With production steadily outstripping demand over the past few years, farmers found themselves squeezed between falling prices and high debt burdens. Domestic markets are controlled by a middleman monopoly and export markets are restricted, so the government’s options for boosting prices were narrowed to raising procurement prices, which had little traction.
The tone for the year was set by the massive farmers’ agitation in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh in 2017, in which five farmers were killed.
Sensing a growing constituency, political parties were mobilised in 2018 with an eye on the polls in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh, each of which has a substantial farming community.
Then, between June 1 and 10, observing the one-year anniversary of the Mandsaur firing, several thousand farmers in Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan went on a 10-day strike. In the following months, farmers’ agitation became the new normal.
In July, thousands of milk farmers protested in Maharashtra and Delhi, while on October 2 sugarcane growers of Uttar Pradesh blocked roads to Delhi demanding quicker clearance of long pending cane dues.
The All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), a grouping of over 200 farmers’ organisations, launched a four-month long agitation programme, which culminated in a big rally in Delhi on November 29 that was attended by leaders of almost all major Opposition parties including Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Judging from the results of the Assembly elections, loan waiver promises have worked at the hustings. Whether this helps farmers in the longer run will be clear with time.