Earlier this morning, Sharad Anantrao Joshi (3 September 1935 – 12 December 2015), the founder of Shetkari Sanghatana, passed away at his home in Pune. He was 81 years old.
His early life was that of a professor and a bureaucrat, but what he came to be most famous and respected for was his popular movement for the rights of farmers. He was a rare Indian liberal, who worked on the ground rather than from the comfort of an air-conditioned room.
Upon returning from Switzerland and quitting his job with the Government of India, he became a farmer. But he soon noticed that it was a loss making enterprise. The question that he strived to answer before starting out as a farmer’s leader was, “Why is it that the farmers are not able to meet even the cost of their produce and forced to live a life of poverty and indebtedness?” His background as an economics professor and first-hand experience as a farmer came in handy to help him find the answer.
He concluded: “This is because of socialism. In Socialism, where the government run and operate business and factories for profits, they want the raw materials coming out of agriculture to be cheap and the grain for labourers to be cheap too. This has been the policy of every government since independence.”
This policy of government to forcibly keep the price of agriculture produce low keeps the farmer poor and indebted. He used to say that the government’s agriculture policies makes sure that while farmers all over the country sow different items, they all reap the same produce, debt.
His answer to the travails of Indian farmers is best captured in these lines from a June 1994 piece in The Economic Times, “There is no problem with agriculture. As I have always said, the government solves no problem. It is the problem. Get it off our backs and farmers will be fine.”
But what could he have done to help resolve the problem?
He started Shetkari Sanghatana in 1978 as a way to mobilise farmers to demand fair market price for their produce. But his biggest contribution was to make the farmers aware that the reason of their poverty is not of their own doing or that of bad karma or fate, but that of the bad government policies.
Suresh Chandra Mhatre, who according to Mr Sharad Joshi is the central pillar of Shetkari Sanghatana today, says, “What Mr Joshi speaks, the country does about 25 years later.” I believe in the case of economic freedom for farmers, this long wait is not over yet. Mr Sharad Joshi’s liberal writing and thinking influenced lakhs of Indian common men and women who raised questions on government policies and questioned the difference between intent and outcome of these policies.
Mr Joshi always used to acknowledge his party Swatantra Bharat Paksh, as a successor to Rajaji’s Swatantra Party. Speaking at an even commemorating the 50th year of Swatantra Party at an event in Mumbai in 2009, Mr Joshi said, “A sentence which was often used in the context of the old Swatantra Party and which I use quite often is what we preach is politically impossible, but will keep the flag flying till what is politically impossible becomes economically inevitable – that has been our kind of approach.”
Rest in Peace, Mr Joshi.
PS: My first and only meeting with Mr Joshi was when I visited him in his Pune home earlier this year. He wasn’t keeping well at the time, but even then kindly agreed to meet me. He had a doctor’s appointment later in the day. Mr Joshi also agreed to do a full video interview for our Indian Liberals project as soon as his health improved. Sadly, that wasn’t to be.
However, Mr Joshi and Mr Mhatre were generous to share a lot of Mr Joshi’s writings though. About 4000 pages of Mr Joshi’s works in Marathi and in English are in process of being digitised and put online.