By Adithya Kumar
Vijay Jawandhya smiles away the question when asked if he was a leader. Heading the Shetkari Sanghatan that has been fighting for the rights of farmers, he says he intervenes and raises questions on behalf of farmers to ensure that they get paid the correct prices for their crops.
Jawandhya admits that he came from a privileged background. His maternal grandfather was a cloth merchant in Nagpur while his paternal grandfather was a landlord who owned 1200 acres of land in Waifad. His father died when he was barely 18 days old and so he was brought up by his maternal family in Nagpur with very little contact with his paternal family. At a young age, he noticed that while his maternal grandfather, who was a trader was flourishing economically his paternal grandfather was suffering.
“That time I could not understand this, but when I became active in politics and college at your age, I realized something is going wrong in our system,” he says.
Soon Jawandhya discovered that there was a well entrenched system of middle men who pocketed most of the money that should go to farmers
In 1970 he got 50 acres of land from his grandfather after his uncles got their share. As per the Land Ceiling Act no family can own more than 54 acres of land. “By birth I have 50 acres of land not 54. I may not be Tata-Birla but I was Bajaj-Kirloskar of the village,” he says with a chuckle.
The male laborers were paid about Rs 3 a day while women were paid just a rupee. Even after paying such low wages, he found that after a year, after harvesting and selling the crops he did not have much to maintain his family.
Indira Gandhi at that time was the Prime Minister and she had won the elections on the Garibi Hatao slogan. “So I asked myself a question, if the wages of the farm laborers and people employed in the unorganized sector are not increased, how can poverty be removed?” he says.
Jawandhya insists that farm workers also be covered by the pay commissions set up the Central Government. His argument is that they also contributed to the economy and that they formed a major chunk of the population compared to the Government servants covered by these commissions.
Jawandhya dismisses as pittance the support price offered by the Government for crops such as cotton. He pointed out that farmers in the US were getting a massive subsidy from the Government and could therefore sell their crops in the global market at a very low price compared to what Indian farmers could offer.
In 2006, Jawandhya invited then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Waifad and in the meeting Dr Singh agreed that the farmers were not getting a fair price for their produce. Soon after the support price for cotton went up but it did not change much as it should, Jawandhya says.
Jawandhya joined the Shetkari Sanghatan in 1980 when he read for the first time about Sharad Joshi, an IAS officer who had resigned and come to Pune to fight for the prices of onions.
“That time he was not known to anybody. I thought that an IAS officer is demanding the price for a perishable commodity like onions. So if a perishable commodity can get support from the government why can’t non-perishable commodities like cotton get a support price,” he says.
Previously, Jawandhya had started the Wardha District Farmers and Farm Laborers Grievances Committee. It was dissolved when he joined the Shetkari Sangathan.
However Jawandhya fell out with Sharad Joshi who supported free market and India joining the World Trade Organisation.
“I did not understand how that would benefit farmers. So I asked him to show me one country on the globe, where the problem of the common man is solved without the intervention of the government and said ‘I will take that model to the villages’. But Joshi got annoyed instead,” he says.
Jawandhya also blames politicians and says most of them do not understand the agrarian economics in India and elsewhere.
“I think the future of farmers is the worst,” he says sadly. Previously retired people would go to villages; but if the current circumstances continue only the mentally-retarded would go, he added.