‘If There Was an MSP Guarantee, We’d Have Never Fallen into Debt’: Farmers at Kisan Mahapanchayat

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‘If There Was an MSP Guarantee, We’d Have Never Fallen into Debt’: Farmers at Kisan Mahapanchayat

‘Sugarcane farmers are burdened with debt and no government has been able to solve our problem. Today, my family survives because I sell milk. We are in debt because of growing cash crops. I can’t even imagine the fate of farmers who grow non-cash crops,’ said a farmer from Haryana’s Karnal.

It was 11 am and the Ramlila ground in Delhi was already occupied by thousands of farmers.

Answering the Samyukt Kisan Morcha’s call for a mahapanchayat on Thursday (March 14), farmers from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka had come to the national capital to reassert their demands and present a united front against the Narendra Modi-led government.

Since January 2022, the Modi government has refused to engage in talks with SKM. Now, a splinter group, SKM (non-political), blocking the Shambhu and Khanauri borders has energised the larger farmers’ movement.

As I walked among red and green flags and yellow turbans, I spotted veteran farmer leader Yudhvir Singh (BKU Tikait) and asked him about the status of SKM (non-political). “Only two leaders from SKM have opened a camp at the border. We support them,” he said.

However, the question of disunity still lingered. “Even if one person goes away from SKM, it means one less voice in our fight for MSP [minimum support price]. All farmers should come together. With unity we got the three farm laws taken back, and it’ll be unity that secures MSP for us.”

By nearly midday, the crowds had swelled between 40,000 and 50,000 farmers. I spoke to a farmer from Sonepat, Rajesh Dahiya, who said that more people would have come if the Delhi Police had not put blockades and caused traffic jams. He added that around 100 people had come from his village.

Ravi, a middle-aged farmer from Haryana’s Karnal, said he grows sugarcane, chana, and raises milk-producing animals like buffaloes and cows.

“Sugarcane farmers are burdened with debt and no government has been able to solve our problem. Today, my family survives because I sell milk. We are in debt because of growing cash crops. I can’t even imagine the fate of farmers who grow non-cash crops,” he said.

‘Why is the government going back on its MSP promise?’

I caught up with Bimla Devi from rural Rewa, who was part of a Left farmers’ union and travelled all the way with 15 women, demanding their rights.

“Earlier, I used to grow vegetables and food in my own 1 acre family farm. However, due to debt, my husband lost the farm. Now my son, husband and I work on other people’s farms. If there was an MSP guarantee for our crops, we would have never fallen into debt. All these women with me share the same story. We want to know why the government is going back on its promise?” she asked.

The day was heating up, and with limited water supply, the heat was getting unbearable. Yet, the farmers continued to cheer their leaders as they were up on stage. Prominent leaders like Joginder Singh Ugrahan, Darshan Pal, Hannan Mollah, Rakesh Tikait, among others were sitting on a canopy-less stage.

Meanwhile, I spoke with B. Nagendra, Karnataka’s minister for youth empowerment.

“It is a misconception that the farmers’ movement is not flourishing in Karnataka or the South. BJP’s defeat in Karnataka is the victory of the farmers’ movement. We, the farmers, have been organising [protests] since the [COVID-19] lockdown, and it is the first time that farmers, Dalits groups, working class, and labourers have all joined together against injustices done by the BJP government in the state such as land ceiling reformation and other ordinances. We started the movement even before [the] Delhi [protest] and 42 organisations led this effort,” he said.

By now, Rakesh Tikait had taken the stage, and the crowd was ecstatic despite the heat. “This government is lying alright. They stopped talking with us, and then they turned around and blamed us for the breakdown in negotiations. When they don’t even want to talk to us, how will they resolve the MSP issue? Today, there are several movements happening simultaneously in the country. But people don’t see the Andolan (movement) of Bihar or Karnataka or Tamil Nadu in Delhi,” he said.

After he got down from the stage, I spoke with him. In a candid conversation, he said, “This government is run by a gang of corporates who are controlling the BJP and this country. They are after our lands and our food. Once they are in control of agriculture, we will be enslaved again by a new company raj.”

Then I spoke with social activist Medha Patkar, who clearly pointed out the threats to Indian agriculture posed by “corporates and Bill Gates.”

She stressed on the loss of biodiversity and destruction of indigenous systems of agriculture under corporate pressure. She advocated for regenerative or organic agriculture as a potential solution.

It was now past 1 pm, and it was evident that the mahapanchayat was dominated by three factions: BKU Tikait, Ugrahan, and the combined Left.

I spoke with Joginder Singh Ugrahan for the last word and achievements of the mahapanchayat.

“This is a big achievement for us, as the Model Code of Conduct will be active soon. It’s been two years since the laws were rescinded. We have conducted numerous programmes, yet the Modi government has not been listening. They never wanted to talk with us. This is our way of exposing the Modi government to the public and let them decide whether the Modi government is a friend or an enemy of the people,” he said.

“The government’s work is sowing dissent among the people. While they are doing a good job, however, we have to work around it [address these challenges together]. That is why we have proposed a minimum work programme through which both the farmers’ groups can come together and fight this issue as one [a united force],” he added.

Source Content – ‘If There Was an MSP Guarantee, We’d Have Never Fallen into Debt’: Farmers at Kisan Mahapanchayat (thewire.in)

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