There was this innocent news item. It said “Sharad Pawar has to take greater interest in the cricket game and think beyond the millions and billions involved, the money, after all the all of us are contributing”(Asian Age). Yes, Pawar is more known for the game than for the game of politics and in particular the performance in the Agri Ministry!

Sharad Pawar is a veteran leader and we have always considered him as a potential Prime Ministerial candidate. We hold him in high regard. Vadamalai Media know him for long and we have always rated his agricultural knowledge as highly rare and a model for other states. Pawar is a highly successful agriculturist, we know. His Bharamati Constituency is a mini-development paradigm for a host of activities, agriculture, rural development, rural industries, future agro-industries and education advancement etc. Some of India’s progressive agro-industries were started there. All this and much more can make Pawar as the tallest leader in the Congress history, that is he is also a long time Congress leader and his present split with the parent party makes him no less a national leader and a committed Congress ideologist.

But now, his term in the Krishi Bhavan, as the crucial Agriculture Minister seems a mixed one and created a lot of adverse publicity for the man and also for the portfolio he holds. It is an irony of sorts that he has to preside over the unedifying spectacle of daily farmers suicides in his home state. Not just that. In a series of happenings, he also is witness to the unending farmers suicides in six other states as well, from the fertile Punjab to the Kerala belt in the South to other such agriculturally strong states like AP as well.

What is this new phenomenon of such large scale farmer’s distress and how to interpret it? One fails to have a clue. Some years ago we were in Nagpur in connection with promoting that region’s agro-industries at the invitation of the industries association of farmers and agro-entrepreneurs and also the local politicians minister, Ranjit Deshmukh and also some other party activists like the present owner of Hitavada newspaper and also Mr.Jaharlal Dada, another prominent citizen of the state as well as a newspaper baron.

We met all these VIPs and studied the agriculture of the region. One thing that came to our attention, almost repeatedly during our stay there was the fact that Pawar was admired but not taken as a serious politician concerned with the two other regions of the state, namely Vidarbha and Marathwada. Pawar, we were told, was only concentrating on Western Maharashtra where the sugar co-ops and the other agro development projects made that part of the state a very prosperous state. We are not sure of the perceptions of the politicians, often rivals in the same state and also there could be honest differing assessments of men in power.

But we know that when Pawar took over the agri portfolio there would be another agriculture revolution of sorts, this time with the Pawar’s own brand of practical approach to transform the sector into a thriving modern economic sector. Now, after almost half the term of the UPA government over, the rest of the term offers no hope of any reversal of the current dismal scenario in agri sector which had posted a very disappointing 1.7 pc growth for the year 2006-07, while the rest of the economy has grown at 9.2 pc and some sectors like industry, hotels, transport and communications has grown at 10 to 1 pc.

All this Pawar must know only too well.
The terrible disappointment comes when we find Pawar has not at all come out with any of his own perceptions of the agri sector. He has not revealed any of his own visions for the sector. So, far, we don’t know what Pawar’s own solutions to some of the persistent issues in the farm sector.
Does he believe in food self sufficiency? In food sufficiency as a necessary minimum for food security? Or, he has any other view?

Does he believe in any alternative development strategy? Other than reiterating.S.Swaminathan’s almost non-ending reporting on Indian farm sector, neither visible action seen nor the decline halted. Now, Pawar told the Lok Sabha that it would take another six months to study the report!
As a shrewd politician Pawar must only know too well that experts like Swaminathan have their own use and their own limitations.

You can’t have yesterday’s solutions to today’s challenges, right?
Today, the agri sector is impacted by developments outside, in the economy, even in the outside world. We are all living under the WTO umbrella and as such we have some obligations as well as rights to press our case for mutually agreeable tariffs for a wide range of commodities ands services. As far as we can see Mr.Kamal Nath, the Commerce Minister, seems to be doing well in the WTO talks. His SEZs might have a different purpose. But the point is that Mr. Nath is battling hard and making lots of noises. That gives hope. In Mr.Pawar’s case, we seem to be more and more getting away from the critical areas of needed action.

He simply seems to be floating along with the developments, developments that are drawing India more into an unforeseen international wheat trade and when the country doesn’t seem to have any time horizon as to when the imports will end or exports will become a reality.
Pawar’s response to farmers’ suicides itself is not in humane terms. He seems to be reading out statistics prepared by his bureaucrats to evade the issue, talking like rate of reduction in suicide rates! Is this the way a statesman, an elder politician talks?

As for farm front action, there is nothing worthwhile to report. CAR and agri universities are in lumber, it seems. Nothing important comes from the research institutions. Even on such controversial matter like GE crops, no public education or clarifying of the many issues are forthcoming from these learned bodies. For what else we have so much budgeted spending on knowledge and information-dissemination agencies are to be justified?
Even the so-called high power committees are doing their jobs much in privacy, there is no media interaction at all.

We say in all humility, this experts need to be changed for new faces, new activists and new ideas and new strategies. Even engaging private Consultants like McKinsey and others for revamping so many areas of agriculture research and production strategies we need world class approach.
Even the much secretive (or non-operational?)Indo-US Agriculture Initiative of which the Prime Minister is supposed to be the only source of information and authority seems to be outside the reach of the Indian public. Surely, the Indian farming community has right to know what has happened so far to this Indo-US entity? Why the secrecy? Why this step motherly treatment of an initiative that is supposed to revolutionise the Indian agri sector?

We take the Indian public and the Indian farming community into confidence and ask the readers and those otherwise knowledgeable people to enlighten the Indian public about this Indo-US initiative. There are other serious issues too. He heads not only the agri portfolio; he also heads the Co-operation and Consumer Affairs. The Co-operative sector is in deep crisis. The latest scandal at Nafed is enough to indicate and indict the government on what is wrong with the government’s responsibility. About the current plight of importing wheat for PDS has earned him the wrath of a wider constituency. Even the UPA alliance partners must be embarrassed for the developments that expose India’s poor agriculture.

As for the Co-operative sector, more so the c0-operative sector bank and farm credit, the minister has to take direct responsibility. The Co-operative sector once played such a central role. Today, it is the most disorganised and disreputed for the scams and misappropriation. The only silver lining is that there are still great many co-operative leaders and also so many successful co-operative institutions, banks, milk and sugar co-operatives and in other areas.

Should we remind ourselves that it is the co-operative system that could save, if at all, the future of the rural credit and also the many agri/processing activities at the grass roots? Should we remind the minister and his colleagues that the world over, in the USA, in Europe, the most successful farm organisations are the co-operative organisations running the milk and other co-op ventures. Even a great institution Nabard is thoroughly weakened. RBI is not playing fair. RBI is not contributing to the Nabard National Rural Credit Fund, short-term refinancing, general line of credit reduced, the Nabard bond scheme is a slap on the face of priority sector idea, it is to encourage the banks to do just the opposite! The spread of branch network in rural areas declined by over 2,500.

Sharad Pawar can’t wash off his hands and pretend to be otherwise.
In all, the scenario seems dismal and the once future hope seems clueless!

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