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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Out of My Mind: Losing the Plot

What is striking is lack of visibility about what government is doing to relieve farmer distress.

Written by Meghnad Desai |
Updated: May 3, 2015 12:10:15 am
 column, sunday column, farmer, indian farmer, ministry of agriculture, Yemen, Narendra Modi, dharna, green revolution, Nehruvian days,agnipariksha, farmers distress, farmers plight The distress of the farmers is a result of long-run structural neglect of the sector, especially of subsistence farmers.

India won a lot of well-deserved compliments for its rescue efforts in Yemen. Many other countries whose citizens were trapped in Yemen were relying on India to help them. In the tragic events in Nepal, again Indian rescue efforts have been exemplary. The Prime Minister has shown true leadership and mobilised the resources, human and material, which the urgency demanded. This is very much an Executive responsibility which the Prime Minister as someone who has experience as Chief Minister is alert to and delivers what is required.

The problem the Government has run into is however on the legislative and political side. It is not one where resources can be commanded and deployed in a focused way. Here the target is slippery. The Opposition has no incentive to co-operate with the Prime Minister. Indeed, it can only gain advantage by blocking progress in the Parliament. That is the Opposition dharma. Appeals to national interest do not cut any ice in such circumstances.

The distress of the farmers is a result of long-run structural neglect of the sector, especially of subsistence farmers. As student of economics in the Fifties, I had to take an examination in Indian economic problems. As far as farmers’ distress is concerned, nothing seems to have changed over the past 60 years — subsistence farms with small uneconomic plots, lack of rural credit, harsh revenue officers, large landlords receiving extra help from the same officials and their political masters. They may cry crocodile tears about the kisans but the parties sitting in Opposition created this problem by their policies.

That, however, is no consolation and does not help to progress the government’s business. What is striking, however, is the lack of visibility about what the government is doing to relieve the distress. Of course, it is a state subject, but even so this is a national emergency. The Minister for Agriculture is not someone we see on our TV screens or even could recall the name of. No doubt he is trying his best but no one knows what he has done by way of relief over the last three months. Where is the media blitz on Twitter or even newspaper ads ?

What we see and hear is the Opposition who don’t have to do anything but just protest.

In the US, it took the Great Depression of the 1930s to move its small and medium-size farmers into urban areas. It was a harrowing tale best described in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. India is at this crunch point. Sixty-seven years of neglect of small farmers has now reached its limits. The Prime Minister needs to take this problem over with the same urgency as he has shown for Yemen and Nepal. There has to be a National Farmers’ Relief Initiative. Money is not a constraint. What is lacking is serious concentration of effort and single minded focus on the widespread tragedy.

The big worry during the Nehruvian days was that India did not have enough food to feed the urban population — marketable surplus as it was called. The Green Revolution solved that problem by harnessing the larger farms in the more fertile areas. India is awash with so much food that it is rotting. This time around the issue is too many small non-viable farms which have to be phased out and farmers and their families have to be given a permanent viable economic alternative. It is no good being sentimental about the kisan. Much better to be hard-headed and give him and his family hope for the future.

This is where quick infrastructural schemes are crucial. Manufacturing industries have to be set up fast. The caution about reforming labour laws has to be abandoned. Lives, especially of the next generation, are at stake. It is only by calling this a National Emergency that things will move. The Government is going through its agnipariksha. It is lucky this has happened early in the political cycle. The Prime Minister has time to regroup his forces, reshuffle his Cabinet, read the riot act to his backbenchers. He has to act and to be seen to be acting.

Tasmat Uttishtha Bharat.

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