On Monday morning, the road leading to Bengaluru's Freedom Park was filled with hundreds of protestors waving green flags and shawls. The protestors consolidated in front of the park behind a barricade set up by the police. "We are here to ask three simple things. A full loan waiver, minimum support price for crops, and relief measures for drought hit areas. We will continue till our demands are met," KT Gangadhar, General Secretary of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha blared into the microphone.
The protesting farmers arrived at the Krantiveera Sangolli Rayanna railway station in Majestic before making their way to Freedom Park. The farmers intended to proceed to Vidhana Soudha, however after police formed a barricade in front of Freedom Park, the protestors decided to continue protesting in the area. There were agitations held in several parts of the state including in Ramanagara, Mandya, Mysuru, Kodagu, Kolar, Gadag, Tumukuru, Shivamogga, Hassan, Haveri, Hubballi, Belagavi and Bagalkot .
The protests come a day after sugarcane farmers stormed into the Suvarna Soudha in Belagavi seeking a higher MSP for their crop. CM Kumaraswamy landed himself in trouble when he appeared to dismiss a woman protestor who questioned him over the issue at the University of Agriculture Sciences in Bengaluru. "What I meant was why have you woke up to the situation now? Were you sleeping? I would never disrespect women. These are not farmers who are protesting but these are sponsored protests,â€ť said Kumaraswamy. He further raised question marks over the protesting farmers and described them as 'goondas'.
The Chief Minister's response only served to intensify anger among the protesting farmers. "By responding rudely to a woman, the Chief Minister is basically insinuating that a woman should not come out and protest. We have been raising the issues in Yadgir district for months now but northern Karnataka is not an area of focus for this government,â€ť said Nagarathna Patil, a farmer leader from Yadgir.
Co-operations Minister Bandappa Kashampur met the protesting farmers at Freedom Park around 12 noon. After speaking to a number of protestors, Bandappa tried to appease the people gathered by promising to inform CM Kumaraswamy about their concerns and announced that a meeting will be convened with the farmers on Tuesday. â€śThe Chief Minister has called for a meeting tomorrow and strict instructions will be given to mill owners in order to protect the interests of farmers,â€ť he said.
The opposition BJP has moved quickly to highlight the unrest among farmers as a sign of political instability in the state and also questioned Kumaraswamy over his indifference to the plight of the farmers."The issue of not buying the produce that farmers have got has led to many people committing suicide in the past few months. It is also the failure of the state governmentâ€™s loan waiver scheme. There are areas affected by drought in the state and he has now given room for protests there. My question to him is this. You played on the sentiments of farmers and loan waiver and became the chief minister. Now, he needs to answer,â€ť BJP leader of opposition Yeddyurappa said.
According to a state government notification, 100 out of 175 taluks in Karnataka have been hit by drought. The partial loan waiver scheme announced in August is yet to be implemented with several farmers pointing out that they have not received the money promised. â€śThis is about Rs 48,000 crore. The resource is required and you need a little time to check out each loan account. I urge the farmers to be patient and not to be desperate,â€ť said CM Kumaraswamy in the face of increasing protests.
Having crossed several hurdles in their short tenure in power, the coalition government in the state is once again being tested by agitating farmer groups who are growing impatient over the delay in implementing the loan waiver scheme. Kumaraswamy, however, has held off the protesting farmers so far and has also claimed that a loan waiver is not the answer to the state's problems. "A debt waiver is not a solution to farmers' problems. But our government is not only waiving off loans from the cooperative banks but also the crop loan in commercial banks, hoping to help farmersâ€™ debt so that he can start a new life, and the preparation process is in the final stage. The loan waiver will begin soon,â€ť he further promised.
It remains to be seen if the promises will appease the protesting farmers.