On the backdrop of farmers’ agitation in Maharashtra, Amey Tirodkar spoke to its leader and member of Parliament, Raju Shetti. Mr Shetti elaborated the reasons and solutions over the ongoing strike as well as the agricultural crisis. He is still one of the alliance partners of the NDA but now almost on the verge of breaking his three-year-old companionship with the BJP. Mr Shetti gave insights about political developments within his party and the alliance. Excerpts:
Farmers are agitating in five states of the country. How do you look at it? What happened suddenly that farmers hit the streets in such huge numbers?
We need to see this in perspective. The first reason for the farmers’ anger is consecutive natural calamities and loss due to it. But the government failed to give adequate compensation to farmers. The second reason is the government itself. In the last three years not a single crop, apart from sugarcane, has seen a rise in price. Rather crop prices are falling, but production cost is on the rise. This made farmers angry. In addition, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had assured implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendation before he became PM. But now he has backtracked. The government filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court saying that it is not possible. And the last reason for this anger is loan waiver in Uttar Pradesh.
Mr Modi had promised loan waiver in Uttar Pradesh and in turn the party got huge votes. But Mr Modi didn’t understand that he is the PM now and not the CM of any state. His word means for the entire country. So farmers who were in financial crisis due to the above reasons remain hopeful about loan waiver. When they saw that the BJP is not doing anything for them in other states, the anger burst and we are seeing the results.
You think in a way Prime Minister Narendra Modi didn’t keep his word and that is why farmers are angry?
Yes. Rather I would say Modiji cheated the farmers. Did he implement the Swaminathan Commission recommendation, which he had promised? Has the life of farmers changed in the last three years? Rather, it got worse. More to that he gave us two ministers who are totally unaware about the reality of the sector. Agricultural minister Radha Mohan Singh and minister of consumer affairs, food and public distribution Ram Vilas Paswan. Look at their policies. When farmers get huge crop of pulses, these people import pulses. When the international market for onion falls, these people didn’t promote exports. I doubt Modiji’s knowledge of the issue now.
But you went with the BJP under his leadership three years back. Then you publicly said that Modiji understands agriculture well. How can you say this now?
I feel bad for what I said then. We believed in Gujarat’s agro-industrial growth rates in the past 10 years. But now we are realising that Gujarat’s growth was a result of irrigation programmes started by former chief minister Keshubhai Patel and have nothing to do with Modiji’s work. Mr Modi was CM for 13 years. He promised to implement the Swaminathan Commission recommendation. But now he is not doing it. Why? It means either he made a promise that he was aware of its implications or he was aware that this wasn’t possible then only. Either way, his lack of understanding of agriculture gets exposed.
But haven’t you met Mr Modi to discuss issues related with agriculture?
I met him. I even thought that he likes technology so I gave suggestions on how it could help farming. I told him to gives us dedicated satellite so we could get information on weather before in hand. But that didn’t happen. I also told him to make information about all warehouses online. So that farmers would get to know about which is excessive in warehouses and what needs to be sowed. But nothing happened.
Are you preparing to leave the NDA?
I have almost left that alliance.
But in Maharashtra politics, it is being said that your anger is political. The BJP broke your friendship from colleague and minister of state for agriculture Sadabhau Khot. And so you are now blaming the BJP?
They used Mr Khot against me. But I am not here for any power game. I have come as a farmer activist. In 2014, our village voters were not even ready to look at the BJP. They gave them votes just because we were there. The BJP used us to enter the villages. If they think that this would help them from now on, then they are wrong.
How do you see chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ response to farmers’ ongoing agitation in the state?
The chief minister lost his image as a sincere leader in this agitation. He tried to divide farmers. But that has boomeranged now. People who used to praise Mr Fadnavis are so angry that they don’t even want to listen to his name. This is the ground reality.
Now as the Maharashtra government has declared loan waiver after discussing with you, how you look forward in implementing the announcement?
We will sit with the government. Our five representatives, plus secretaries and the ministerial high-powered group, will have meetings to decide the parameters of the loan waiver. We will see that the real needy and poor farmers will be benefited.
The government has accepted many of your demands. But there are still issues regarding the implementation of the Swaminathan Commission.
Yes, but the state government has given us an assurance of talking to the Centre on the issue. And this is the demand of farmers from all over India. We will keep protesting in future if the government doesn’t implement it.