06/12/2017, 09.53
INDIA
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Maharashtra: Government abolishes debts and farmers suspend revolt

Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis raises the prices of agricultural products and announces new loans. Farmers protest from June 1st. In Madhya Pradesh, the chief minister sets new prices for grain. Small farmer's demands are that Premier Modi keeps his promises. The agricultural issue is a potential bomb for politics.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) - Maharashtra farmers have finally won. This is what is being said this morning in all Indian newspapers, after the decision of Prime Minister Devendra Fadnavis to meet their demands, canceling agricultural debts, raising milk prices, and entering into new economic arrangements. At that point, farmers, who were on strike since last June 1st, announced the suspension of their mobilization.

The plight of the farmers has been making headlines across India for days.  Thousands poured onto the streets of Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, blocked fruit and vegetables production and distribution in the markets. The protests originate from the dramatic living conditions for field workers, ie over 50% of Indian labor. The demonstrators called a strike because of the high agricultural mortgages they are unable to pay because of a collapse in property prices.

The decrease in their earnings is due to overproduction, which in recent years has been boosted by the development of irrigation systems to prevent droughts. But huge quantities of raw materials, coupled with very low consumer prices, have led small farmers  to seek loans, most of which they cannot repay. The solution, often dramatic for many desperate people, was suicide.

After several days of protests, and an initial reprimand by Chief Minister Fadnavis, the positions softened. He has met their demands, deciding the cancellation of mortgages to all categories of farmers and a new loan agreement at advantageous rates. Some small farmers have expressed immense satisfaction and relief: "For us it is like the Diwali party [of light, symbolizing a new life]".

At the same time, the situation has been unlocked in Madhya Pradesh, and chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has decided to set a minimum price for grain, as well as a series of fiscal measures to stabilize product prices. But he did not cancel the mortgages. In his state the protests had taken a violent turn and five famers were killed in clashes with the Mandsaur district police. In the past few days, four more people have taken their lives, submerged by their debts. Chouhan had also begun a hunger strike to ask for a return to peace. The positive solution came in a short time and he had to fast only one day.

The question of small farmers was likely to become a hot topic for the Bjp (Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party), since both states are scheduled for election in the next two years. Most parts now emphasize that "the Fadnavis government must have received instructions from senior officers to resolve the problem as soon as possible."

 

Other observers point out that current demands are nothing but the electoral promises of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who during the 2014 campaign, launched a series of proposals for the agricultural sector. In detail, in a gathering in Jharkhand he had promised that if he was elected he would "change the minimum price" of the grain. At another meeting in Gujarat he said that the Bjp would "take into account the farmers costs for seeds, irrigation systems, agricultural tools, medicines, fertilizers". All these costs would have been calculated in the final price count, so they would not be borne full by the producer. From all this, it emerges that the issue could have taken a much more devastating outlook for local politics, to the benefit of opposition - such as Rahul Gandhi’s Congress - who were already positioning themselves at the head of the demonstrators.

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