Monday, September 10, 2007

“rubbing salt into the wounds of the farming community.”

Date:11/09/2007 URL:

“rubbing salt into the wounds of the farming community.”


Vaghela, Vilasrao comments draw Vidharbha farmers’ ire

Arunkumar Bhatt

Union Minister called cotton growers lazy, incompetent

Shankersinh Vaghela

Vilasrao Deshmukh

MUMBAI: Union Textiles Minister Shankersinh Vaghela is at the receiving end for calling debt-ridden, suicidal cotton growers of Vidharbha lazy and incompetent.

He made the comment at a cotton brokers’ conference at Akola on Sunday, in the presence of Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh and his Cabinet colleagues.

Vidharbha farmer leader Kishore Tiwari criticised the Union Minister for “rubbing salt into the wounds of the farming community.” State Bharatiya Janata Party president Nitin Gadkari demanded an apology from Mr. Vaghela and also Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Pradesh Congress chief Prabha Rau.

“If they do not apologise to the farmers of Vidharbha in the next two days, we will launch a protest movement and burn their effigies all over the State,” Mr. Gadkari told The Hindu from Nagpur on Monday.

“Farmers idling”

At the Akola conference, Mr. Vaghela said, “There are power cuts in Gujarat and Maharashtra. The farmers in Gujarat, just like farmers here, chew tobacco but after that they go to work on fields but the farmers here [in Vidharbha] sit idly. What can the government do in this situation? You must try and emulate the farmers of Gujarat.”

He advised the farmers of Maharashtra to go to Gujarat and see for themselves the practice there.

“While flying to Akola [in a helicopter], I did not see a single farmer working on his field,” Mr. Vaghela said.

“Absurd comparison”

Talking to this correspondent from Yavatmal, Mr. Tiwari said it was absurd to compare the farmers of Gujarat and Maharashtra. Gujarat farmers were using local seeds, had a cost advantage and 75 per cent of their farms were irrigated, unlike the situation in Maharashtra.

Mr. Tiwari also took exception to Mr. Deshmukh’s remark at the conference that nobody should think Vidharbha farmers were not innovative.

“They sprinkle water on cotton or insert stones in cotton bales [to increase weight] before bringing the produce to procurement centres,” the Chief Minister said.

Mr. Tiwari said: “The State’s Cotton Marketing Federation has not registered a single case of such cheating by a farmer but there were several such cases against cotton traders who connived with officials of the Federation.”

The Chief Minister seemed to have “lost his balance” when he levelled such charges against the farmers and rejected their main demand, Mr. Tiwari said.

Mr. Deshmukh ruled out writing off of farm loans. He insisted that lakhs of farmers benefited from the relief packages of the State and Central governments.

School Education Minister Vasant Purke, Food and Drug Administration Minister Manohar Naik, several legislators from the region and Dr. Punjabrao Agriculture University Vice-Chancellor Vyankat Mayande were also present at the conference, but none defended the farmers.

“Promises not kept”

Mr. Gadkari said the Congress, in its election manifesto, promised farmers freedom from debt, cotton price at Rs.2,700 a quintal and free electricity. But it failed to keep the promises and also “insulted” them, he said.

Sena’s charge

Shiv Sena spokesman and MP Sanjay Raut said that as the rulers of Maharashtra themselves were looting the State, they thought that the farmers were also like them.

“By accepting the unfair comparison with Gujarat, the Chief Minister has conceded that Maharashtra is not so well-governed. Had farmers of the State been that bad, Maharashtra would not have been a leading State till seven or eight years ago.”

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It is the farmers' fault that they kill themselves in their hundreds in Maharashtra ― they chew tobacco and sit around. It is refreshing to have such a novel thesis issuing from the Union textile minister himself. Shankersinh Vaghela offered as counterpoint the example of Gujarat's farmers ― they work hard after having chewed their tobacco. His thesis comes close to an earlier 'scientific' report on the suicide of farmers in Karnataka, which claimed that alcoholism was the ill that plagued suicidal farmers in that state. Other factors, such as high-priced pesticides, debt, crop failures and enforced monoculture were issues that were noticed in the report but found to be irrelevant in the main. Insensitiveness is not a particularly remarkable trait in politicians: Mr Vaghela seems rather true to type than otherwise. But what does seem surprising is that the Union government seems to be speaking in two voices. If everything is the farmers' fault, why did the prime minister encourage them in their laziness by offering the distressed farmers of Vidarbha a relief package of Rs 3,750 crore in July 2006? Obviously the money has not helped, either because it has not got to where it is most needed, or because it is not really the solution: 1,500 farmers have died by their own hand between July 2006 and May this year.

The root of the problem is controversial: it has to do with the conditions of globalized trade and the situation of the small Indian farmer. The law against saving seeds, forcing the farmer to buy seeds supplied by corporations every year, the insistence on monoculture that leaves them vulnerable to crop failure, the repeated failures of untested seeds and the ineffectiveness of expensive pesticides that lead farmers into irredeemable debt have all been discussed and debated upon. The cotton farmer of Vidarbha has been hit especially hard, because of the artificially lowered prices of cotton in the world market. The solution would lie in rethinking and reorganizing farming systems. That the government is speaking in two voices would suggest that the policy has not been worked out with any care, there is confusion in crucial areas. Even after so much tragic loss of life and distress on the present scale, that cruel indifference may still be corrected. But the nation could well do without the kind of remarks Mr Vaghela has made.


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