On occasion of Dusshera and Diwali, women in Maharashtra chant Eda Pida Talo! Baliche Rajya Yevo! (May the misery and agony go away, may the kingdom of Bali) be established.
The period of Bali was known as the golden period for farmers and the working community. So people always pray for the reign of King Bali who can bring them abundant prosperity.
The invocation to King Bali (King Mahabali, grandson of Prahlad) is all the more poignant at present given that farmers — real farmers — in India are in a precarious state.
With the help of politicians and corrupt local government officials, land sharks are thriving and grabbing agricultural land at throwaway prices. This land is then exploited commercially. Its buyers construct villas at low rates and sell them for huge profits to city dwellers who are always on the lookout for a good ‘investment’ in the form of a second or weekend home.
According to Maharashtra law, agricultural land cannot be sold to non-farmers. But a new breed of farmers are buying huge tracts of agricultural land particularly at the periphery of Mumbai city — at Karjat, Dahanu, Vasai, Lonvala and some parts of Nasik and Pune districts. Land available on both sides of state highways is in most demand. Ideally, the land should be about 100-200km away from any metropolis. This enables its new owners, the townies, to zoom down in their SUVs during weekends or holidays.
In the past too, Bollywood stars Amitabh Bachchan, Rani Mukherjee and Shah Rukh Khan attempted to portray themselves as farmers and bought agricultural land. Though these actors may be able to play convincing rural folk on screen, they failed to play genuine farmers in real life. They were caught out and the government cancelled their deals.
More recently India Against Corruption activist Anjali Damania has been accused of buying agricultural land at cheap rates, converting the land use, and then selling it for profit.
Interestingly, the rural scenario has changed because of this. You are more likely to come across SUVs in rural areas than bullock carts; you are more likely to see fancy villas instead of huts and integrated farms in rural areas now.
The time has come for the government to act in the interests of real farmers who struggle to make ends meet and who, despite this, produce grain, pulses and vegetables that feed this hungry country. Farmers now find it difficult to even run their farms. Seeds have become expensive, fertiliser subsidies have reduced, government policies that give rural folk cheap rice and wheat (at Rs2/kg) — though a welcome step to alleviate hunger — have discouraged potential labourers from taking up field work. Farmers struggle to get labour and then struggle again to get good prices for their produce.
If farmers cannot live happily in a country whose economy as well as 70% of its people is dependent on agriculture, other communities will not live happily either — except, perhaps for land sharks. Let’s pray on the occasion of Dusshera — Eda Pida Talo! Baliche Rajya Yevo!