Patna: Ahead of the Bihar Assembly elections, farmers and agriculture are set to dominate the political discourse, along with unemployment, during the campaign.
The passage of the farm Bills with voice amid mayhem in the Rajya Sabha on Sunday has given Opposition parties a
ready-made to attack the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA) and target both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Nitish Kumar for their ‘anti-farmer’ policies in the state as well as the Centre.
On September 25, the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD), Congress, Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India and Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) will together take to the streets and stage state-wide protests against the farm Bills. This will be the first organised joint protest against the farm Bills in Bihar. Besides, Jan Adhikar Party (JAP) chief Pappu Yadav has also called a Bihar Bandh on September 27 against the proposed legislations.
RJD leader Tejashwi Yadav has announced that his party workers would hold demonstrations against farm Bills in all district headquarters on September 25, followed by campaigns at the village level to reach out to farmers and mobilise them to overthrow the ruling NDA government to save their livelihood.
Tejashwi, the Leader of Opposition in the Bihar Assembly, has raised the slogan “Jai kisan, Jai Bihar, Jai Bharat” to oppose farm Bills. “We will take this issue to the court of people, mainly farmers. It is not easy to ignore and neglect the interest of farmers and agriculture,” he said.
RJD state President Jagdanand Singh said the ‘anti-farmer’ policies of the Nitish Kumar-led NDA government had forced farmers, particularly marginal and small, to leave farming and migrate outside the state to earn a livelihood.
The RJD leader said his party would make the farm Bills as one of its main agendas during the poll campaign to protect the interest of distressed farmers.
“Thanks to Nitish Kumar, the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee Act (APMCA) was abolished in 2006 in Bihar that badly hit farmers. The aim was to enable private companies to buy directly from farmers, but as per the government’s own data, it failed to benefit farmers,” Singh said.
Singh, who belongs to a farming family, said that after APMCA ended, private companies failed to purchase even 1% of the procurement target fixed by the state government. “The fact is that farmers’ condition deteriorated after APMCA ended”, he added.
Bihar was the first state in the country that repealed APMCA.
RJD will be supported in the polls by Samajwadi Party, which does not have a strong base in Bihar.
The Left parties have also been on the streets against the Centre and state’s ‘anti-farmer’ and ‘anti-worker’ policies. CPI(M) state secretary Avadesh Kumar said the farm Bills give no guarantee of a minimum support price (MSP) to farmers.
“In Bihar, except for a few, most farmers hardly get MSP on their produce. Our party has been raising this issue and protesting. We will join hands with Opposition parties on this issue and will campaign before the elections as well", he said.
CPI (ML) leader Dhirendra Jha said farmers in Bihar had been struggling to receive MSP on paddy, wheat and maize. “Even though the Centre has fixed MSP of Rs 1,769 per quintal for maize, thousands of farmers in Koshi and Seemanchal region, the hub of maize cultivation in Bihar, were forced to make distress sales this summer during the lockdown, as the state government refused to procure maize and traders and agents of private companies offered them low prices,” Jha said.
Similarly, Bihar has recorded lower volume of wheat procurement by the government’s agency at the MSP this year. As per the official figures, only 0.05 lakh tonnes (LT) of wheat was procured in Bihar in 2020-21 against the revised target of 7 LT. In 2019-20, the state agencies procured 0.03 LT of wheat.
CPI (ML) state secretary Kunal termed farm Bills as ‘black laws’ and said his party had extended support to 25 farmers’ organisations on September 25 who have given a countrywide protest call. “We will stage protests across the state from rural areas to urban areas. We have been demanding MSP for farmers and after the farm Bills have been passed unconstitutionally, the party will use it before polls to make people aware about the real motive of the NDA government at the centre and the state".
Vinod Kumar, Kisan Sabha state general secretary, said his organisation would also join the September 25 protests. “We will take out a protest march and have given a call for chakka jaam. Farmers will take to the streets to oppose farm Bills which are meant to open up opportunities for select corporate houses”, he added.
According to government data, nearly two-thirds of Bihar’s total population of 11 crore is dependent on agriculture for livelihood. Most of them are small and marginal farmers. Moreover, nearly two-thirds of all agricultural activities in the state are dependent on the rains.
Agriculture is the backbone of Bihar’s economy, employing 81% of the workforce and generating nearly 42% of the state’s gross domestic product, according to the state government’s figures.
Realising that Opposition parties will play the ‘farmer card’ in upcoming elections in October -November, the leaders of the ruling NDA are also gearing up to counter the opposition narrative.