By N.S. Venkataraman
More than 50 farmers from Tamil Nadu are sitting on dharna in Delhi demanding that the central government should fully compensate the farmers in Tamil Nadu for the loss incurred by them in agricultural operations due to drought conditions in the state. The agitating farmers are adopting all kinds of “strategies“ like wearing minimum dress, holding human skulls, threatening to commit suicide and the like to draw the attention of the TV media and the countrymen.
Several politicians in Tamil Nadu belonging to different opposition political parties, some film actors and people who claim to be activists, environmentalists and revolutionaries have been travelling from Tamil Nadu to Delhi to meet the protestors, taking photographs with them and speaking to them for some time in front of the camera. To cap it all, the Congress party’s Vice President, Rahul Gandhi, has also visited the protestors and hailed their demonstration and used the occasion to find fault with the Narendra Modi government.
Now, to add muscle to the protesting farmers in Delhi, some young men have been trying to organise demonstrations and protests in Tamil Nadu to gain momentum for the protest.
While there is considerable sympathy and support from a cross-section of people in Tamil Nadu for the plight of farmers in the state due to drought conditions, there are many people who wonder as to whether such sort of protests by farmers in Delhi is an appropriate method to find a solution to their problems.
Unfortunately, the visual TV Tamil media are organising debates on the farmers’ protest in Delhi and seem to be trying to give a political colour to the agitation and seem to be bent upon projecting the protests by the farmers as an anti-central government protest and spreading an impression that the Modi government is acting against the interests of Tamil Nadu.
It is high time that the facts were clearly explained and the ground realities assessed.
The fact is that the south-west monsoon which happens between July and September was much below normal in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka states in 2016. As a result, the Karnataka government could not release the stipulated quantity of Cauvery water to Tamil Nadu, which considerably affected the farming operations in the delta region in the state. The Tamil Nadu farmers protested about the non-release of adequate quantity of water from Karnataka and the matter was referred to court. Several orders were issued by the Supreme Court of India which were not implemented by the Karnataka government fully, on the plea that there is scarcity of water in Karnataka itself.
It was then thought that the oncoming north-east monsoon between October and December would relieve the water stress in Tamil Nadu. Unfortunately, the north-east monsoon also was a near total failure.
Meanwhile, with the passing away of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha, the governance in the state became unstable.
In the beginning, the farmers wanted monetary relief from the Tamil Nadu government, which is responsible for looking after the interests of the farmers in the state.
Sadly, the finances of the Tamil Nadu government are in extremely bad shape with the current account deficit of more than Rs 16,000 crore, fiscal deficit of more than Rs 60,000 crore, outstanding debt of more than Rs 3 lakh crore and the interest on the debt amounting to more than Rs 25,000 crore per annum. The ground reality is that the badly managed economy of Tamil Nadu has no resources left to come to the aid of the farmers.
Concealing its lack of finances, the Tamil Nadu government demanded that the central government should give around Rs 39,000 crore as aid and grant to Tamil Nadu to give relief to the farmers in the state. There is no information in the public domain with detailed facts, calculation and explanation as to how the Tamil Nadu government has arrived at the figure.
Now, the Tamil Nadu farmers are sitting on dharna in Delhi demanding that the Centre should give the money demanded by the Tamil Nadu government. It is strange that they are not expecting the state government to give the money.
There are 29 states and 7 union territories in India. Several other states in the country like Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala have undergone drought conditions and the farmers in these states are also demanding huge money from the government by way of relief measure.
There is a demand for waiving of farm loans running into several thousand crores of rupees from states like Uttar Pradesh and Punjab and these states too want the Centre to give money by way of aid and grant.
The question is that no one seems to be thinking as to where the central government would get the money from to meet the demands of the states which mismanage their own finances. Both the state governments and the Centre depend upon tax income for the needs of governance.
Senior central ministers have met the protesting farmers from Tamil Nadu in Delhi and have assured them that they would do whatever possible. But the farmers refuse to accept their promises and demand instant relief.
There are a number of schemes specially introduced by the Modi government in recent months such as crop insurance schemes, kisan card etc. to support the farming community and it appears that the protesting farmers are not impressed by them.
Finally, there are many political leaders and cinema actors from Tamil Nadu who cry from the roof top about the plight of farmers. It is well known that many of these cinema actors earn several crores of rupees and a number of political parties in the state have enormous resources, which they lavishly spend during the election campaign. However, these entities do not open their own purse even as symbolic gestures to relieve the plight of farmers but extend only lip support.
One only hopes that the Tamil Nadu government would convince the protesting farmers in Delhi that they give up the present form of agitation promising to find quick solution. However, the lack of credibility of the political leaders in the state is the real issue.
Perhaps, God alone can help Tamil Nadu farmers at this time by showering them with rain.
(The author is Trustee of Chennai-based Non-Profit Organisation Nandini Voice for the Deprived. Comments and suggestions on this article can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org)