The glare of the national spotlight is on Indian farmers as the media and the public attempt to understand, advocate or criticise the three new farm acts. These new acts have been aimed at doubling farmers’ incomes by 2022, a promise by the current central government while politicians opposing the ruling party have aligned themselves with the farmers’ cause.
Is this pity, affection, sympathy, or simply vote bank politics and the politics of appeasement that plays with our identities to its advantage?
Elections are simply a game of numbers, so in theory, the larger a group, the more influence it has, and its collective identity becomes a vote bank for political parties to turn to — in theory. The idea has scope for benefits, for as a recognised vote bank, the group develops a louder voice to demand what it wants.
Such politics, however, does provide a rather appealing potential for misuse and manipulation. Let us ask ourselves, how then have Indian farmers been treated by this system?
Farmers not content with govt
The BJP government has been called, by many media outlets, the most anti-farmer government India has ever seen. Their fault lies in attempting to open the farm sector and its markets to privatisation, corporations and ultimately foreign investment.
With these aims in mind, the Union government has tried to offer farmers a way out of the well-masked corruption in the APMC (agricultural produce market committees) mandis. They now have the option of approaching private buyers themselves.
One cannot, however, assume a naïve ‘devil or angel’ stance in such a complex situation. The involvement of the private sector, while seemingly inevitable, will bring along its own set of challenges. And such a drastic change will not come easily.
However, one thing is certain: Farmers are not content with the government’s decisions. The strange aspect of this situation is that farmers have never been content with the government’s actions towards them.
Since our independence the agrarian sector has been in deep distress, and despite the countless elections between then and now, no government seems to have aided the situation. How is it that farmers can be such a large community, such an evident vote bank, and yet have their pleas go unheard, or ignored? Maybe because of a play on their identities?
Farmer communities comprise millions of whispers
We often refer to farmers as one homogenous identity, but when we say farmers, we are actually talking about multiple classes and castes, big land owners, small farmers, sharecroppers, farm labourers, and landless farmers. Some of these groups simply have no awareness when it comes to policies that concern them. Their lives are harder than most of us can even fathom.
Farmers’ organisations have always been local, person-centred, and often short-lived. One hardly hears of a cooperation between farmers of the entire nation. The voice of this massive community is fragmented into millions of whispers. Certainly there are times when these whispers come together to be heard through rallies and marches, and media coverage, but these are heated moments that do not lead to sustained action.
During every election, farmer’s issues are addressed by politicians. Promises are made, money is involved in appeasement tactics, caste and class benefits are offered, but there has been no significant change since the Green Revolution.
The poorer farmers are often forced to vote on the basis of their caste and class to reap the few welfare benefits. These benefits are often insignificant rewards that are temporary solutions to the farmers’ problems. Maybe farmers have become simply a vote bank that must pick between two parties, two loud voices screaming promises they don’t intend to keep, knowing that neither will stand by them.
Rampant corruption and exploitation is the only reality that meets our farmers. Their despondency is used for political mileage and rarely for their upliftment. Their multiple identities are being played against each other, and this large community continues to suffer.
So, no, Indian farmers have not been beneficiaries of vote bank politics. At least not yet.
Janaki Pande is a student of Sri Aurobindo International Centre of Education, Puducherry