Farmers' Protests Escalate in India as Extra Forces Deployed

  • Demonstrations in Madhya Pradesh after five farmers killed
  • Farmers are seeking higher crop prices, loan bailouts

Authorities in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh deployed extra security forces in an attempt to quell violent farmer protests, as the agitation spread around the country.

Protests expanded into Uttar Pradesh, Haryana and Maharashtra while farmers in Madhya Pradesh continued to demand loan waivers and higher crop prices. Demonstrators this week blocked roads and vandalized property, posing a major challenge to the local government, ruled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

Farmers in other states, including Rajasthan, will join the strike in few days, said P. Chengal Reddy, chief adviser to the Consortium of Indian Farmers Association, arguing farmers should receive 50 percent profit over the cost of production of their agricultural crops and a loan waiver.

“It’s just a matter of time," said Reddy. "The agitation will spread to other states.”

The flare-ups worsened after five farmers were killed on Tuesday when police fired on protests that had turned violent in the Mandsaur district. Backtracking from his earlier claim, Madhya Pradesh Home Minister Bhupendra Singh,said on Thursday the farmers’ deaths were caused by police firing.

"The clamor for crop loan waivers appears to be spreading: Punjab, Karnataka, MP, Haryana and Rajasthan may join UP and Maharashtra in being forced to announce waivers," Credit Suisse said in a note released on Thursday. "While there may be a political aspect to farmers’ protests too, rising agri debt when agri income growth is slowing is likely a supporting factor."

Farmers’ Demands

Keeping a key election promise, the newly-formed state government in Uttar Pradesh decided to waive farm loans worth 363.59 billion rupees ($5.6 billion) for over 21.5 million farmers at its first cabinet meeting in April.

Following the Uttar Pradesh’s announcement of the waiver, some other state governments and farmers organizations have been demanding Modi to bailout loans through out the country.

Read more: Bailouts Fail to Rescue India Farmers Trapped in Debt Spiral

“Farmers should be freed from loans. They have already done it in Uttar Pradesh," a senior leader of farmer’s group Rashtriya Kisan Mazdoor Sangh, Trilok Gothi, said by phone from Madhya Pradesh. “Our costs of cultivation have been rising and we should get 50 percent profit over our cost of production."

Members of another farmer’s organization, Bharatiya Kisan Union, were also planning a strike in India’s north. "Our members have already started staging protests outside offices of district authorities in Haryana,” senior leader, Dharmendra Malik, said by phone from Muzaffarnagar in Uttar Pradesh.

Farmers are also getting support from some political parties. Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi and other senior party leaders were detained by police Thursday when they tried to make their way to the heart of the protests in Mandsaur, the Press Trust of India reported.

Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh on Thursday termed the agitation in Madhya Pradesh as "unfortunate.” He said in a tweet that those "politicising" the issue were not concerned about the welfare of farmers.

Meanwhile, officials in Madhya Pradesh said the situation was under control. “We have deployed enough force," deputy inspector general of police Avinash Sharma said by phone on Thursday.

Prices of soybean, mustard and peanuts have dropped to a five-year low after production rebounded in 2016-17 on normal monsoon showers in 2016 that followed two years of drought, according to Solvent Extractors’ Association. Wholesale prices of food grains including rice, wheat and pulses fell for four straight months through March and were about 10 percent lower compared with November, according to government data.

Madhya Pradesh is India’s biggest producer of oilseeds and pulses and No. 2 grower of wheat and corn, according to the agriculture ministry.

While high levels of household debts have been recognized as a significant cause of farmers’ distress, the use of unconditional debt relief to improve living conditions, crop productivity and to reduce suicides is controversial. About 52 percent of India’s 90 million agricultural households are indebted.

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