The Big Story:

After a 41-day agitation at New Delhi’s Jantar Mantar complex, the 170 farmers from Tamil Nadu who had grabbed media headlines with their heart-rending gestures of desperation, suspended their protest on Sunday after Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswamy promised to solve their problems.

Over the last few weeks, the farmers have brandished skulls, walked naked and stuffed rats into their mouths to draw attention to their demands, which included waiving their loans. What perhaps forced Palaniswamy to go to Jantar Mantar was their decision on Friday to drink their own urine. The farmers had threatened to eat their own feces if officials did not respond quickly.

While some of this seemed dramatic, there is no denying the fact that the protest reflected the profound agricultural distress affecting Tamil Nadu and many other states.

The monsoons have failed in Tamil Nadu for two years in a row. In January, the government declared a state-wide drought and released over Rs 2,000 crores in direct relief. Recently, the Madras High Court directed the state government to waive all cooperative farm loans irrespective of the size of landholdings of the farmers. Until then, the government had only written off loans of farmers with plots of less than five acres.

But given the gravity of the situation, with an estimated 150 farmers having committed suicide in the state over the past six months, the measures adopted by Tamil Nadu and the Centre seem inadequate. Worse, spontaneous projects framed merely to grab media attention have eroded faith in the state’s government. On Friday, for instance, Cooperatives Minister Sellur K Raju decided to float thermocol sheets over the Vaigai reservoir to contain water evaporation. The sheets were blown away by strong winds and with them, the credibility of the government. By contrast, long-term water conservation measures like desilting lakes and dams and removing encroachments from water bodies have moved at snail’s pace.

The situation has been exacerbated by the seeming political stasis in Tamil Nadu following the death of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa in December. The ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam has since been wracked by internal squabbles. The chief minister and other leaders seem more busy with party affairs than governance, leading to a perception that there was complete paralysis in the state administration. Stymied by an unresponsive government, the farmers were understandably desperate.

The Centre has not done any better. One of the primary demands of the agitating farmers in Delhi was a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This request was denied. Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitely did talk to them, but made no assurances. There was no response on demands such as doubling of minimum support prices for measures to curb the escalating costs of fertilisers. The demand for Karnataka to share more water from the Cauvery river with Tamil Nadu is a matter on which the Bharatiya Janata Party has been cautious, since it does not want to upset its prospects in the next Karnataka state elections.

Many of these problems are not unique to Tamil Nadu. Farmers across India are grappling with the same forces.

In 2014, Prime Minister Modi promised that the per capita income of farmers would be doubled in five years if the BJP was voted to power. If this promise has to be kept, Modi needs to do much more. He could start by listening to the farmers.

The Big Scroll

  • Vinita Govindarajan reports on how the drought has pushed farmers in Tamil Nadu into a debt crisis. 
  • Sunaina Kumar on why the protest by Tamil Nadu farmers will not turn into a national movement. 

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  1. Lawyer Gautam Bhatia in The Hindu writes on how fake news functions in India. 
  2. In the Indian Express, Ashok Gulati and Siraj Hussain explain why the Narendra Modi government’s agricultural policies have not made a big difference in the lives of farmers. 
  3. Ross Douthat in the New York Times on the need to reform the criminal justice system and make punishment more humane. 


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