Congress president Rahul Gandhi and Aam Aadmi Party chief Arvind Kejriwal shared the stage for the first time at Friday’s Kisan Mukti March, leading a show of Opposition unity in support of the farmers’ demands for fair prices and debt relief. Farmer leaders welcomed the political support as a sign that the agrarian crisis is now on top of the poll agenda in the run-up to the 2019 general election.
Thousands of farmers from across the country took to the capital’s streets under the banner of the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), demanding that the government pass legislation to guarantee remunerative prices and debt relief.
Political parties spanning the Opposition spectrum turned up to express support at the protest venue on Parliament Street.
‘Asking for rights’
“The farmers of India are not asking for a free gift, they are only asking for their rights,” said Mr. Gandhi. In an apparent reference to the Rafale scam, he added: “Farmers are not asking Modiji for Anil Ambani's aircraft. But they are saying that if Anil Ambani can be given ₹30,000 crore of Air Force money, if 15 of your friends can be forgiven ₹3.5 lakh crore worth of [bad] loans, then for our hard work, blood and sweat, why cannot our farm loans be waived?”
BJP has stabbed farmers in the back: Kejriwal
Even as he completed his speech and prepared to leave, Mr. Kejriwal arrived to echo his words. “Farmers are only asking for their due and for the government to keep its promises,” he said, pointing to the BJP’s promise to implement the Swaminathan Commission report, which had called for minimum support prices to be hiked to 50% above the comprehensive cost of production. By not implementing the report, the government had “stabbed farmers in the back”, he said, warning that farmers would “wreak havoc” in the 2019 elections if their demands were not fulfilled.
The importance of farmers at the ballot box clearly loomed over the show of united political support, with representatives from the Samajwadi Party, Nationalist Congress Party, Trinamool Congress Party, Telegu Desam Party, National Conference as well as the Communist Parties sharing the stage and promising to support the proposed legislations. Veteran players such as former Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar and former MP Sharad Yadav joined hands with young leaders like Kanhaiya Kumar and Jignesh Mewani.
“We may have different ideologies, but for the future of India’s farmers and the youth, we are all sharing this one stage together,” said Mr. Gandhi. “The voice being raised here is the voice of the farmers and the youth and it cannot be silenced anymore.”
While the central government did not directly respond to the farmers march or their demands, Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh issued a series of tweets soon after Mr Gandhi’s speech, taking on the Congress and listing out his Ministry’s schemes. “Today, the Congress has remembered that we are an agrarian country…Why was their government indifferent to farmers for so many years?”
Farmer leaders welcomed the Opposition political support as a recognition of electoral realities. “All political parties have understood that power emanates from farmers. Farmers are angry and that anger will be very costly politically,” said Hannan Mollah, general secretary of the All India Kisan Sabha.
“Mainstream political parties are like stock market players. What you saw today is parties putting their money on the farmer, because his stock is going up in the political market,” said Yogendra Yadav, AIKSCC leader and president of Swaraj India. “It puts pressure on farmer groups within the BJP and Sangh Parivar and also gives farmers an additional lever to hold government accountable if there is a change in regime next year. This is a long-term battle, fought inch by inch.”