Farmers’ Delhi march that took place recently received fair media coverage. The march once again showed that the government (central government) has failed to deal with the problems raised by agitating farmers. It has thus conveniently forgotten that India is an agriculture-dominant country and will remain so for years to come. Previous government set afoot a plan to relocate 80 crore people from rural areas to urban centers, which is being advanced by the current dispensation. I think this is too ambitious a plan to be executed any time soon. However, as a matter of fact farmers for many years now are badly off, which has forced the prime minister to come out with the promise of doubling their income. His agriculture minister sings the same tune. But the promise has not yet seen the light of the day.
There are two ways to double the farmers’ income: First, by doubling productivity which is not possible or increasing the size of land holding by 10-20 percent that also is not feasible. Second, by increasing the minimum support price, which is plausible and can be done by the government. We often hear announcements of loan waivers or stumble upon news of farmer committing suicide. These are perennial problems that beset the farmer, but as long as we do not address core issues, loan waiver or similar remedies are not going to bring about any positive change in the lives of the struggling farmers. Today farmers are under tremendous pressure. Their suffering can only be gauged by the fact that they are getting poorer with every passing day. Playing any kind of joke on them is not in the country’s interest.
How to assuage their pain and suffering
First of all, there is an urgent need to understand all problems. The first thing that farmers need is a place to store their produce. Second, they need infrastructure to carry their produce to the market. Third, they should get appropriate price of their produce in the market. The government lacks both system and will to facilitate all these things. Today, farmers’ grievances do not reach the government. There are FICCI, ASSOCHAM and chamber of commerce to raise the issues related to Industrial houses and exert pressure on government.
However, for the sake of the country's future, due care must be given to the countryside. In addition to that young people should get jobs, because the land is limited and will not sustain all. As new generation comes of age, family land gets divided. Therefore it is necessary to install agro-based small scale industries so as to provide jobs to the people. The prime minister calls upon people to become job providers rather than being job seekers. This must be one of the jumlas, for a person who himself is looking for a job is expected to arrange jobs for others! This may well be tried, but one must keep in mind the current situation as well.
The American and European remedies may not necessarily work in India. I am not saying that India can become a developed economy by riding only on agriculture sector. Establishing industry is important too, but as long as pressing problems are not rightly diagnosed, the anger amongst masses will keep on brewing. It hardly matters who wins or loses the elections, the country cannot take a fresh start after every five years. There must be continuity in the progress.
Today, the trajectories that the farmer’s agitation has taken are not only matter of concern for political people or people involved in affairs of public life, but also disquieting for the masses. As far as these agitations are concerned, they did not come out of blue. The prime minister had promised in his election speeches that he would give a minimum support price to the farmers, which would be 50 percent more than the cost incurred. But after assuming power he realized that it is impossible. The government does not have that much money to support his grand promise. Later, he also announced that the income of the farmers would be doubled. I do not know who his advisers are, but I am sure they must not be economists because they are promises that are impossible to meet. One good thing with India is that the common man, the farmer and the laborers are ready to work within the boundaries of the possibilities and hardly push to go beyond that.
Nonetheless, the government has its own obligations. It is also understandable that Modi wanted to win the election in 2014, but why did he make such promises even after winning elections? Was he not aware that his unfulfilled promise will cause heartburn, frustration and unrest? Even RBI Governor is of the opinion that due to government promises the demands for loan waiver will go out of control. These are very serious economic issues. Credit must be given to Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi for they knew that populist promises are essential to garner votes, but they never increased the expectations of people, which boomeranged and caused violence and unrest. They were responsible leaders and knew that there is a limit to achieving any goal.
What should be done now?
The Prime Minister should immediately convene an all-party meeting or at least convene a meeting of chief ministers of the BJP-ruled states and devise practical and implementable formulae. Only trying to push the opposition to the sideline will not yield any result. If the farmers continue to protest it would aggravate the problems further. Of course farmers will also have to suffer the losses. Indeed the government can hold farmers responsible for that, but only by placing the responsibility cannot be a solution. People have chosen the government to govern. If it is unable to govern, then it is a very sad situation. The sooner the government will look into the main problems associated with agriculture sector, the better it will be.