From Beed to Bharat Mayank Gandhi's vision for agricultural reform

Parth Pandya Wednesday 10th July 2024 09:36 EDT

“If I can transform the worst-affected Beed district of Maharashtra, I can transform India by using this proof of concept,” remarked Mayank Gandhi, who is currently working with farmers in Maharashtra’s worst affected district.

Mayank was a prominent figure from Anna Hazare’s India Against Corruption Movement and served on the national executive of the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) before leaving in 2015, criticising it as the ‘Kejriwal Party.’ He then founded the Global Vikas Trust, working to improve the lives of farmers in Marathwada, particularly in Beed, a district severely affected by farmer suicides and droughts. Gandhi’s organisation is active in 4,200 villages, aiming to boost farmers’ incomes and address local issues and climate change.

He recently spoke at the Hindu Economic Meet organised by the Hindu Economic Forum at Anoopam Mission Denham, where he gave an exclusive interview to Asian Voice and Gujarat Samachar.

Beed district’s farmers are among the worst affected in India. Working with them, what is your rural transformation mission, and what are its main objectives?

The idea was never just about Beed; it was always about India, with Beed serving as the proof of concept. While working on education, healthcare, and various other sectors can maintain the country's status quo, true transformation can only be achieved through sustainable agriculture on a large scale. We chose the region with the highest rate of farmer suicides, severe drought conditions, and very low farmer incomes. I believe that if we could bring about change here, this proof of concept could be scaled up across the country.

How did you begin your work in this scenario, and what benefits did it provide to the farmers?

Initially, we initiated a people's movement against alcoholism. The locally produced liquor, made using traditional methods, has toxic effects that have led to fatalities. Following this, we launched a campaign against dowry practices because farmers often mortgage their fields to moneylenders for their daughters' dowries. If there is insufficient rainfall or crop failure, they are unable to repay the interest, leading to farmer suicides. Subsequently, we started a movement to develop water resources. We worked within a 70-kilometer area to deepen and widen the Papanashi River. Additionally, we constructed 164 farm weirs and 62 check dams. As a result, we have stored 2.22 billion liters of water. We then advised farmers to change their cropping practices, replacing cotton and soya with fruit cultivation. To date, we have planted over 50 million plants and these changes have led the farmers' incomes to increase. To further the benefits, we are establishing a World Class Farmers Training Center in Beed district.

The question of farmer suicides in Marathwada and Vidarbha persists. According to the 2023 report, approximately 2,800 farmers have taken their own lives in Maharashtra. Why has this issue not been resolved yet? Where do the government, system, and society falter?

Upon visiting the region, I came to understand that we have not grasped the reasons behind these suicides. At its core lies poverty, but I believe it's also a social issue. Farmers mortgage their land for their daughters' dowries. Compounded by recurring droughts and crop failure, they find themselves unable to repay, leading to relentless pressure from moneylenders. Moreover, the government's financial aid of Rs 150,000 to Rs 300,000 to the families of deceased farmers can inadvertently drive others to take the same tragic path.

The decision to end one's life does not happen suddenly; it brews over days in a farmer's mind. Social circumstances and caste dynamics sometimes exacerbate these challenges.

In your career as an international urban planner, your involvement in the Anna Hazare movement, founding the Aam Aadmi Party, and your current role as a social activist, how do you perceive these transitions, and what are the underlying reasons?

The fight between Duryodhana and Bhima endured for 15 days and would have persisted had Krishna not revealed the crucial spot to Bhima for Urubhang. Similarly, I find myself in a continuous search for that pivotal point. Initially, I believed change could be achieved through policy reform. Subsequently, I championed the Right to Information Act. Feeling the need to exert pressure on the political establishment, we initiated the India Against Corruption Movement.

This led to the realisation that systemic change required entering politics, culminating in the founding of the Aam Aadmi Party. However, subsequent changes within the party, particularly under Arvind Kejriwal's leadership, prompted my departure. Ultimately, I concluded that rather than pursuing these avenues, true transformation lies in empowering grassroots movements among the people.

You've left the Aam Aadmi Party and authored a book about it. How do you currently perceive the Aam Aadmi Party amid the allegations against its leaders by the ED?

I regret that despite nationwide support, the party could have achieved much more. Instead, it has become just another political entity, succumbing to the allure of power over principles. Initially envisioned to revolutionise the country's politics, the party fell prey to the toxic nature of power, now taking steps solely to reclaim it. The Aam Aadmi Party is now facing the consequences of these choices

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