Monopolies in media ownership would only distort democratic rights of the people!
We read that in India there is an incredible 400 number of TV news channels! And there are also fundamental questions like the concentration of ownership in one or two monopoly owners!

These monopoly owners are also, as in India right now, happen to be billionaires, captains of industry and also have tremendous influence on the reigning politicians. This makes for a heady cocktail of what is right and wrong in the polity today. And, behold (!) what is happening in the media industry today? You see there is a decline in the print media; print media is struggling to make profitable business and what we see?

The big newspaper houses have taken to new strategies, marketing strategies of colours, where they often conduct huddles and conclaves where businessmen, big and not so big are invited and awarded prizes and felicitated by bigwigs, why even the Prime Minister is invited and the Prime Minister rubbing shoulders with these newspaper owners and the events are repeatedly played on their own TV company screens for some days.
You can imagine that while these big newspaper houses ,some of which also run other related and unrelated businesses, including TV channels and what sort of news are flashed, mostly in favour of the ruling regimes.

In some States, some parties like the Dravidian ones, have turned the TV channels into big businesses and their standards of culture one can imagine. They are often former film actors, script writers and the combination of films and politicians is anything but a hellish disregard for all that we have associated with a transparent public life. The two of the long-running Chief Ministers had accumulated so much wealth, some ended in jails and that way politics is all that is important. Once you come closer to politicians you too become weak and compromised and that is now politics, more so democratic politics had degenerated to a new low.

We dare say democracy itself today has so degenerated, ministers are often so many ignomarouses and how can be programmes and policies become great jokes.

Then what is a wonder that 40 percent of our elected representatives of people are having criminal backgrounds. For one reason or other, many of the sensitive issues like corruption by reigning politicians remain far from the courts of law and also another tragedy many of the highly paid lawyers are also full-time politicians!

Why this much tears we have shed? You see we are in the media business championing farming as a big cause. Can we make any headway?

This question we ask ourselves! Many big media houses entered into agri media area. One very eminent houses used to bring out annual agri survey>But it is now stopped. Another much more diversified house started an agri journal, after a few issues, it was also stopped. We are, we confess a small fry and yet we persist!

At what price?
There are now many new issues and challenges. One is the advent of IT revolution. This has spawned many new social and technological challenges. One is the abundance of news and information. So too the emergence of information monopolies, Google and Facebook and many others. The emergence of fake news is one more big threat. Now, the current scenario of we, the people, are also treated to the fake news syndrome. How to believe the very government that is alleged to be withdrawing of data that is inconvenient to the government!

Be it growth rate, inflation or other socio-economic development data. Where do we get the reliable data?

So, what chance we have when we say something pertaining to agriculture?
Farming is hard. Helping farmers would appear to be still harder!

This we ourselves didn’t say. It is the first line in an editorial in the Economic Times! Fine sentence and we wanted our readers based in the urban centres to know about what difficulty is there to gather news and information from the farming sector and also from the rural households and from the poor sections of society. That is one reason, we say to media men and ladies, that we find increasingly that on even mainstream TV channels, we see the very same faces, the anchors and the opinion givers, experts and others, the very same faces, they come to the TV studios, as if paid opinion generators and for a fee, we suppose they give their opinions and comments and depart!

What values we can give to such paid for an opinion, even here they don’t touch touchy issues, sensitive issues and they are fine to express their sweet and pleasing utterances for a short while. So, dear readers, we don’t want to scare you from our perhaps unpleasant and a bit unpleasant air our disappointments and comments.

Yet, we find sometimes, very rarely indeed we see some harsh comments in the mainstream newspapers. Even in the Economic Times and the Business line, recently we see such harsh word like killing the agri crop insurance budgets a steep cut and also why start the schemes and once you know why you withdraw and make farmers pay for their crop insurance?

There are so many cuts in the budget and yet the media don’t report and comment in plain language?

The divide between the urban and rural India is growing and this trend is one reason why we often wonder whether the government that wins elections from rural votes think of nurturing agri/development media with suitable subsidies, advertisements, quotas etc.

Any trade deal with USA should secure
India’s agri goal of food self sufficiency!

As big agricultural economies, be it India, China and the USA, we can’t manage world economy without trade. More so the agricultural trade. So, India has to have a trade negotiation with America whose agricultural economy too needs a trade deal. But India should not deviate from its core strengths and core goals. Our food self-sufficiency goal is as critical for us as it would affect millions of people, poor and the disadvantaged. So, let us resolve to keep these crucial goals in view when US President visits India.

Agriculture is so basic a sector, it affects the lives of millions of poor farmers and people that everyone ,that is, every citizen is concerned about what is happening in such an important sector. As we often hear, everyone says and also means it, that still with all our economic progress, India’s emergence as a third large economy, India now the largest exporter of rice in the world and there is much to celebrate about what Indian agriculture has achieved.

There is many sect oral problems and also the larger question of an over-all vision and perception of what is the place of agriculture in the larger scheme of things. As we often say in these columns that India’s economic strength is our agricultural sector only, India is also basically an agricultural economy; about 50 and odd percentage of people are still dependent on the agriculture and the rural sector.

So, we may talk of many other things, glamorous and otherwise, but we have to have a social and economic vision that has to make account for the many other traditional values, largely rural society with so many diversities and economic opportunities.

So, the question today is how far we have taken the people in drawing up a blue print for action on many fronts, from crops, major and minor to other facets of agriculture and the food sector. There is still much poverty and deprivation; there are still so many other pending implementation burdens for malnutrition, under nutrition of children and the extension of the PDS and other rations.

There is also the status of the distribution of food from schools to other sectors. Education and healthcare, why even unemployment and jobs that are tackled by the rural employment generation scheme and also the problems of direct payments to many sections.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is a bold leader no doubt and his many bold announcements from the ambitious goal of doubling farmer’s income by 2022 to other schemes from crop insurance and other schemes are now pending proper implementation. The new agri minister Mr.Narendra Singh Tomar has now started to speak out and the media is also reporting what he says and it looks the various schemes like the flagship crop insurance schemes in which certain new corrections have been announced. This is the first time for a long time that some new announcements have been made.

More such announcements would give some confidence for farmers who are known for their conservative skepticism!

We live in the village and confess we share the ordinary villagers’ skepticism too.
So, as a media committed to solely for agriculture we should be understood properly and taken seriously as far as our skepticism is concerned.

Especially a minister like the agriculture minister must be seen travelling to the states and also making some surprise visits to villages and see how things are implemented. There are States where agriculture has a strong social base and where there are genuine concern for agriculture welfare and other States where there are different ideologies, say like Kerala where Communist ideology drives agriculture, with radical land reforms, in TN where there are so much political issues where agriculture is well developed but caught in some issues like oil explorations and with a largely driven political divides.

Other social issues are also there, as in TN again there is a very entrenched alcohol, TASMAC lobby of the ruling party that almost has destroyed social health of the poor.
There are States like Karnataka where there is a more balanced social economic development and there is also progress in the agriculture and horticulture sector. The Maharashtra rural landscape is well-known with a perennial problem of farmers suicides, in a state which is otherwise more industrialised with the India’s financial capital, Mumbai located and yet we are unable to stop this tragedy of farmers committing suicide, may be the only spot in the whole world.

The very slogan of doubling farmers’ incomes in the next two years seem to be only slogan given the current political impasse. We have to develop many facets of the Indian economy and society, why even the polity so that our over-all Constitutional scheme of things, the legislatures, judiciary and the media, why even our universities give a wide spectrum of freedom and free from fear and anxiety about the confidence in the over-all ideology of an open society. Even secularism and equality and a caring society must be the fulcrum of an open society and the outside world. We are living at a time in world history when newer issues like migration, why, large-scale migration, refugees and also freedom from persecution for peoples ‘religious beliefs. There are many religious persecutions going on in the world, in our own neighborhoods and the international opinion is such that India, among other nations is right now in the world, attention.

Simply because we are in one segment, agriculture is not to mean that we can’t reach out to new issues. We are not able to conclude the trade deal with the USA doesn’t mean that such a trade deal is not linked to our defense and trade issues. Every big country today is invariably tied to its own strength and vulnerabilities, right?

So, whatever be the trade and economic deals countries’ own egos and illusions comes into play. What we mean here is that our own strengths, be it agriculture or IT skills colour and create prejudices and we have to be mentally prepared to listen to experts and intellectuals.

So, let us realise our agriculture’s strengths. Mr.Donald Trump, we write on the eve of his arrival in India, wants Indians to believe their own country is a ‘developed economy’! Fine, we also believe let us act like a developed country people!

In a situation when we find the Indian agriculture in debts and droughts and floods!
Why, even you can add litigation and much else!

This year’s Christmas double issues of the internationally known magazine, The Economist, has written its major editorial on Optimism vs. Pessimism.

The widely read intellectual elite journal has highlighted the radical changes now caused by the growth in technologies that are not only creating enormous wealth, also benefitting man by improving living standards, spreading education, also health by the many medical miracles that allow us to live longer and also helping us to travel thanks to revolution in aviation, not to also add the telecom revolution and the IT industry that had transformed a traditional society like India to emerge as a Superpower.

So, how can be unaware of the various revolutions in technologies should also must be causing a great revolution in agriculture?

This question is nagging in our minds when we sit down to write any editorial. As educated persons with some privileges of wealth and opportunities we have to be morally committed to the rural people, farmers and other underprivileged sections of society in which farmers occupy central place we are duty-bound to speak the harsh truths as well. This is for the rural farmers.

Agriculture is a risky activity. In distress and debt!
How the government policies work?

After Modi took over as the Prime Minister of India there have been too many new policies and too many risk taking outcomes. In agriculture and rural; development there has been a sea-change in the announcement and implementation of the various schemes. PM’s two bold decisions, demonetization and GST have really impacted the way now citizens use the banks through online transactions.

Of course there have been mixed results. Yes, the radical decisions led to some pain, some might say more pain than positive results. However, any new radical step would distort and destabilize some sections. Now, after all these years we see much positive changes only. This much if fine and fair. As for the agri sector is concerned, the new schemes from farmers personal pensions and insurance cover the scheme has been yet to show results. The various subsidies that always go with any agriculture schemes go also under the many other agri schemes.

One obvious and much discussed and much politicized schemes are farm loan waivers. The latest one is by the Maharashtra government under the new Chief Minister Uddhav Thakeray. This scheme is likely to cost Rs.50, 000 crores and can the rising NPA be sustained by the rising NPAs of banks and also the already strained deficit, fiscal position of the State government?

One simple and straightforward retort is: who cares?@Today’s political environment is such that no rational response is welcome and always some sort of shrug is welcome and people react favorable to such confrontationist political gestures. So far, the public and private sector banks had written off Rs.80, 893 crore during April-September 2019.

The government in Delhi pretends to say and maintain still that that the loan write offs continues to be for repayment. So farm loans very soon turn out to be bad loans and continue to hang around the necks of farmers, though the final and realistic outcome nobody knows! As per RBI, the rate of recovery of bad loans has come down from 18.4% in 2014 to a low of 12.45 by March 2014..And so on so forth!

We don’t believe in going into detailed data from the official sources that have become suspect in recent times! What is reliable is the ground level reality and we have to be very robust in mind and body when we talk of Indian agriculture. Agriculture in India is highly distorted, officials and ministers are known for their silence when such hot topics come for public debate. There are political priorities in drawing up agricultural policies. Unfortunately there are widening gaps between the politicians who draw up policies and the rest of the agriculture=-linked groups of people. Apart from farmers who belong to the lowest categories like marginal and small farmers who are as of today own an average one or t wo hectares, there are other categories who fall into the category of big farmers, or big corporate who also accumulate vast acres of agriculture lands.

Our humble suggestion is that the ICAR must be recast. It must be recast to bring together agriculture leaders, agriculture veterans, leaders like Sharad Pawar and Chandrababu Naidu and many others who in their tie had done much for improving agriculture after the series of radical land reforms laws were introduced soon after Independence.

What lessons we have learnt from the radical land reforms that abolished zamindari and also to the extent of tenancy reform laws. The Prime Minister must convene a meeting, why a series of such meetings to get an update of the rural reality today.

Why even a veteran like Deve Gowda who in his Chief minister days, likewise Sharad Pawar(we have met them then and interacted with them. They also sought progressive ideas as to bring in large investments.

So, we too should do now and take the agri reforms as continuity. New technologies are coming out everyday. From IT to AI. So, we can have much optimism and must be able to take forward reforms and policies that would reach out almost every single farmer So, we request farmers generation today to have optimism, the younger generation specially to help to spread the new optimism that they find in non-farm sectors. Also from urban centres, from big cities like Bangalore to remote villages.

Whom to look for advice and wisdom?

The past year has gone. The New Year, 2020, is very much on us. Also, the New Year is once more, full of hopes and lot of trepidations. The US onslaught on Iran has complicated international affairs and has many other issues of urgency, not only on Indian economy, with the oil prices tilting the economy and also other issues. The visiting Iranian foreign minister to India might have many other things in his bag besides the current upset.

India has a vital role and it is to be seen how the government is going to handle the very many intricate issues. The US President is close to India and we Indians would only hope that the international situation remains under control and also helps the rest of the world to manage the issues.

India has a larger role in the foreign spheres and it is anybody’s guess how India comes out of this present global challenge. The Prime Minister has met the Indian industry leaders and has reassured that there would be no witch hunting of the private industry.

This reassurance comes at a time when there is a great deal of discomfort over many of the recent developments, the perception of with-hunting of not only the political opponents and also some industry players, all based, let us hope on false perceptions and let us also look forward these sort of perceptions are based on a great deal of subjectivity and otherwise things are okay.

The world today doesn’t seem to have many statesmen or statesmen –like leaders who could think of world-wide issues. British leaders were once international experts, given their years of running an empire. Today, Great Britain is no more great but it is seen as little Britain! Indian elite, by and large is still British-oriented; even these generations of Indians are more attuned to think about the world issues through a British prism. This journal is also no exception and hence these few words on Britain and the newly elected Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

Boris Johnson
Boris Johnson, the newly mandated British Prime Minister, who was once the editor of the British high society magazine, The Spectator, in its Christmas special issue has written a Diary Page in which with all his current business he found time to pen down and what he says is worth recalling here, I think. Johnson, by the way, Indian readers must be knowing was a classical scholar from Oxford where he read the famous Greats, Greek, Latin and classical literature and typical of the old style Conservatives, he had achieved what his predecessors couldn’t. He won a decisive election and set to carry forward his Brexit goal. What Johnson says in his Spectator column?

He is worth quoting in some length. He says: You may wonder why I am up at 4.45 a.m, writing this diary when I have a country to run, Queen’s speech to prepare, vast mandate to deliver and so on. When I bumped into the editor a couple of nights ago at a party he said my name is already on the cover of the Christmas cover and so what could I say? I became editor of the magazine 20 years ago. I owe this magazine… Thousands of activists-of all parties- who have just allowed our democracy to function.

After saying such nice things, the incumbent British PM wants Britain to have a kinder, gentler, ‘tone of politics’ in Britain. These lines touched a chord in my mind and at any rate we can echo this sentiment at this time of the Indian democratic spirit surging in a new environment in India.

Parliament Democracy
If we talk of parliamentary democracy, I quote again the Spectator magazine: “Britain’s parliamentary democracy is often mocked, its meadievalisms, the men in tight and the ayes to the right”. The point is that democracy and parliamentary democracy at that in Britain has survived, it tends to work, right?

That is the magical beauty of British politics. You see there is no written Constitution at all and yet it works and works wonderfully smoothly. How many Prime Ministers had come and gone and how many of them left some memorable words and phrases, episodes and quotable quotes. To juts give one very recent example, the just retired Chief Justice of the British Supreme Court, a worthy lady member, wrote a famous judgment, in three days, just in 20 pages judgment that dismissed the Prime Minister’s decision to suspend Parliament! Compares this with the Indian bureaucracy-ridden mindset that still clings to pages and pages of unreadable legal jargon we find IN Indian! Unwritten conventions and trust-based democratic practices is what given Great Britain its moral and legal strength.
As for the current political scenario in the country, there is no sense of a gentler and kinder tone of politics in India anymore. Instead, there is a growing and strident tone of confrontation and a great deal of distrust!

This newly created tension and mental distress and the highly vitiated environment and the fearful enlargement of violence and must destruction in the university campuses is the handiwork of whom, what elements?

Some hard questions remains to be answered and who should undertake the responsibility? 19 people died in police foreign in UP alone, a State where the saffron-worn leaders and highly rooted in HIndutva is in leadership. A new kind of Hindutva ideology is now being fashioned and in our view, this is a dangerous path and the future in the same path is riddled with some unforeseen consequences. As the days of protesters’ numbers swell, more confrontationist tone on the part of the government is worrying.

Surely, there should be other ways to engage the citizens in a restrained debate. No democracy can be possible in such an atmosphere of forceful propagation. The finer details of the three controversial legislations apart, there is the spill-over of the agitations leading to some unpredictable consequences. On the domestic front the Opposition parties are forced to take some contradictory positions, creating unnecessary mind-splits in their long-time articulations like the Shiv Sena over the conception of Hindutva, till now a harmless formulation, now it is under pressure to distance itself from the founders and original ideologists.

Also, the more strident tones of the ministers who also don’t seem to take a conciliatory tone but much more aggressive to keep up their profiles. And no less worrying is the application of some Colonial laws whose relevance to our times is much more doubtful and yet our lack of a modernizing mindset gives way for more brutal applications. Unfortunately, the very heat and tussle of the protests and confrontations have tended push the vital organs of a democracy, like the media and the universities to fail miserably to contribute their own unique ‘sweetness and light’ in our search for ways and insights. Surely, the media in India under the current regime has been suppressed and we fail to assess and size up the new sources of light and wisdom and guidance.

So too other organs of the democratic system. There are too many to deal with here: from the electoral deficiencies, from high political corruption to other large scale forms of corruption. Also, our distortion of priorities of governance, from appointing Lokpal to Lokayuktha to down the scale to petty corruption and other ills at the grass roots. Talents are also missing in this regime. The ministries, the bureaucracy, the education and health sectors and the like need urgent priorities.

Yes, economic slowdown is a great concern. But smaller things, Human Development Index to Panchayat Raj are all as critical.

Let us build an enlightened agricultural lobby!
An effective agricultural lobby needs much media support!

Two much bureaucracy weakens farmers-policy makers interaction. What should be done now? Give media support!

Agriculture is now in the dark. Not the crops and crop prices. The people who flood this vital economic segment. 50 people who toil in 15 percent wealth creation!

Not many know what is happening in this priority sector. Price rise and food inflation alone is not agriculture news. The rising inequality, persistence of poverty and various exploitations of the helpless farmers are also news and needs to be reported and written about. Who does these all public services?

Has the ministers recently spoken about agriculture? Has the PM spoken about agriculture issues lately?

These are not for rhetorical questions .but a pouring out of some accumulated frustrations! Give subsidies to agriculture media! Otherwise in a few years what remains would go off the attention of the policy makers forever!

Even now what do you see happening in the many established channels? Agriculture extensions services are almost weakened still old fashioned Colonial institutions prevail.
In this age and time of technological revolutions, mobile phones and Whatsup and what have you, the average villagers, need to speak of farmers, for every small official favour, be it the local thaluk or Collector’s office farmers have to make a trek, spend time travelling long distances and wait for a dharsan of the high and mighty officers!

Most of the time the so-called officials are either absent or in conferences. You can check this up every Monday when crowds gather at the Collector’s offices for pouring out their grievances. Oh, how much injustice still persists? Thus, we call every Indian farmer a debtor, litigant and a suicide-prone helpless victim. Now, lately, with a new type of political environment there is almost a near anarchy in governance practices.

As we rite there was a large scale eviction of urban shanties in Bangalore city where nearly 300 thatched huts near high rise buildings were evicted one fine day without any priority notices by the police and City Corporate engineers without the joint Commissioner of the Corporation knowing. There were screaming cries and much more. There was no adequate response and only NGOs and others were seen engaged in helping out the victims. This in time of so many other revolutions and communication techs.

We can go on talking and talking but unless there are independent media houses, more so the government controlled DD and also specific schemes and channels to give opportunities for independent interactions between the citizens and the politicians in power, there can’t be any democratic sense of security and the many freedoms promised under our Constitution would only remain on paper only. That would see the more vital organs like the DD and other government channels would become 100% government propaganda tool! Agriculture needs media support!

This, only the government agriculture strategy policy can imagine. It is not there right now! There is too much apathy and too much unconcern. That shows the many distortions and lack of articulation even in government agri policies and schemes! Crop insurance, health insurance and direct payment etc are all good initiatives but how are their implementation?
Amit MItra, the hon’ble finance minister in the West Bengal government, the other day in an interview with the NDTV revealed many instances that were not covered in the print media in many mainstream newspapers.

One or two instances here. The FM revealed to a question why the economic slowdown and what can be done etc., he said fear and trust in the government. There were some 30 odd cases, criminal and civil, against one corporate and he asked how do you expect the entrepreneurs to come out and invest and deal with such a government. Also he revealed many instances and schemes in the name of the PM, which show the allotted funds were not spent and also in schemes for which funds were shared between the Centre and the States and yet in one such instance quoted by Mitra that only the PM’s image is put to the exclusion of the State CM is not found! How do you then create trust, how do you show trust in the Federal character of the country? In fact, the State FM had many more such glaring injustices are rendered today.

Such mature and more experienced FMs are hard to find. Such facts and figures are not known widely. Oh, when you come to agriculture, the many injustices done to helpless farmers who commit suicides many more heart-rending go unreported. Is there any one newspaper or TV channel to cover the less glamouring and yet human interest stories or why, even to comment and bring to the attention of the high and mighty who hold forth on agriculture without stirring our of needing of the Lyten Bungalow zone and now, the Khan market!

The point here is that the Central government already what remains, we are told, is advised to reduce media advertisement and revert to TV channels and digital marketing. This is being told by man y of the Central government commodity boards and other such departments. The agriculture ministry, both at the Centre and the States, dont have budgets for agriculture schemes to be advertised, both in English and the regional languages.

Please spare a thought for the agri sector and the remote rural India. Thereby the democratically elected government might still make an impact on the insecure and left out segments of the population.

What more we can plead for even in this age of enlightenment?