PROTESTS BY FARMERS in India are nothing new. Before Independence, these were portrayed as a fight against injustice meted out by the colonial regime. After 1947, this state of affairs continued and new claims about ‘injustice’ began to surface. This happened even after the Government removed the most debilitating measures of the colonial period, like land taxation, and took positive steps like providing farm inputs at low cost. If that were not enough, assured marketing schemes for crops were introduced later. A hundred years ago, all this was unthinkable.
State support for agriculturalists is not enough, apparently, never has been, and never will be. On Gandhi Jayanti, October 2nd, farmers marching to the capital from Uttar Pradesh—notorious from the days of Mahendra Singh Tikait’s vast rallies here—were stopped at Delhi’s border near Ghaziabad before they had a chance to make a nuisance of themselves. A harried Union Government sent Home Minister Rajnath Singh to hold discussions with their leaders. Of the 11 demands in their charter, seven were agreed upon, while the other four were kept aside for deliberation since they implied a financial burden.
It is surprising to note that among the demands put forward, there is one for the waiver of loans taken by farmers. Just a year earlier, UP’s Yogi Adityanath government had nullified loans to the tune of Rs 36,000 crore. Yet, these farmers are back for more. It is obvious that they don’t understand that loans are not ‘public goods’ that can be demanded and then be written off at their pleasure. Last year, when a number of state governments cleared the debt slate with a flick of the pen, many observers cautioned that a major problem was in the offing: once written off, more would be demanded soon. That day appears to have arrived, given the sight of those unruly farmers and a harried police force trying to keep them in check.
Then there is the myth of the so-called ‘Swaminathan Formula’, something that activists have painted as a silver bullet for farmers. It is not. No government in India of any political complexion can commit all the resources at its disposal to keep farmers happy in terms of low input costs and ever-rising output prices. That could result in ballooning fiscal deficits and runaway inflation, which would compound the problems of the economy at a time it cannot afford any such thing.