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BJP, Congress manifestos 'fail to address' severe agrarian crisis, livelihood concerns


By Our Representative 

As the country is in the midst of polling for the Lok Sabha elections, leaders of farmers movements, activists and researchers have called out mainstream political parties for their inadequate to insensitive approach towards some of the fundamental questions affecting the agrarian communities across India and the lack of a comprehensive vision, grounded in principles of equity, justice and sustainability. 
In particular, addressing an online press conference, they lashed out at the BJP – the party-in-power at the Centre for the past 10 years -- whose record and manifesto has been a gross betrayal of and assault on the farming communities of India, they said.
Rambeti of the Rambeti, Sangtin Kisan Mazdoor Sangathan (UP) and National Convenor, National Alliance of People's Movements (NAPM) said that the past 10 years rule of the BJP has been anti-farmer, anti-worker, anti-women and anti-youth and laws have been made to benefit companies, not common people. She spoke of the hardships rural agricultural workers in states like UP faced during lockdown and even after that. 
Rambeti highlighted the specific issues of women, small and marginal farmers and agri-workers and the lack of support systems for them; be it of insurance, crop loss compensation etc. She spoke of labour law violations such as increasing work hours from 8 to 12 hrs per day, in some states. She felt that since the INDIA Alliance and some of its constituent parties seem to acknowledge their issues, they are likely to support them, although these parties shall also be held accountable if they don’t keep up their poll promises.
Pointing to the severe agrarian crisis in West Bengal, Uttam Gayen,  General Secretary, Paschim Banga Khet Majoor Samity (PBKMS), stated that due to the anti-federal nature of the ruling party at the Centre and the inability of the State government to address workers issues, MNREGA workers were badly affected. 
To this day, crores of rupees are pending as wage payments from Centre, forcing lakhs of farm workers to migrate to far-off states and their families live in precarious conditions, he said, adding, despite legal and ground battles, payment are still pending. Although agricultural workers form the backbone of the agrarian economy, accusing the government of lacking vision for their welfare. 
Giving a comprehensive overview of the challenges facing millions of small, traditional fish workers, Pradip Chatterjee of the National Platform for Small Scale Fish Workers (NPSSFW) lamented that both BJP and Congress manifestoes reveal a lack of vision for the well-being of small fishers. Rather, there is a tilt towards commercialization and BJP’s approach, both in the past decade and in its manifesto unapologetically points to this. 
He condemned the top-down approach of building mega-ports, inland water ways, tourism hubs etc. without any consultation with small fisher communities, across India, violating the principles of climate justice, regretting, even the Congress does not address demands of the community for withdrawal of the Indian Marine Fisheries Bill, Indian Major Ports Bill etc. 
Women fishers constitute more than 50% of the small-scale fishers and are more marginalized, but they there are no measures for them. The poll promises of diesel subsidy only helps mechanized fishing, leading to overfishing, impacting small fishers, he said, adding, the Pradhan Mantri Matsya Sampada Yojana (PMMSY) is not accessible to small fishers but helps fishing entrepreneurs. He also reiterated the demand for an independent Fisheries Ministry.
Dr. Sagari Ramdas of the Food Sovereignty Alliance (FSA) made a detailed and comparative presentation of the manifestoes of different parties. She called out the BJP government’s approach as a direct attack on the diversity of livestock-based livelihoods of Adivasi, Dalit, Bahujan and Vimukta communities across India. 
She said that the livelihoods of close to 500 million people in the nation are linked to meat; however, the ruling party has been showing utter disrespect for the rights of these citizens and in fact has been vilifying and targeting communities for their food and livelihood practices. The problem of stray animals in the past few years and crops being destroyed has also been primarily due to BJP’s faulty and regressive policies.
Congress manifesto fares better, but falls short of core demands of historic farmers movement which witnessed martyrdom of 750 farmers
She questioned the mega milk monopolies and felt this infringes on state autonomy and rights of small milk producers. She felt even the INC has reduced the livestock-livelihoods largely to dairy and has failed to look at the diversity beyond this. She stated that BJP has been undermining the federal nature of the Constitution and the powers of state governments to frame polices, different from the centralized manuvadi diktats.
Medha Patkar of the Narmada Bachao Andolan underlined that all categories of workers and producers in the agrarian sector – be it small, tenant and marginal farmers, agricultural workers, fisher people, forest dwelling and adivasi communities, livestock rearers etc. -- are farmers and we must unite to organize for their rights to recognition, dignity, life and livelihood. 
 She pointed out that the Rs. 6,000 per annum promise by BJP is a hogwash and is nothing in comparison to the actual costs that farmers incur. She asserted that insurance must not be privatized and co-operatives must be in the hands of rural communities. She endorsed the need for immediate increase in NREGA wages.
According to her, while the Congress manifesto fares little better, it also falls short of the core demands of the historic farmers movement which witnessed the martyrdom of more than 750 farmers. She reiterated the need to struggle on the twin laws that the movement tried to pursue: Bill for Freedom from Debt and Bill for Fair and Remunerative Prices for all crops. 
 Pointing to the mega-corporatization of the farming sector, she questioned as to how can the Government of India can enter into huge agri-business deals with the United States, while the Model Code of Conduct for elections is in vouge. India needs to have its own economic autonomy, with the small and marginal farmers and producers at the centre of decision-making and we cannot just be a market for the WTO, ‘first world nations’ or even for domestic corporates like Adanis and Ambanis, she added.
Some speakers observed that the manifestoes of some of the left parties such as CPI-M and CPI-ML (Liberation) etc. reflected some of the demands, emerging from movements, indicating their association with people’s movements on the ground. However, other mainstream parties have either made cursory references to significant aspects, or remained silent on key issues or even took positions that do not benefit the agrarian communities, at large, they added.

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