Protesting farmers have shunned political parties to ensure their platform includes the entire farming community. Nothing better underscores that principle than the support of the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, the farmers’ wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the parent body of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party. BKS Punjab chapter vice president Harjeet Singh spoke to The Observer’s Jaskiran Singh. Excerpts:
Do you think political interests are misguiding farmers?
This protest has no political interests, the farmers are themselves in it. Farmers have different trade unions, all of them are in this. You tell me which minister is sitting in front? Who’s allowing Congress people or Aam Aadmi people to come here?
No (politically affiliated) person is allowed on the stage. Basically, they are fighting for the people as this law affects both farmers and people. How can the farmers be misguided? They are literate people.
Will the reforms leave the farmers at the mercy of the corporates?
For some time, corporate houses have been given airports and railway stations. So, farmers have doubts that our land is being prepared to be given to the corporates.
They will take our lands and sow crops in it. Let’s say they plant potatoes and store them, and then who will decide the price? Everything is in their hands then. Since all production will be theirs, they will sell it as they want to.
We had raised some objections that a company cannot be a farmer; don’t register them as a farmer. What will happen is that you have already given them 1,000s of acres of our land, and now the subsidies and tax rebates that we get will be misused by them. Any individual can be a farmer, but accompany should not be a farmer.
Are Minimum Support Prices (MSP) the solution to low farm income?
Today, there are a lot of states which say they have MSP but farmers are not getting those rates. For example, if the MSP on wheat is about Rs.1,850, there are a lot of states where it’s purchased at Rs.1,500 or 1,200. We are asking that you make a law on MSP that you won’t purchase at price below it. Only then you will get the MSP benefit.
Look at sugarcane prices, it has MSP. Sugarcane is purchased by sugar mills on a contract farming basis. But you will see that farmers are always agitating that they have not been given their dues. Farmers already have bad experiences with corporates.
MSP is not only for Punjab, Haryana, or UP. Wheat and rice are grown here but also in the south. Corn is grown in Bihar and UP. Or cotton and other crops. Every state has MSP on their principal crops. Farmers are affected everywhere.
So, if you make MSP a law, at least the crops won’t be sold below that particular price. If onions are being purchased at Rs.5 and companies sell it at Rs.50, the least you can do is give the farmers the worth of their crops.
Today you give benefits to everyone, education benefits to students, LPG to people, people in government get money to have their clothes washed. What are you giving the farmers? Are their cost sever repaid? They too work hard, have to educate their children, even they want to go on a vacation. Today only the costs of fertilizer, water, and electricity are compensated.
What lessons does Bihar hold?
In Bihar, they finished off the mandis and now look at their condition. Farmers with 2 or even 5 acres of land, today they come to Punjab, Haryana, or Maharashtra to earn their livelihoods as laborers. They are farmers but actual farming survives only in Punjab and areas where MSP works.