The big picture we have to get right!
Who says agriculture is an unfashionable subject. Or, rural India is just for votes! No, no. Please listen. Farming is bout one’s country’s basic strength. India is a rural power. I want to enhance this perception through all the means at my command.
A vision for farming, for rural India is not just politics. It is an intellectual belief with me, it is a philosophical question as to where truthful activities can thrive. As Tolstoy perceived, it is in the simple peasant whose beliefs are free from all corruption. So, too the hard and honest labour of the village poor that touch depths of my heart. Also, I am not immune to the many wider issues. The big picture we have to get it right. The globalisation, the IT revolution, our modernising lifestyles all impact on our thinking. Certainly, they do so in my thinking processes. The full implications and the hopes and expectations raised by the WTO talks in Hong Kong have not penetrated to the rural India. But we are confident the message will finally reach the desired audience.
WTO talks are all about our agriculture, about our rural future. This is what we believe and what the reality is. We live in a globalised world and the globalised world impacts all people, more so the majority of people who live in the rural areas and engaged in farming. I don’t know whether the WTO talks evoke as much interests among the farmers’ groups. Nor even among the bureaucracy-driven New Delhi government.
There are of course other issues as well for India to address like correction in the anti-dumping laws and removal of non-tariff barriers.
WTO talks are never easy. They concern every major country’s sensitive issues of survival. Free trade is much talked about. There is no free trade in the world. It never was. Free trade at any point of time is what is determined by the powerful country or powerful trade bloc or blocs. Thus, there are at present a highly distorted, distorted in the sense of what an open, globalising world believes to be a fairer trade practices. But then these are never easy. If you want agri subsidies by the USA, now running at one billion dollars a day, to be reduced, the USA still could arm-twist you by giving direct cash payments for the very same farmers in some other indirect way. But the latest developments in the world show that WTO had progressed slowly but steadily towards a more democratic and more open and transparent negotiations.
The point here is whether we in India, more so the farmers lobbies, are seized of the priorities of the WTO meeting is good for the future of the Indian farming sector. The issues are of course complex and the whole developed world the USA and the EU (European Union countries) are the ones whose agriculture is heavily subsidised. For instance, the African cotton producing countries find their produce un-buyable because America “dumps” heavily subsidised cotton on the world market. It is as simple as that. That is world Trade Talks agenda! But no country is willing to reduce farm subsidies. America is a powerful country and it can always subsidise in so many indirect ways. In EU, the most subsidised farm sector is in France and France is passionate with protecting its small farm sector. All the French political leaders are emotionally committed to farm sector and every other day we see pictures in which the French leaders, President Chirac, Premier Villp in, Opposition leader standing near the cows in agri trade shows and photographed!
In contrast only we in India we see the curious phenomenon of the later-day politicians, most of the Delhi-based middle class professionals, led by our own Prime Minister, though they all come from agri/rural areas, only Indians once they become urban middle class they forget their rural roots, nor they seem to care for stopping to give some thoughts to how to make India a food self sufficient country. In France we see the so-called Common Agri Policy(CAP) costs the EU tax payers 47 billion dollars in agri subsidies a year. The 40 per cent of the EU general budget goes to CAP. In France farming accounts only 2 per cent of the EU work force! As much as 80 per cent of the EU subsidies go only to the 20 per cent of the EU’s richest farmers. Even town dwellers still feel strongly about rural countryside, pride in agriculture self-sufficiency, with farmer as a folk hero, very like the Tolstoy’s morality personified pure peasant, is very much a political reality.
But Indians are short memory people, it seems. They believe politicians easily. India has become a more backward country, we forget our history, and we have not become fully informed on issues that decide our existence as an independent country. 150 countries to arrive at a consensus is not so easy. India is now getting drawn closer to the US, our nuclear energy priorities are likely to push India more into co-operating with the US.
There is nothing to fear this development. We have to live in the present not in the past! Likewise, India is also becoming engaged in our neighbourhood. Not just SARC region but the latest development is the 4th ASEAN-India Summit in Kuala Lumpur. India has to integrate with this region. China is the big power in the region with one issue or other with every country in the region: border issues with India, so too issues with others including Japan and others.
So, India’s economic strength would further push us to interact and be friendly with China and also others in the region.
For all the new challenges to help India ,India can’t lose sight of its own economic path, we haven’t become economically strong by adopting a straight capitalist path or a pro-American policy. We evolved in our own way, non-alignment, plus economic self-sufficiency, food self -sufficiency etc. Today, our IT is impacting the world, both the West as well as India, in China in particular and so, we have to modernise our agriculture, modernise our rural India by the latest technological tools at our command. In my view, our faith in farming and rural India’s future potential springs from these larger picture.
France’s geopolitical independence is the key to French attachment to protect agri sector. Whether our government is generating employment, helping farmers to survive on the lands or leave it to market forces so that every one migrates to the nearby towns seeking alternative employment, Infrastructure is the new buzz word. Rural roads are one critical element. So too the telecom reach. It had been estimated that the entire country could be covered with a support of Rs.8,000 crores if the new technology is used, says the government. Bridge the digital divide, another buzz word! So, we have the vision. Let us start making things happen!
India’s agri-products exports now stand at 7 billion dollars last year. This is made possible by better market access thanks to the last few years many developments. The Commerce Minister Mr.Kamal Nath has said that India has something like 65-70 sensitive products on which there couldn’t be any compromise at the WTO talks. India can’t provide market access to products from other countries to the areas where India’s sensitive products are subject to much vulnerability.