Why PM Narendra Modi did not meet protesting Tamil Nadu farmers

More than 170 farmers from Tamil Nadu stayed put at the Jantar Mantar in New Delhi for 41 days since March 14. Having faced severe drought for two consecutive years in Tamil Nadu, they came to the national capital to seek relief from the Narendra Modi government.

The farmers managed to stay in headlines with their novel ways of protest as the relentlessly tried to have an audience with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The farmers protested with skulls, symbolically telling the government that their plight was like that of the remains of humans.

The farmers held protest cross-dressing as women, staged street plays depicting neglect by the governments, had lunch directly off the road, ran naked near Prime Minister's Office, held mouse in their mouth, ate snake meat, and drank urine. But, PM Narendra Modi did not meet them.

The agitating farmers have suspended their their agitation till May 25 after getting assurance from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister E Palaniswami.

Protesting Tamil Nadu farmers at Jantar Mantar in New Delhi.

The Modi government is understood to have discussed the matter at the highest level but a personal audience of the Prime Minister was not granted to the protesting farmers, who have withstood a scorching sun in Delhi summer.

MODI WANTS STATES TO FOLLOW UP MODEL

The most basic argument that is being forwarded is that agriculture is the state subject. Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not want to get directly involved in the matter as it has huge economic cost and also goes against his idea of cooperative federalism.

]PM Modi doesn't want to be seen as directly interfering with what is essentially a state subject.

Secondly, the issue involves huge economic cost. PM Modi also doesn't want farmers to leave high and dry after any possible meeting.

Most importantly, PM Modi wants the state to follow the Uttar Pradesh model of loan waiver. UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath announced the loan waiver scheme at the expense of his own state treasury.

UPA LOAN WAIVER SCHEME FAILED

The loan waiver scheme of the previous Manmohan Singh government is another reason why PM Modi is not willing to announce a central loan waiver scheme for the Tamil Nadu farmers.

Reports suggest that the Finance Ministry considers a central loan waiver scheme as bad economics and populist politics, which doesn't serve the farmers well.

PM Modi, too, is not convinced that the loan waiver announced by the Manmohan Singh government in 2008 brought an end to the problems of the farmers. Loan waivers are essentially temporary measures.

Tamil farmers stripped naked near PMO during their protest in New Delhi.

Secondly, a loan waiver for Tamil Nadu will lead to similar demands from various states including those going to polls later this year like Gujarat. Such demands will make unpopular in many states. The BJP is currently ruling in more than half states of the country. PM Modi would not like such an idea.

ASSISTANCE ALREADY GRANTED

The Centre has already releases Rs 2014.45 crore as assistance to Tamil Nadu for drought relief and other works. The amount was released on March 31 - about a fortnight after the Tamil Nadu farmers started their protest at the Jantar Mantar.

The money was released from the National Disaster Response Fund (NDRF). The official statement of the fund release said that Tamil Nadu was aide was over and above the 42 per cent share in the central excise revenue.

Protesting Tamil Nadu farmers drank urine to highlight their demands. (Photo: PTI)

Tamil Nadu has received Rs 24,538 crore as central assistance under the revenue sharing formula.

Though Tamil Nadu E Palaniswami assured the farmers yesterday at Jantar Mantar that he would take up the issue with PM Modi, the latter is said to be of the opinion that the state government should find out the ways to solve the problem and resolve the issue.

PRESIDENT, SENIOR MINISTERS HAVE MET FARMERS

The agitating farmers met President Pranab Mukherjee and senior members of the Modi cabinet.Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh held talks with the agitating farmers.

The two senior ministers assured them of doing whatever is possible for the central government. The farmers' insistence on meeting the Prime Minister before they call off their agitation did not seemingly go down well with the government.

Protesting farmers at Jantar Mantar.

Secondly, according to some reports, the Centre is convinced that the release of relief fund of over Rs 2,000 crore was received well by the farmers in Tamil Nadu and support for agitating farmers dwinded. This change in situation also weakened the case of the protesting Tamil Nadu farmers in New Delhi.

NGOs TAKING ADVANTAGE OF FARMERS

There were talks about suggesting that the protesting farmers were now fighting a political battle apolitically against the Modi government.

Word also spread that some NGOs were trying to take advantage of the farmers' agitation. Such NOGs were allegedly extending help - including financial - to the farmers to keep their protest going for longer period so that the issue got more highlighted and Modi government's image was 'maligned'.

Agitating farmers dressed as women during their protest.

PM Modi is not known to soothe ego or tactics of such forces. Further, some observers said that if meeting senior ministers of the government did not satisfy the farmers, there is no guarantee that the farmers would withdraw their agitation after meeting PM Modi.

Moreover, the Finance Minister and the Agriculture Minister are believed to have met the farmers after getting nod from the Prime Minister. Now, Narendra Modi is unlikely to do anything to belittle his own ministers on an issue that largely falls in the realms of the state government.

IMPRACTICAL DEMANDS OF FARMERS

The farmers sitting at the Jantar Mantar put up unique demands and said that the agitation would not be withdrawn till those were met.

The farmers demanded a relief package of nearly Rs 40,000 crore from the Centre, a farm loan waiver scheme routed through a nationalised bank, setting up of Cauvery Management Board and inter-linking of rivers.

Protesting Tamil Nadu farmers adopted unique means to highlight their issues. (Photo: Reuters)

A Rs 40,000 crore relief package by Centre, if granted to Tamil Nadu farmers, will open a can of worms. The Centre will not be able to sustain similar demands that are bound to arise from across the country. The same is true for loan waiver scheme.

The demand of Cauvery Management Board is not feasible at this point of time. The concerned state governments and the Centre have found it difficult, more due to political reasons, to implement the Cauvery Tribunal award. The matter is pending before the Supreme Court.

The Cauvery Management Board, if set up, may turn into another ring for shadow political boxing. Inter-linking of rivers is a decades-old programme, popularised during the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government. It has not met with great success as there have been serious technical, technological, financial and environmental challenges.

Agitation by Tamil farmers also gave ample oppoturnities for politics in New Delhi. Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi with Tamil farmers at Jantar Mantar. (Photo: @ANI_news)

The Prime Minister can't commit to inter-linking of rivers in a meeting with a small bunch of agitating farmers in the heart of New Delhi. However, the farmers of Tamil Nadu are facing its worst drought in 140 years. Cyclone Vardah, in December last year, further aggravated their condition.

The Tamil Nadu government declared all the 32 districts of the state as drought-hit. But, the farmers of Tamil Nadu need much more than announcements. The agitating 170-odd Tamil Nadu farmers in New Delhi provide only a glimpse of the problems faced by the community. The wholesome picture is much more grim.

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