BJP’s Kisan Morcha chief Virendra Singh ‘Mast’ is known for calling a spade a spade. “I know what it’s like to be a farmer,” says the three-time MP from Bhadohi (Uttar Pradesh), who had started Gaon Chalo Abhiyan to promote awareness among villagers.
He also doesn’t shy away from voicing his opinion on the “new BJP’s” technology-driven methods of campaigning or the Narendra Modi government’s apparent support to genetically modified (GM) crops. “I don’t know about these ‘westernised’ methods of electioneering and campaigning. To me, samvaad (dialogue) is a better and more effective way of communication, be it to spread awareness about the government’s schemes or resolving family issues. Technical samvaad (like NaMo App) has its limitations, while direct (one-to-one) samvaad has no boundaries. All issues can be resolved through it.”
Talking to The Tribune on a range of farmers’ issues after the BJP’s stunning loss in five states, including traditional bastions of rural-agriculture-dominated Hindi heartland, Virendra Singh said he continued to disfavour the idea of a loan waiver, even though some BJP-led state governments had implemented it to buy peace with the politically powerful community and the Congress used it extensively to woo voters in the recent Assembly elections. Speculation is rife that the Modi government may have to succumb to a similar populist move despite opinion against waiving loans, including from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
This is what Virendra Singh had to say on key issues concerning the farming community in the country:
Farmers’ problems did not start in a day and these will not end in a day. The issues are not new to the country and it is also not true that they started after the BJP assumed power in 2014. Those who ruled the country after Independence did not do much to resolve the same, allowing these to fester, resulting in the current situation.
Narendra Modi is the first Prime Minister who has cared about farmers and tried to evolve solutions for their issues. All schemes prepared by his government are testimony to his honest efforts for this sector.
It is a deep socio-economic-cultural problem which cannot be resolved only by the government. Also, while the government can form policies, to implement these is also the responsibility of other stake-holders in the system, officials and the administration.
Loan waiver can never be a permanent or a lasting solution, whatever Opposition parties and so-called farmer leaders and activists may say to mislead the farmers. Their problems need long-term solutions instead of political short-term interventions such as loan waiver.
The break-up of landholdings is a major reason for the unrest among farmers. Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who perhaps cannot even tell the difference between two kinds of foodgrains, will never understand this aspect. I know what it is to be a farmer. I also know that no farmer will ever like to waste even a drop of milk, or throw a vegetable he has grown, on the road.
Farmers need to be strengthened not just economically, but also socially, politically and culturally. Coming from a rural background, I know that the break-up of families is a key reason for persisting distress in agrarian households. When an agrarian family gets divided, the acreage (land) gets reduced, increasing the cost of farming and impacting production. It is this social/cultural aspect of the issue that also needs a different approach.
What farmers need is a fair price for their produce and long-term economic strength to deal with such issues. Income cannot be doubled in a day, but we are moving in this direction. Our focus is to reduce the cost of farming by improving irrigation, power distribution infrastructure and road connectivity, all of which is happening.
The government is open to a discussion on all matters, but Opposition parties should stop using farmers as an instrument against it. The Modi government has taken more steps for farmers than any other government since Independence. Farmers and agriculture have always been priorities for the BJP, which is why more than 50 per cent of the Budget allocation was for this sector.
Freedom to sell produce
There are many reasons for a party’s defeat in the elections. Rural/agrarian distress is one of them. But the problem is those who are talking of farmers do not even know their true chal charitra aur chehra. I agree that farmers are not happy, but their distress had been gradual and so will be their coming out of it. One way is to ensure that stress on them is reduced.
I have made a suggestion to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Agriculture that instead of a short period of two or three months, farmers should be allowed to sell their produce throughout the year. This will allow them to sell at their convenience, at what they think is the appropriate time and price. This will curb the role of middlemen and the maara-maari that ensues during the period. Another advantage is that the government’s burden of storing foodgrains will also be lessened.
I have also made these suggestions to the ministry and related agencies such as the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP). Do teen mahine main afra-tafri si mach jaati hai. This is one way that can reduce stress on farmers, giving them freedom and a wider range of options.
It is a very good scheme, but seems to have not worked the way it should have. There are problems in implementation and other issues which the government needs to look into to ensure that farmers derive maximum benefit from it, while those guilty of botching it are investigated. The government has made a laabhkaari yojana (profitable scheme), but the agencies responsible for its implementation are not doing their job properly. Such people need to be and will be dealt with strictly. There should be an investigation and action against them, whether it is insurance companies, banks or officials.