Why Telugu farmers have not joined the protests against farm laws in a big way

Leaders of various farmer groups note that the circumstances of farmers is hugely different in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, compared to states like Punjab and Haryana.
Farm workers in Amaravati
Farm workers in Amaravati
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Amid continued protests in Delhi by farmers who have mainly arrived in huge numbers from Punjab and Haryana, a fifth round of talks were held between the Union government and farmers on Saturday. Thousands of farmers who have stationed themselves at various border points of the capital city, protesting against the contentious farm laws, have even called for a Bharat Bandh on December 8. They have also declared plans to block remaining roads of Delhi, to mount pressure on the Union government to accept their demands to repeal the farm laws. 

The previous round of talks included representation from states other than Punjab and Haryana, including Maharashtra, Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh. However, farmers from Andhra Pradesh and Telangana seem to have remained largely elusive in the ‘Dilli chalo’ movement. While the two states saw protests against the laws in the days leading up to the three controversial farm bills being tabled in the Parliament, the ongoing Delhi protests seem to have been met with a surprising silence in the Telugu states. 

Leaders of farmers’ groups say that the agriculture scenario — in terms of cropping patterns, ownership of agricultural land, and agriculture marketing mechanisms — is considerably different in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, compared to states like  Punjab and Harayana. Because of these and various other complexities, farmers from these northern states have been leading the agitations in Delhi, according to leaders from the Telugu states, who say that awareness is slowly rising in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana as well, and sporadic protests in solidarity with the Delhi agitation have been taking place in the past few days. 

In Hyderabad, a gathering has been organised at Indira Park on Saturday evening, to express solidarity with the farmers in Delhi. A road blockade was organised in Vijayawada on Thursday, by leaders of farmers’ groups and Left parties, and recurring protests are being organised by farmers’ groups in various parts of Andhra Pradesh. 

Difference in circumstances 

The farmers from Punjab and Haryana who are now in Delhi, are protesting against the Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Act, 2020, the Farmers (Empowerment and Protection) Agreement on Price Assurance and Farm Services Act, 2020 and the Essential Commodities (Amendment) Act, 2020. They fear that these laws can lead to dismantling of the minimum support price system, and can allow private corporations to exploit farmers. While the Union government seems to be willing to make some amendments, many farmers have insisted that the laws must be repealed entirely. 

Kondal Reddy of Rythu Swarajya Vedika says that although the repercussions of the farm laws will be deeply felt by farmers in Andhra and Telangana too, one reason that Punjab and Haryana is seeing more intense protests is that they are a lot more dependent on government procurement at MSP and the mandis. “Our farmers still tend to sell here and there, but in those states, apparently 90% to 95% harvest is sold in the markets. So the agitations are higher there,” he says. 

Another leader of the Rythu Swarajya Vedika, Kiran Kumar Vissa also points out that while paddy and wheat are dominant crops in Punjab and Haryana, in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana there is more variety of crops, and farmers are not entirely dependent on government procurement. “So the impact of the laws may not be immediately visible to them. They are not seeing it as an immediate catastrophe, as the farmers from Punjab and Haryana are seeing it,”  he says. 

Apart from having strong government procurement infrastructure, Punjab and Haryana also have more medium and large farmers compared to Andhra and Telangana, where there are more small and marginal farmers, according to leaders. “In Telugu states, tenant farming is more. Landlords are working jobs, running businesses or are living abroad, and they are disinterested in the movement. In coastal districts, Krishna Guntur and Godavari districts, 80% land is under tenant farming. These people can’t freely join protests without the support of the landowner,” says Andhra Pradesh Rythu Sangham Krishna District President Kesava Rao. He adds that many tenant farmers in Andhra Pradesh have not been issued their identity cards (Crop Cultivator Rights card) yet, which may have reduced their conviction in mobilising.   

Another reason for the lack of agitations, Kesava Rao says, is that both the ruling YSRCP and the main opposition TDP in Andhra, have a soft stand towards the BJP and are therefore unlikely to support agitations in the state against the Union government. While TDP MPs had expressed doubts on certain aspects of the laws, YSRCP leaders had firmly backed the bills in the Parliament.  “In Punjab, there is support (for the protest) from regional parties and the state government. A Punjab MP (Shiromani Akali Dal leader Harsimrat Kaur Badal) even quit the cabinet in protest of these laws. But here, in Andhra Pradesh, both ruling and opposition parties haven’t taken a firm stand against the laws yet, so farmers who support either party are also hesitating to protest,”  says Kesava Rao.  

Yet another reason farmers haven’t been agitating is the various pro-farmer schemes being implemented by the Telangana and Andhra Pradesh governments, according to Kiran Kumar.  Both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana have financial assistance schemes (Rythu Bandhu and Rythu Bharosa) to provide investment support to farmers. 

Moreover, the Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) had opposed the farm laws and alleged that they were aimed at benefiting corporates. Analysts say this stand by the TRS government reassured the farmers in Telangana. 

Leaders also say that while awareness about the laws has started to increase in the wake of the Delhi protests, fear of COVID-19 is also a big factor that has prevented farmers from travelling from villages to protests in towns and cities even within the state. 

“The laws were passed during COVID-19, and farmer organisations had trouble reaching people and passing on information, and gathering and  organising people. Now farmers are proactively asking for pamphlets and information on the farm laws and the protests,” says Kondal Reddy. 

Long-term impact 

According to a recent IANS report, Food Corporation of India (FCI) data from 2015 to 2020 shows that nearly a quarter of farmers in Telangana did not access the marketplace for MSP fixed by the Centre. While rice procurement by FCI averaged between 95% to 79% in Punjab, it averaged between 77% and 51.8% in Telangana.

Yet, the laws are bound to hurt Telugu farmers in 2-3 years, if not immediately, says Kiran Kumar. “With the current market system likely to be undermined when these laws come into force, farmers will struggle to get good prices for their crop. There’s also the danger of farming going under the control of corporates. Telugu farmers are also slowly understanding these things,” he says. 

MSP is an important issue for Telugu farmers too, says Kondal Reddy. “In Andhra and Telangana too, not receiving MSP is one of the main reasons for suicides among farmers, as in the rest of the country,” he says, and adds that Telangana farmers have been struggling to sell paddy and cotton this year. “The CCI (Cotton Corporation Of India) has not been procuring cotton, and self-help groups that used to buy paddy regularly aren’t buying either. So cotton is being sold at Rs 3,500 to Rs 4,000 (per quintal) at mills, and paddy being sold at Rs 1,200 to 1,300. So in our states also, farmers will feel the impact, but awareness and updates are reaching them slowly day by day,” he says. 

Noting that various organisations and leaders like former MP Vadde Sobhanadreeswara Rao have been working to mobilise farmers at the village level, Kiran Kumar says that regular protests are being organised in solidarity with the Delhi protests at various places in Andhra Pradesh, including Anakapalle, Anantapur and Chittoor, and are slowly gaining momentum. 

With inputs from IANS

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