Shiv Kumar Sharma, the face of the ongoing farmers’ agitation in Madhya Pradesh and a former leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh-affiliated Bharatiya Kisan Sangh, may have come from the same political stream as the Bharatiya Janata Party, but he firmly believes that farmers are worst affected in states where the party is in power.
“Farm distress is not unique to any particular state, but the situation is worst in BJP-ruled states,” Sharma, nicknamed Kakkaji, told Scroll.in on Monday. “In total, there are 16 states where the BJP has its government, and in almost all of them farmers are miserable.”
Sharma, who formed the Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh after working for the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh for years, is believed to be the man behind the violent agitation by farmers that has rocked Madhya Pradesh this month. The state’s agrarian community is demanding farm loan waivers and better prices for their produce. The situation remains tense after five farmers were killed in police firing on June 6 in Mandsaur district.
On Saturday, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan started a fast in a bid to restore peace in the state, but broke it the very next day.
“He is a very weak person,” said Sharma. “He does not have the guts to go and ask directly from [Prime Minister] Narendra Modi any financial help for the state. He sat on fast to hide his weakness. Everyone knows that he is helpless because the Centre is not helping him out.”
Phase 2: Gujarat, Rajasthan
Sharma said the events of the past two weeks in Madhya Pradesh and in neighbouring Maharashtra, where also farmers were agitating for relief from debt and for fair prices, are just the first phase of a larger movement. In the second phase, the agitation will be much more widespread, engulfing states like Gujarat and Rajasthan, he added. Along with Maharashtra, these two states are also ruled by the BJP.
A nationwide block of national highways is planned on Friday as part of this next phase. “The decision for the second phase was taken in a meeting of 140 farm leaders belonging to 62 organisations from different parts of the country,” Sharma said. “The mega meeting, held on June 10, decided to organise a nationwide protest on June 16, when farmers will block all national highways from 12 noon to 3 pm.”
The date (June 16) is significant as it comes the day after the Modi government’s 21-day-long celebration of three years in office is scheduled to end.
“The next major protest is scheduled to be held on June 21, which is Yoga Day,” Sharma added. “For one hour, farmers across the country will do yoga with Modi. But unlike Modi, farmers will do only shavaasan [corpse pose], not in their homes or parks but on railway lines, stations, roads, junctions and bus stands and will thus bring the nation to a halt for the time Modi will do his yoga.”
According to Sharma, Gujarat is of special interest, not just for Modi and the BJP, but also for farmers of the country. “Gujarat cannot be insulated. The farmers have suffered for so many years in the state,” he said. “The agitation, once it builds up, is bound to be a fierce one. I could feel this in our June 10 meeting, which was attended by several farmer leaders from Gujarat.” He added, “No matter what the government does, Gujarat and Rajasthan are likely to take the agitational route sooner than later.”
Loan waiver or eyewash?
The farmer leader, however, appeared worried that a loan waiver announced by the Maharshtra government on Sunday might take the steam out of the agrarian unrest, without giving the state’s farmers anything substantial. Following the government’s announcement, Maharashtra’s farmers have reportedly called off their stir.
“This is similar to what happened in Uttar Pradesh, where the government after announcing a loan waiver has kept diluting its promises,” Sharma said. “First, the Uttar Pradesh government said loans of all farmers would be waived off, then it announced the relief only for medium and small farmers, and thereafter it climbed down further, saying benefits would be given only to very small farmers and only loans up to Rs 1 lakh would be waived off. Even this promise has not been implemented so far,” he pointed out.