The World’s Biggest Vote: Modi Versus Farmers

For decades, India’s agriculture has been devastated due to climate change, declining in productivity as monoculture is replacing biodiverse crops, corporate control pushing farms and farmers to extinction and farmers are transforming from producers into consumers of corporate patented agricultural products.

In the last year, India has experienced multiple large protests demanding that the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) fulfill their promises and address the rural distress. In November 2018, thousands of farmers marched to Delhi to voice their ongoing concerns. Some have worn skulls around their neck to bring to attention to the debt caused suicides among farmers annually. In other protests, some farmers held dead rats in their mouths to emphasise their need for governmental assistance.

Keeping in mind that the aforementioned factors plays a role in India’s agriculture, climate change is a plausible leading factor in causing farmers to commit suicide.  Temperature increase during the growing season, below average rainfall and routine droughts in certain states causes stress on the agriculture industry. Indian farmers borrow money from the bank to purchase seeds and fertilisers to produce. As a result of poor growing seasons, farmers are not able to repay their debt, and as a solution many commit suicide.

Unfortunately, many farm suicide deaths are not reported to agricultural department’s statistics due to cultural and sentimental reasons. According to the article published by Al Jazeera on April 19, 2019, undocumented farm suicides exceeds the annual numbers submitted by National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB).  However, many policy makers and activists reference the NCRB as the most accurate representation of farm suicide. Due to the ongoing rallies, Prime Minister Modi’s government has ceased the release of suicide data.

During the 2014 elections, Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised to revisit the formula for the minimum support price (MSP) that is farmer friendly. The MSP formula that was proposed by the Modi government was not new, however, expanding the application of MSP to more than 20 crops and ensuring a fixture that will guarantee 50 percent profit for agriculturalists attracted farmer votes.

Prime Minister Modi failed to fulfill his promises and farmers engaged in numerous organised displays to highlight their anger and fight for survival. Despite the agricultural sector contributing only 17% percent to the country’s GDP, it is India’s largest sector. The overall objective of the organized protests is 1) address the rural distress 2) secure minimum prices for crops as majority of farmers are forced to sell produce below MSP and 3) due to the correlation between debt, agrarian crisis and suicide, passing of laws to enforce debt relief for farmers.

As a result of Modi’s government’s failed promises, in the first parliamentary by-elections of 2018, BJP lost important states such as Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. By end of the year, BJP lost states such as Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh (Al Jazeera Dec 2018). In attempts to regain farmers votes, Prime Minister made the similar promises as before, except loan waiver, and his government is to double farmers income by 2022. Despite the efforts made by the BJP party in the last several months to accomplish certain promises, the debt waiver and farm suicide is still a concern. BJP’s main opposition party, the Indian National Congress, is making significant attempts to attract farmers votes by promising a nationwide loan waiver. With great efforts to raise their concerns, farmers will have a big say in the outcome of the forthcoming election in the world’s largest democracy.