Shetkari Sanghatana: Contribution of Sharad Joshi to Indian agriculture

Sharad Anantrao Joshi (81), the founder of Swatantra Bharat party and Shetkari Sanghatana, passed away in December 2015. He is remembered as the farmer’s leader who gave voice to thousands of illiterate farmers to fight for their right to market access and remunerative prices. He hails from Satara district in Western Maharashtra. He was a trained economist who worked with the Indian Postal Services for nearly a decade and later served at the United Nations. He rose to prominence in 1980, when he led an agitation by the onion farmers of Nashik district in Maharashtra.

He founded Shetkari Sanghatana, an organisation for farmers with slogans ‘freedom of access to markets and technology’ and ‘remunerative agricultural prices’. Along with other prominent farmer leaders like Mahendra Singh Tikait and M D Nanjundaswamy, he raised the slogan of the ‘Bharat-India’, a divide which became a new idiom of rural mobilisation. He argued that the terms of trade were being manipulated to extract economic surplus from Bharat in order to benefit India.

He fought for higher prices for farm produce and believed that governments kept the prices artificially low. He insisted for liberation of farmers for the controls of state. His solution to the farmer’s crisis was free markets. He believes that Indian farmers actually got negative subsidies. The price from the restricted domestic market was lower than the global prices. The gap between them is not covered by the government subsidies to the farmers. He was in favour of commodity markets, joint stock companies owned by farmers to handle the supply chain, farmer’s owned companies as an alternative to land acquisition by the government, and equal property rights for women in farmland.  His views on WTO were did not go down very well with the traditional leadership of the Indian farming community. He could not translate his early successes in to lasting political success. He served as a member of Rajya Sabha from 2004 to 2010. India needs another Sharad Joshi to take his struggle forward, and complete the unfinished agenda for farmer’s prosperity with best technologies and remunerative markets on a sustainable basis.

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