On July 22, during the Lok Sabha debate on the confidence motion, Rahul Gandhi mentioned the case of Kalavati, wife of a Vidarbha farmer who had committed suicide and mother of nine children. He said she had told him her husband landed in trouble as he depended on a single crop, cotton. She was now trying to diversify her sources of income.
As Gandhi brought up Kalavati’s name more than once, there were derisive comments from opposition members, who presumably thought he was building her up as a counterpoise to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati, who was spearheading the move to bring down the government.
Rahul Gandhi claimed that energy security resulting from the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement would help rural families like Kalavati’s to realize their dream of better lives.
Gandhi had visited Kalavati in her modest village home on July 18 during an unannounced visit to Vidarbha.
In a report from Mumbai, the Malayalam daily Malayala Manorama said that arrangements for the visit were made by Margaret Alva, AICC general secretary in charge of Maharashtra, and that P. Sainath, The Hindu’s Rural Affairs Editor, who was largely responsible for drawing the nation’s attention to the Vidarbha farmers’ plight, had helped in drawing up the itinerary.
Kalavatibai Bandhukar has now emerged as a spokesperson of Vidarbha’s farmers. She was among the speakers at a rally organized by the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti (VJAS) on July 25 and attended by thousands of farmers of Yavatmal district.
According to VJAS, more than 90% of the cotton farmers have been left out of the loan waiver scheme announced by Indian government and farmers in Vidarbha are not getting fresh crop loans. It plans to stage dharna before all banks to press the demand for complete loan waiver.
VJAS, which has been keeping track of farmers’ suicide, says more than 5,000 farmers of Vidarbha have taken their lives since June 2005.
Kalavatibai Bandhukar, addressing the rally, said she had not received any help from the administration so far and was finding it very difficult to keep her family alive. She would be forced to follow the same path as her husband if the administration continued to be apathetic. .
A resolution adopted at the rally urged the government to implement the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) in Vidarbha and make a special outlay for the region under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY). It also called for a comprehensive policy for land rights to landless, marginal farmers and tribals cultivating barren land.
Information about the rally is based on a report circulated by Kishore Tiwari, President of VJAS. His telephone number: 09422108846