India's farmers -- who have taken to the streets against the government, organised a village blockade and threatened to march to Parliament -- added a new weapon to their arsenal on Thursday: social media.
All India Kisan Sangharsh Samanvay Samiti (AIKSSS), an umbrella organisation of 200 farmers' organisations, formed a Twitter Action Group (TAG) and urged supporters to tweet using the hashtag #GovtCheatsonMSP.
The social media surge comes a day before the July 20, 2018 monsoon session of Parliament in which two statutes, together named the Kisan Mukti Bills, are scheduled to be introduced as private members' bills in both houses of Parliament. These bills are the culmination of the efforts of more than 200 farmer organisations that have come together under the umbrella of the AIKSSS.
These bills have been prepared by the farmers themselves and contain solutions to resolve the state of agrarian distress in the country today. According to the AIKSCC, these bills already have the support of 21 political parties.
The farmers' newest provocation is the government's announcement raising the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for 14 crops with several crops getting a 20 per cent increase. Farmers' groups say this hike is not enough and will not make farming profitable. In February this year, then-Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced that the MSP would have a profit margin of at least 50 per cent over the cost of production and that arrangements would be made so that farmers' produce would receive this minimum price for sure.
MSP is the rate at which the government buys crops from farmers. However, most farmers remain at the mercy of middlemen -- they are forced to sell below this price as they have no place to store crops.
On Thursday, the TAG released a list of 30 tweets that they wanted their supporters to retweet on the issue. They, however, said that these are sample tweets and followers should reword them. The TAG also laid down guidelines for their followers to maintain politeness and decorum. They share tips of how to reach "influencers" and on the importance of replies.
"When MSPs were announced in July 2018, that too much later than usual after farmers in many parts had to begin sowing their crops, it became clear that the government is only setting up a ploy," TAG said in a news release.
"The hype around MSPs makes it look as though ... there has indeed been a record hike, hitherto never seen in our country. But the reality is something else," it said. "Farmers have been asked to be content with MSPs far lower than what they ought to get, and no announcement has been made about how even this lower-than-rightful MSP will actually be realised by all farmers."
This is part of a sustained battle between farmers and governments. In March 2018, thousands of farmers marched from the hinterland of Maharashtra to converge at Mumbai's iconic Azad Maidan. More recently, thousands of farmers staged angry protests at Madhya Pradesh's Mandsaur during which six farmers were shot dead. Several farmer organisations then came together and resorted to "gaonbandi" or village blockades.
The next step, they said, would be "votebandi" (a shutdown of votes).
There is a good reason why we are having to take to social media today about the govt's MSP jumla. To begin with, here's a reminder on what @narendramodi ji had to say on MSP and their basis/ formula. Don't miss reference to Kisan Ayog. Not too far in history! #GovtCheatsOnMSP pic.twitter.com/donvX3bxzY— Kavitha Kuruganti (@kkuruganti) July 19, 2018