BENGALURU: Thousands of farmers walking six days to reach the country’s financial capital last week, being described as the ‘Long March’ is less about politics and more about the farmer’s daily survival, people associated with the massive protests argue. And, Vijoo Krishnan, the Joint Secretary of the All-India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), one of the key people credited with the massive mobilisation spoke to TOI about why such a movement was needed.

Krishnan, 44, studied in Bengaluru before going to the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), which moulded his thoughts and helped make commitments to the farmers’ issue, that has seen him quit a well-paying teaching job at St Joseph’s College to become a full-time member of AIKS. He spoke on a host of issues ranging from the apathy of governments, impact of neo-liberal policies and the demand for a debt relief commission. Excerpts:

So many years after independence, farmers had to come on to the streets to be heard…How important was the Mumbai march in the context of farmers’ struggle?

Farmers in Maharashtra had mobilised even before, in Nasik and other parts, but the fact that such a large number walked for six days had the country sit-up at least for a few minutes. For instance, about 10 months ago there was a huge United Kisan protest demanding higher minimum support price (MSP) and loan waivers, while the Maharashtra government announced Rs 36,000 crore, not even one third of the indebted families have benefitted so far. It was largely this anger that led them to Mumbai.

It is unfortunate that they get absolutely no attention otherwise, there are problems in Rajasthan, Karnataka, Telangana, Kerala, and many other states, and this won’t be the only lastmarch, just as it wasn’t the first. We had even organised a massive march from Chikkaballapur to Bengaluru in 2015-16 which garnered good response in Karnataka, but nothing permanent has been achieved.

How have things changed in the past few decades for farmers?

Governments have been going back on promises made to the farmers, ignoring their concerns and failing in their duties. Most governments have been implementing ne0-liberal economic policies, reducing subsidies, deregulating input prices, and not supporting farmers with a decent price. This needs to change. In most states the MSP fixed is lower than the input cost of the farmer pushing him into a vicious cycle of debt. These are all impacts of policies that did not consider farmers’ issues.

Multiple Govts announce loan waivers, and farmers do appear satisfied, but is that a solution?

A large number of farmers borrow from money lenders, which no loan waiver scheme recognises. Even otherwise, loan waivers are like palliative care, at best, not a solution. But such temporary reliefs are needed to keep the farmers’ families going until a more permanent solution is found. It is important to change the way this issue is viewed.

Are debt relief commissions an answer?

So far, no state other than Kerala has a debt relief commission, although farmers from multiple states have been demanding it. In Telangana, the assembly has approved it but the government is yet to appoint one. The fact that the commission in Kerala has also recognised loans from money lenders is a significant improvement in the way the issue is dealt with and it would be welcome if other states emulate it.