right time to harvest a bumper crop of success in the coming elections in states. Some farmer groups have floated their own political organisations. Others are trying to seek nominations from the existing political outfits. The latest round of meetings of the farmers’ groups has left it to the individual groups to take their own decision.
The day (November 19, 2021) Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that the NDA government will repeal the three agricultural laws against which a section of the farmers, mainly from the states of Panjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, and UP were agitating by blocking the national highways leading to the national capital Delhi, it became a celebration time for them. The PM regretted that his government could not make some farmers see and understand the truth as bright as the light of the lamp that the laws were targetted for their welfare alone.
But the farmer leaders and the non-NDA political parties in the opposition started making the PM’s gesture look like him having apologised to them for having enacted these three Acts. The farmers’ unions and opposition parties are celebrating it as their ‘victory’. But this ‘victory’ at what cost to the nation?
LOSS TO STATES & COUNTRY
The National Highways Authority of India (NHAI) suffered toll losses worth ₹2,731.32 crore in Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan since the last October (2020) when the farmers launched their agitation, the Union Minister for Road Transport and Highways, Nitin Gadkari, informed the Rajya Sabha. Overall, 60 to 65 NH toll plazas were affected due to the farmer agitation.
In addition, hundreds of employees became jobless on account of the closure of these toll plazas.
Further, some hotels/motels, dhabas, and petrol pumps on both sides of the national highways lost clientele and business during the last about 13 months when some farmers laid siege of the national highways resulting in blocking access to their premises.
According to reports, the agitators had illegally drawn electricity from the overhead electric lines to light up their temporary tents, langars (free eating houses), to run their ACs, coolers, and during winter months to warm up the temporary structures they raised. These should not be less than a few hundred crores rupees.
The agitators had dug the national highways and the land below the flyovers to raise their temporary sheds and dwellings. The government departments will now have to assess the extent of the damage and the cost of repairs.
The farmers’ unions have claimed that more than 700 farmers died during the agitation. How and where? Government did not use any coercive measures, like lathi-charge or firing. They have demanded a compensation of ₹50 lakh and a government job to each of the bereaved families of these farmers. Thus, it is another instance of a section of people waging an agitation for personal gains at the cost of the common people.
It is only the Punjab government which has been very prompt — thanks to the impending assembly elections — to give a cash compensation of ₹50 lakh to each of about 400 farmers of Panjab who ‘died’ during the agitation. Jobs have also been provided to 152 next of the kins of the farmers who lost their lives, according to the Panjab government.
In contrast, the state governments have not been so generous to the families of those debt-ridden farmers who committed suicide. In Andhra Pradesh, as per media reports, only ₹5,000 was granted to the families of each of such families.
Shiv Sena had been very vocal in extending its support to the farmers’ agitation. In an information provided to RTI activist Jitendra Ghadge, about 25,000 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra from 1st January to November, 2021 for their inability to repay loans despite the loan waiver schemes of the government. As per the state government policy, assistance worth only ₹one lakh is provided to the kins of the bereaved families. But to those who ‘died’ during the farmers’ hold-up at the entry points to Delhi last year, the farmer unions are demanding assistance of ₹50 lakh plus a government job to each of their families. Further, unions have also demanded that all the ‘dead’ should be declared ‘martyrs’ and land be allotted to them to construct their memorial.
Not only this, The Congress CMs of Punjab and Chhattisgarh dashed to Lakhimpur Kheri village in UP where 8 farmers had died while staging a demonstration against a Union Minister of State who belonged to that village. Each bereaved family of the four kisan families was granted ₹50 lakh as financial assistance by each of the two CMs. They excluded 4 farmers who died in the same violence as they were branded belonging to BJP or its supporters.
The pity is that in our country the success of an agitation is measured in terms of the extent of harassment caused to the common people and, to some extent, the violence it could inspire and generate. The kisan union agitation can proudly claim that it succeeded in putting out of gear the life of the common commuters and businessmen who travelled to/from Delhi every day. The tractor march the agitating unions organised in Delhi and the ugly scene they created at the Red Fort on the Republic Day 2021 had made common people bow their heads in shame.
The immeasurable loss the dhabas spread on both sides of the national highways suffered and the extent of unemployment created because of the hold-up can also not be ignored.
The dharnas not only generated inconvenience to the general public traveling by bus or by their vehicles by the jams created by the agitators but also made their journeys long and arduous by diverting to narrow village roads. This also entailed greater consumption of petrol and diesel. The ambulances carrying patients in critical condition to different hospitals had a harrowing experience. How many could not reach their destination because of the blockade is not easy to keep a count.
The way the agitators were moving to and fro in their cars, SUVs, and tractors looked as if the rising rates of diesel and petrol may be pinching to the general public, but not to them.
Another surprising aspect of the Kisan agitation is the fact that besides making other demands including financial help and a government job to the bereaved families of the farmers who ‘died’ during the agitation, they completely forgot the plight of the bereaved families of those poor farmers who committed suicide for their failure to pay back the loans they raised for agricultural purposes. Not to speak of demanding anything to help them, they did not mention them even by mistake. Why? That remains a mystery.
Modi government had promised to double the income of farmers by 2022. Farmers’ unions and some political parties have been reminding the government of this promise. But they don’t look inwards. They, perhaps, could not visualise that their agitation for so long would hurt the economy of the country impeding the government’s resolve towards achieving that goal for the farmers. The advent of Covid-19 followed by complete or partial lockdowns added fuel to the fire for the country’s economy.
By Amba Charan Vashishth
(The writer is a Delhi- based political analyst and commentator.)