New Delhi: The ongoing protests by farmers attempting to restrict the supply of milk and fresh produce to cities has highlighted differences between farmer unions on modes of protest, especially on the question of whether to risk rattling urban consumers.
Some of the largest unions, which see urban India as an ally, are unwilling to inconvenience people in the city and have, therefore, stayed away from the strike called between 1 June and 10 June demanding loan waivers and better crop prices. As a result, current protests have been limited to a few regions in Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Maharashtra, with negligible impact on retail prices in major cities.
“The long march in Maharashtra some months ago (where tens of thousands walked for almost 200km) was supported and helped by citizens of Mumbai, raising the bar for farmer movements across India," said Yogendra Yadav, who was instrumental in stitching together a coalition of more 180 farmer organizations under the banner of All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee to press for demands of loan waiver and remunerative crop prices.
“A new-age farmer movement cannot survive by pitting rural and urban India against each other," Yadav said, explaining why coalition members have stayed away from the protests.
However, Kedar Sirohi, a young farmer leader from Madhya Pradesh, part of another coalition Kisan Ekta Manch which is spearheading the strike within the state said people in the cities need to understand that the cost of cheap food is borne by farmers. “Urban India has to pay a cost because it is only then that governments are going to act," Sirohi said.
Shiv Kumar Sharma, part of a coalition named Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, which is leading the strike across several states, said that rural India has never been the priority for governments.
The rural-urban binary arises today as it is getting increasingly difficult to draw the attention of governments to the problems faced by farmers. Thus, farmers are being forced to take desperate measures such as blocking highways or burning vehicles (which happened last year in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh), said Avik Saha, convener of the Jai Kisan Andolan, which has stayed away from the strike.
“Farmers are selling at low prices but urban consumers are buying at steep prices... and we need to walk together with cities to reduce this gap," said Raju Shetti, a farmer leader and a member of parliament from Maharashtra.