Is it just a mirage and election-eve slogan?
Indian agriculture won’t change easily

216-1Government budget is still subsidy-driven and populist only. You see, there are many experts who are specialists in agri sector. Also, there are rural experts, many highly devoted and committed to rural India and also others who can give a summary of the basic statistics, be it food subsidy or fertiliser subsidy etc.

At Vadamalai, we remain a differently-oriented point of view. We live in the city and yet we are retaining much of our farm activities in the village. We do farming, although at the moment we are also devastated as other farmers are, by the continuing drought, we are in the South, in Tamil Nadu interior village where there has been no drop of rain for the past many years. Our coconut trees are withering and we resisted resorting to desperate measures like borewells.
We travel extensively and we saw just yesterday some farms in the drought-affected Mysuru, Mandya and Najangud and also the forest area of Bandhipur Tiger Reserve. All these part s are so devastated, the tender coconut prices have shot up in the cities and what we read as news in the city newspapers is all about consumers’ distress not a word about the distress in the villages. How can we now resort to dry statistics and growth rates and the disputes by city columnists and others?

So, we have to restrain somewhat and stop quoting experts. Prof.Ashok Gulati and his associates have given us graphic and clear accounts about the budget and what it says for the agriculture and the rural sector. So, in a low growth phase of agri GDP at 1.7 per cent growth of this sector, when Mr.Arun Jaitley wants to please his boss, Narendra Modi and quotes all the names in Hindi phrases, he quotes many names how to take him seriously? Sorry we can’t for we recall and recollect those faces we see on the roads we drive through. There is a sense of dejection in the lives of the villages.

So too the statistics, all dry and mouthful, so much for food subsidy, something like Rs.1, 45,339 crores for food subsidy. Fine, fine! Next for MGNREA. Then subsidy for fertilisers. And so on. Prof.Gulati asks, whether this agri budget is for development or dole?

We can simply say we are all, including the government servants in towns as well as the politicians in the exclusive P Lutyen’s bungalow zone where too we were driving around just a few days back; there are a vicious circle of living for all those who are not directly engaged in agriculture or living in the villages!

When we come to the basic realities life in the Indian villages, first, we have to realise that compared with China where too we have been there a year ago, there is tremendous progress in the area of development, their public investments in infrastructure is unbelievable. China is simply far ahead, at least by some 25 years ahead of India. We in India are far slow and fall behind China. I want to sound a bit rather blunt and a bit hurting too. In the last three years Mr.Modi has no doubt brought about a great deal of mental change, in our mental outlook, the Prime Minister had effected an outlook change, if I can so put it.

Yes, the political environment is now changed. At least we can look for some fundamental change in the economy as well in over outlook.

We can surely believe that India after Modi took over is very likely to become a more and more aspirational nation. The youth have reposed their confidence in Modi’s leadership, the latest Assembly elections show this.

As a democracy we have to acknowledge this reality. The Congress had simply sunk in its own ignorance and resort to sycophancy as an alternative to sound principles. Our view and even we can claim our own thesis for regeneration in the future of agriculture is this:
You see villages, in modern view, is a denoc all inquities, and inequalities as we remained a feudal society for ages.

Even today, we hold landed properties and what is the village reality today too?
There can be only a few households, may be in many villages only one households that holds the largest piece of land, right?

The dominant caste might be the only caste to hold land, right too?
So, as sociological reality, we have to recognise this reality, right?

So, allow the traditional land owners to retain some economical size landholding.
Also, give incentives to large landholders so that they invest, they have the energy to hold on to agriculture. Encourage the big land owners to invest, private and also subsidised so that new technologies come to the agriculture operations.

We at Vadamalai also run the online agri information service, ww.agricultureinfromation.com.
We get thousands of enquiries but they don’t come back for the simple reasons we are not able to give them any sense of security that their investments are safe.

Simply because there are no other support services.

They budget talks about agriculture insurance, right? But do you know that the public sector agri insurance company has not CEO for quite sometime?

How do you believe when the government makes promises on crop insurance? And on and on… The average Indian farmers, as we say often, are first debtors! And then court birds! They are caught in so many legal tangles! So, the Tahsildar courts are filled with pending court cases, on tenancy, records and what have you. In what is often called (of course wrongly!) in the advanced state like TN(with our own personal experiences) people, the public throng the Monday grievances day, in two instances, the District Revenue Officer(DRO),the second senior district officials, next to the District Collector) the seat remained vacant! No grievances hearing happened!

Who can imagine the plight of the poor and the weaker sections that only throng such places on this particular day!

Imagine other states like UP, with such far flung geography and the sort of administration we often read about! So, please don’t talk about public (or even the private) investment no one, not the least the poor farmers who cling on to their two or three acre plots would invest money! Their progeny, may be a graduate, might be employed in some other city. The boy or the girls too won’t part with their precious earnings to invest in lands.

So, you can remain confident all this election-related or election-type slogans would only remain slogans only. Agriculture would remain a loss-making sector.

Then, you might ask or wonder, what is the next best alternative. First, there doesn’t seem any easy alternative. The urbanisation boom would drive more people from the villages towards the cities. May be this trend would be the dominant narrative of rural-urban India. Urban migration might help. Help to make agriculture an area for some big new investments, might be MNC investments that could draw more rural people into productive employment and thereby for higher incomes or earnings in the rural India.

As we see, may be politics too might change. May be, the current corrupt politics might change too. The voters might find out more and more the corrupt practices of politicians and the people might go for some believable leaders.

So, in conclusion, we say politics too has to change so that the economy, more so the rural economy too might become attractive to new and big investments.

May be food industry, food processing industry and such related agriculture investments might find new attractive areas. There is no quick-fix solutions to agricultural regeneration. So, everyone has a duty to think of agriculture: government, officials, bankers, corporates (who are now are also the culprits, only interested in sucking the opportunities for their quick profits. See the corporate social responsibility activities.

Only visionaries like the Bangladesh grameen bank founder, Mohammad Yunus, perhaps can change the mindset for new investments and entrepreneurial developments. For such people Padmasri and Padma Bushans won’t come by, you must be sure!

One silver lining seems to be the private philanthropy is rising thanks to our rise in GDP. Let us then wait and watch!

SBI and other banks seem to oppose the move! SBI chairperson, Arundhati Bhattacharya has come out to openly express her reservations. This she had said so to a CII, the private industry body.

Arundhati Bhattacharya

Arundhati Bhattacharya

Prime Minister Modi won an unprecedented election victory, UP victory is something really unusual and such an absolute majority has done many unprecedented things, demolished the Samajwadi Party whose chief Mulayam Singh Yadav was long seen as a potential Prime Minister himself! Also, Mayawati, another heavyweight in the Dalit caste groups, also, no less are the two young faces, Akilesh Yadav and Rahul Gandhi who have a long future in politics before them. So, Modi’s achievement is not something one can take it as a routine election victory.

But how-to promise so many things as Modi did and won this victory!
If now, can the election promises be fulfilled?

Also, this promise comes from the biggest state, the loan waiver comprises a huge chunk of farmers, which is a huge lot of people and a huge lot of public sector bank funds!
Also, there is some other big issues.

The big bad ‘boys’, the corporate defaulters ,with their own NPAs, that are again a huge lot of funds. There is now public expression of a view that even the big corporate defaulters led by such heavy weights like Vijay Mallya, can they expect some relief through the government writing off such huge debts?

Anyway, now in the immediate glow of a huge election victory Mr.Modi may seem to be a man out of the blue. The Economic Times has gone on to write a lead editorial comparing Modi with Donald Trump and called them mould-breakers! Modi and Trumph are leaders who proved that politics, as they have practised and shown to have won out of the traditional mood of politics, is mere media hyperbole? Or any deeper reflection on the current and emerging style of politics?

In our view these are all superficial media writings, just to score some points over their rivals, in the very same, rather tamed media. Indian media, both print and the online and TV channels are all very obliging to the present leadership. The BJP is an unusual party with some very obscure economics and social issues.

Indian society is very complex and multi-dimensional. The social issues are caste based and also communal based issues.

Suddenly one fine morning, one person can come along and promise many things and change India? Impossible? So too in the USA!

You can’t reverse the flow of migrants, as they have done over very long period. The very issues if illegal migrants in the USA is also a long-standing issue. Trumph hasn’t done anything, so far, in a satisfactory manner. The travel ban itself is a work in progress. So too the deportation of illegal migrants that is a huge number as well.

So Modi too has promised many things and captured the imagination of the Indian people. In the last three years what are the promises fulfilled.

Economic growth targets? Jobs generation? Fighting corruption? Black money?

Everyone knows, the common man more and more knows how the inequality and inequity are growing. Per cent of the rich own something like55 % of the wealth in India. India is still the home for the largest poor people, right?

So, also people know who are the wealthy backers of Mr.Modi, the names are too familiar to mention here. So, too many other aspects of India. Poverty. The very agri sector, the very rural sector cry for attention. So, big decisions await the Prime minister.

Our suggestions.

Please have a big picture. Make your ideology that is the one word on which we have to deliberate. Pundits are needed to give the government some philosophical base to draw the largest number of people to trust and follow the leader of a big democracy. Then the Cabinet can decide what to do as a matter of priority. You can give big relief to big debtors in the corporate world. You too can give some big relief to large number of dispersed farmers. This is the direction to go!

The highest allocation since its launch!

We are all likely to forget or even if we know, at least some of the experts and others might know that on Februray 27 2015 the Prime Minister Mr.Modi in a speech delivered in Parliament had described the scheme s a living example of great failure!

gfx4Yes, that is how politics is conducted in the country, though we have to give credit to Mr.Modi for having displaced the Congress party that had been then had become a coterie of corruption presided by a well-rated economic expert!

What went wrong that sent out a powerful signal to the people to vote the mighty party out?
What else but simple act of isolation and no one in the then Congress party, why even now, after three years of such a monumental defeat the party hadn’t recovered from its slumber or arrogance of such magnitude?

Anyway, the much over-rated or maligned MGNREGA has been now taken up by the successor government s inevitable. According to experts like Prof.Ashok Gulati who had studied the scheme it seems that in terms of the price rise and other factors that had been taken into account that the allocations is not a sort of rise but a decline in value.

Measured in real terms at the 2011-12 prices, the expenditure is a decline. Says the experts that measured in current prices, the budgeted expenditure in FY 15, it has actually been declining.
Fine. The real question is whether the much touted scheme, why even credited to the now discredited National Advisory Council over which Sonia Gandhi presided over with such fanfare, is it a mere dole scheme, to disburse funds freely for the poor as a populist election appeal or was if functioning as a development -oriented well-thought out scheme?

We who are living far away from Delhi and the outside of New Delhi’s comfort zone of Lutyen’s bungalow zone, the scheme is a hazily conceived scheme to win the successive elections in a populist fashion, very much like the other schemes, very much like AIADMK schemes, so many to count here, anything and everything that catches the fancy of the poor, from almost subsidised low-cost meals to what have you (if readers permist, we also cite the kio-ends like Tasmac liquor shops to even corruption currency notes at the time of elections!) all that go win an election!

Yes, that was also one such scheme, we mean the much over-rated MGNREGA which was in many parts a laughing stock even with the poor and the villagers. The scheme led to a sudden shortage of farm labour and to that extent it led to a depression in agriculture activities.

We in this very medi pointed out many times that it would have been a welfare scheme for rural farm labour if it had been tagged with farm labour employment.

The cost of agriculture production activities might have been kept under watch but no one paid any attention. So the scheme in many parts, we were eye witness to such farce as sending the labour out in the roadside activates where the labour simple idled for the time allotted and ended up with no sustained production activities whatever!

Nor as now pointed out by experts in retrospect that the scheme must be redesigned in consultation with the Panchayat Raj activities. That would serve some direct benefits like conservation, sanitation, lake formation etc.

Even now, the implementation of the MGNREGA must be recast in the light of the experience gained under the empty populism of the Congress regime.

A decentralised planning and supervision a much transparent spending of the funds that is by account very huge and so much benefit the maximum reach and benefit. The scheme is a good one and from experience it is better to improve and improvise rather than take any partisan view of things.

Image Source : http://economictimes.indiatimes.com

Or, getting caught in its own fantasies? 

Justifying dynastic rule is highly unfair!

congress-mainAs the economy grows fast, it very likely, that too in a democracy, corruption, the power of the corporate lobbies, why even the powerful industrial houses would only try to influence the party and government in power. Free media must be free. But unfortunately, there is no awareness about this critical area.

Also, the various anti-corruption agencies are not yet in place like LokPal and Lokayukta, let alone independent CBI and ED. So, so many high profile criminal cases are pending in courts. So, sadly, corrutpion and black money menace would only likely to grow.

New revelations everyday!

Every day we see news on the TV channels about how the Congress party is losing elections. Now, the various elections to the Assemblies have also shown that the Congress Party, the biggest and the most historical, is losing the confidence of the voters.

The Party seems to live in a cocoon. If you visit 24, Akbar Road you see a sprawling bungalow adjacent to where Sonia Gandhi, the president of the Party lives, she is the president for the last nearly 20 long years! There is a sort of settled feeling where for most of the time all the office bearers are absent! May be once a while they might show up. Otherwise the assistants, they too seem to be very complacent. A mood of ‘all silence and no action’ can be gauged.
What is happening to the major national party?

You can see from the daily dose of bad news, the latest was the one from Karnataka, a Congress party MLC was found to possess a diary where the entries show a staggering amount of funds running to Rs.600 crores were sent to various names, all in initials and yet they are so easily recognisable by anyone interested in politics.

Of course, there were denials and assertions!

Without taking sides we can see that the standards of public life re declining. The sort of election speeches made by both the Prime Minister and Opposition, led by Rahul Gandhi, show there is no hope from this downright fall in civility. Even the incumbent CM, Akhilesh Yadav cannot be excused for having used unparliamentarily language.

This is one aspect of the decline in political standards. The other aspect is the attack on black money. The new Chief Justice of India of the apex court had shown some refreshing urgency to clean the court’s procedures; speedy disposal of long-pending cases is one welcome step.
Why, even the two judge disposal of the infamous AIADMK corruption case is a salutary welcome relief.

We are sure now that other high profile and long pending corruption cases must be expeditiously disposed off.

If not for any other reason but for the atmosphere of a clean and vibrant society and polity would be sent out to the long suffering helpless citizens who seek a new dispensation.
Now, we see in a recent interview in the Times of India (Feb 24, 2017) a very senior Congress leader, Shiela Dixit pleads for time for Rahul Gandhi to mature (Rahul not mature yet, says she) and give him time!

Is this fair and wise? There is an atmosphere in Delhi where everyone seems to imagine that Congress party would function only as a dynasty! What a shame!

We seem to be moving for a more uncertain times, it seems. God forbid!

Under Prime Minister’s otherwise dynamic leadership!

As I type these lines I see on the TV screen that a new Chief Minister is being sworn in what is seen as the most controversial politics of the Indian state, namely, Tamil Nadu.

What TN points out to the rest of India and the world is that in a large democracy like India as the top priorities of governance and providing a clean and transparent government faces entirely new types of contradictions. Real politics faces fake politics. In a sort of Good vs. Evil!
There is an all-round change in the political parties’ fortunes.

sasikala-natarajanIn the just on-going state Assembly elections in five states, from UP to Manipur and elsewhere in Punjab, Uttarkhand and Goa, there is much anticipation for a change in the perceptions of voters. In UP, the biggest state with 80 MPs, there is intense political churning in the sense there is a generational change. Younger faces, two of the heirs to established political legacies, are in the electoral battles as allies. Of course, they were opponents till yesterday, yet today they join hands, thanks to electoral compulsions. Caste loyalties override ideologies. Opportunism reigns over firm commitment.

Then such political contradictions in terms of ideology and political opportunism define the Indian polity today.

Few days in Delhi
Spending a few days in Delhi and going around and meeting people, high or otherwise, gives a deep sense of a new freshness and at the same time an equally deeper sense of unease too! Why so?

Why a sense of freshness? For the obvious reason that politically India has changed now. After continuously being ruled by the Congress leadership, from Sonia Gandhi onwards, India reported a disaster report card. People became tired of the series of corruption cases of very unprecedented nature and scale.

Manmohan Singh as the PM had brought a sort of disenchantment all around. Arun Jaitley has portrayed how Singh was not a natural leader, natural politician. This is right in a sense. Though opponents in other parties might hit Jaitley in the same way. Jaitley too in a sense is not a natural political face; he looks more like a competent lawyer-turned politician. In Delhi, this is a usual feature. There are so many such lawyers turned politicians and in my opinion this sort of lawyers seeking political office, get the jobs and then turn the portfolio one of management expertise and not as leaders with a mass background or mass touch. There is also one of the latest feature of the Indian polity, there are steep corruption cases or allegations even against the most experienced ministerial names, and the Congress exemplifies well this phenomenon of corruption in high ministerial ranks. The ED and CBI are helpless and so the corruption trail lingers for long.

Before we come to the very dimensions and the scale of political corruption issues, we have to note one or two other new features.

Sitting in Delhi and visiting people in high positions, one feels there is a lack of empathy among the current crop of leaders who come from outside the parties. These range, for instance, from Manmohan Singh, Sonia Gandhi and the many family loyalists, in the Congress to leaders in other parties, from the BJP to the Left parties and in between ones like the various Centrist parties. The rise of the dynasties is also distorting the inner party democracy, apart from the very spirit of democracy in the party or parties. May be the BJP, as the new party seems an exception at the moment anyway. But how far, after the current Assembly elections with so many new dynastic heirs in the battle, one can’t say right now!

The ones who are supposed to lend their experience and wisdom to the Indian public life are seen as far removed from the concerns and debates on the lives of the people in the far-flung spaces, remote and not so remote states.

Political leaders of stature?

But then there are no such political leaders today with such command over the imagination of the people. After driving around Delhi, through its leafy Lutyan’s Delhi area in the so-called bungalow zone one is dulled into believing that this is Delhi, prosperous and spacious with vast gardens and lawns etc. with security, all around one is likely to be tempted to believe that this is real India!

No, all this is faked now. There are many wheels within wheels. The rich and powerful few big names, lives in the 250 acres of private land. The rest with 1,000 odd government bungalows are all owned by the government.

Another thought that ran through my mind when I drove around such exclusive locations is the experience that in most bungalows live, mostly I say, in an experience where I met so many senior leaders they all occupy bungalows for many long years. One senior leader lives for some 40 years! These seniors are more in the Congress party and where we see some of the Congress leaders continue to occupy prime properties and they are also MPs for some 40 or more years in such occupation.

That is one reason for the party’s disastrous defeat in there 2014 Lok Sabha elections with no one leader of stature willing to go and live in their states nearer the people. This is the real tragedy of the present day politics which had created a new type of greedy politicians who promote their families and earn wealth in unethical means. There are many dangers in the rise of this new class of shady characters who thrive by wrong means. Where the leaders of moral strength and character? Also, the various contradictions in the Indian polity and the economy itself. The subject calls for intense debate.

Politics of corruption
The single most issue in my view seems the rise in political corruption. Here again we need a fresh new debate.

The subject is complex and we limit here to one single most important one: political corruption.

Except in the latest case of AIADMK functionaries imprisonment for high corruption, this one case taking 21 long years to come to a close, there are many such number of more cases of serious corruption. Some even more serious ones from the very same Southern state of Tamil Nadu. Where some Cabinet ministers in the previous government had already served sentences in jail for more than a year. Yet these cases don’t don’t seem to come to a close in any reasonable time.

We all thought that when Mr.Narendnra Modi came to power after securing an absolute majority in 2014, he would take steps to revamp the polity by implementing the anti-corruption legislation, Lokpal Bill.

Alas! It has not been done. Nor Mr.Modi seems to have any broad picture of how he would go about it. No Lokpal and no Lokayukta for the states anti-corruption clean-up! What new ideas the PM has? No clue at all! This is unfortunate, to say the least.

In fact, Mr.Modi hasn’t also speeded up other reforms like filling up the judicial vacancies and speeding up the speedy justice to the poor.

So, there is a sense of deep disappointment all around about some other pending reforms.

Electoral funding reforms
The one more single important reform is electoral funding. Today (February 16, 2017) I read in The Hindu the opened article by Yogendra Yadav about the latest reforms announced by Arun Jaitley, the finance minister about the very same subject.

I agree with Yadav in that that the new proposed legislation for issuing election bonds is not an improvement.

As Yadav has pithily puts: “The fact is that most political funds remain in the pockets of party leaders”. And even here, as per the latest figures submitted before the apex court the major national parties have admitted that one party(the Congress)has approximately Rs.3,500 crore from ‘unknown sources’ and the next big one, the BJP has something like Rs.2,500 crores as unaccounted funds.

Even a child knows this is black money! Parties continue to thrive on black money even today!
From the way the leaders go around their jobs there is no real serious intention to attack the black money at the roots. Political parties are run on the most secretive ways only!
And this is one real reason why the current political turmoil as shown in TN is really about how public opinion is being corrupted by extremist and fascist ideologies where worship of the leader is done in a more despicable manner and also winning elections by distributing the vast hordes of black money. Again TN is a classic case for serious study.

Even now, the audacity of disregarding all the laws and rules of behaviour by the political leaders can be seen. We need more independent thinkers and intellectuals to articulate more progressive ideas and ideologies. So, this is a long battle, it seems.

No regulation of the political parties, they have all become money -making enterprises. We need serious reforms of the polity, urgently. There is danger ahead, one has to warn.

The economy is growing in a healthy manner, though there are imbalances. India is an unequal society and it is becoming more inequitable. There is danger here too. Issues like pollution, rapid unplanned urbanisation etc are other bigger issues too.

Any modern economy and that too India’s large economy has to witness the very same turbulences and distortions as we, for instance, in the US economy too. There have to be a transparent governance mechanism. Law and the courts have to be free and independent of the party in power.

Towards this end, how far the present incumbent or the aspiring new leaders are committed to travel, we can be sure. That remains the big question, still unanswered.