“This election is not between Modi & co. against secular parties, but between Modi & co. against the farmers, and we will take our revenge against this government,” Thulasi Narayanan, an All India Kisan Sabha leader from Tamil Nadu told NewsClick. Coming from a state that is going through one of the worst agrarian crisis the country has ever witnessed, his perspective is not a surprising one.
Farmers’ issues are expected to play a major role in the election verdict of the state which is going to polls tomorrow in the second phase of Lok Sabha elections.
There are many layers of reasons behind the agrarian crisis in Tamil Nadu. The farmers have been disappointed by both the centre and state governments. The recommendations of the M S Swaminathan commission which carefully framed the true nature of farming sector in India through an in-depth study is yet to be implemented. There is no consistent policy on Minimum Support Price (MSP). The north east monsoon had failed the state and is leading up to an unprecedented drought like situation.
With the failure of the north east monsoon the state is headed for tough times in the upcoming summer. The state government has already declared 24 districts and 38 blocks in another seven districts as drought affected.
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The drought affected districts are Chennai, Dharmapuri, Krishnagiri, Karur, Salem, Vellore, Tiruchirappalli, Perambalur, Tiruvallur, Namakkal, Virudhunagar, Kancheepuram, Madurai, Dindigul, Erode Pudukkottai, Sivagangai, Thanjavur, Viluppuram, Thiruvannamalai, Ariyalur, Nagapattinam, Cuddalore and Ramanathapuram. Apart from these districts, 38 blocks of Tirunelveli (6), Tiruppur (9), Kanyakumari (6), Thoothukudi (6), Theni (5), Coimbatore (5), and the Nilgiris (1) are also affected by drought. The number of drought-affected areas are expected to rise in the coming days.
The allocation of drought relief fund by the centre this year was a major blow to Tamil Nadu. The state received only 4% of the funds originally demanded. Even though the centre has not been particularly helpful for any other states, the figures for TN represent a cruel negligence from the part of the Modi government.
In 2016-17, the state had asked the centre to allocate Rs 39,565 crore from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF). “The ground assessment exercise carried out in 1,564 villages had revealed that the drought was ‘severe’ in a majority of villages,” reported The Hindu Businessline. But the centre gave only Rs 1,748.28 crore to the state. After this, the state just stopped asking.
Almost all major parties in the country have tried to accommodate farmers’ distress in their election manifestos. Congress went to the extent to offer a separate budget for farmers.
One of the key issues focused in these manifestos is MSP. The compulsory procurement of agricultural produce by the government is a major promise made by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in their manifesto. They have also promised to implement the Swaminathan Commision recommendations. The major recommendations include distribution of ceiling-surplus and waste lands, prevention of diversion of prime agricultural land and forest to corporate sector for non-agricultural purposes, reduction of rate of interest for crop loans to 4% with government support, etc.
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Both DMK and AIADMK have promised to waive farm loans. DMK chief M K Stalin even declared that his party will end to the farmers suicide in the state.
However, the past performance of the central government has put the AIADMK ally in a defensive position, even though their manifesto contained certain measures in the farming sector.
Farmers from the state have been on the forefront of struggles and protests for the past couple of years. The TN farmers’ protest under the leadership of P Ayyakannu in the national capital caught media attention for their novel ways, from shaving half of their hair, eating rats and snakes to wearing human skulls. Though this protest ended after the Madras High Court waived off their loans, the struggles in the state continued.
Protests against acquisition of farmlands across the state in the name of high profile projects were common. From Salem- Chennai expressway to high power tension lines, many projects were halted following strict opposition from the farmers. The general emotion among farmers will reflect in the polls and it most likely going to upset the AIADMK-BJP alliance in the state.
As Narayanan said, “Agriculture will play a key role in this election. The Modi regime destabilised and paralysed farming in this country. That means they destabilised the Indian economy. The farmers in this country will take their revenge against this regime through polls.”
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