Very weak and uninspiring, the domestic agenda!

The Prime Minister on the Independence Day makes the mandatory speech from the Red Fort. This, under the present incumbent had become a routine speech? Yes, he has warned the Pakistanis, he had reiterated commitment to the US nuke deal, he, more importantly had said something about the state of Indian agriculture. This is what matters to us, though what he said on other topics, are equally nationally important.

What the leading newspapers, The Hindu, The Economic Times, the Delhi and Calcutta media wrote on the PM’s speech was almost uniform. Though they are respectful to the Prime Minister and as an economist, they were very critical, very skeptical, on the old promises a year ago on the same platform. This year too his new promises, rather claims were seen as plainly inadequate. His domestic agenda seemed very weak and uninspiring.

While the people may give their vote to the continuation of the UPA Government, they would surely question it’s rather insensitivity to some of the concerns for the latest developments. The claim of India maintaining 8 per cent growth for three years is very fine! But as the PM would have noted that China is projected to grow at even 10 per cent and more! And so what he has got to say about the terrible situation about the agri growth at a very low percentage.

Also, as The Hindu editorial pointed out that the reality test would give the PM a fail mark only! The dilution of the right to Information Act, the Pm seems to have not taken note. The PM’s “hope that the RTI would empower our people to use their rights to make government more accountable”. Says The Hindu: “It is clear that reality testing from the ramparts of the Red Fort has its limits”.

The Economic Times notes in its editorial” More of the same won’t work in Agri”. “Any strategy that relies heavily on those factors to ease the current crisis is out of touch with current reality”

So, what we do? Praise the PM or do the mandatory routine criticism?

There are some hard issues in agriculture over which we don’t assume that the PM had got the required inputs for any radical policy making. So, we don’t blame the PM for any of the inherent flaws in what the PM hoped the people of the country would accept as his wisdom. But we would urge the PM still with the words” Please see what we have got to say on the issue.

First, let us recognize and what the PM and the President haven’t recognized so far, the real challenges on the farm front. Agriculture is in a deep crisis for the most basic reality of the current changes in our economy. There is a vast change in the countryside, education has spread and so too the aspirations of the rural youth, nay, the very rural people. There is a great deal of mobility; migration is now a great reality. Both the internal migration and external migration. Today no able bodied man or woman is willing to starve; they are too willing to move about in search of work. So, there is already the market driven change. At best, the government should only assist to make this migration easy and secure.

Second, agriculture on small landholdings had become unviable and so we have to think of new concepts and new strategies. The contract farming concept is a really new concept and we at Vadamalai are promoting this concept within our areas of operation and we would urge the Centre to come out with a legislation to ensure there is more of contract farming. The advantages are many, one, it ensure an assured price, second, it also ensures a higher price.

Third, the most important policy change is to allot more subsidies for price support and also more funds allocations for price stabilization funds for some of the major crops. This one step alone would ensure much of the distress faced by farmers.

Fourth, for the Vidarbha region, what the Central Government had offered is too little and too late. There needs some massive debt write-offs. Of course what the TN CM had done is purely a cynical move. But the question would be uppermost in most CMs’ minds would be that if  one State could write off farm debts on such massive scale there must be something similar on a more rational manner some form of farm debt write-offs ,at least in some of the farmers-suicide prone districts.

Fifth, the need is to ensure the Public-Private Partnership in all World Bank aided agri projects. Some of the “best practices” in agriculture would be to bring in the Public-Private Partnerships in all major new industrial ventures  where farmers would part with their lands and get in turn shares allotted to them, if not also direct employment subjected to all the rules and regulations.

The agri land acquisition for industries is becoming a hot issue in several states, in West Bengal, Orissa and Jharkand in many other States. So, there is here a new chance to come out with some new strategy, on the SEZs lines or some other modified way so that there is more scope for big industries in the most backward agricultural regions. Of course, the massive land acquisition, as done in Haryana for Reliance, for Tatas in Orissa and W.Bengal, need some fresh look, as the affected farmers would have to be brought into the future growth opportunities. Here is surely a new challenge, a new opportunity to do some hard-headed thinking.

The day we are writing, we see Keshub Mahindra investing Rs.1000 crore in a Greenfield project in Nashik by 2009. Such investments can be established in Vidharba so that some basic, big industries come up and act as barrier to acute distress in this agri belt. There are any number of entrepreneurs are willing to invest, if only the State governments put their minds. W.Bengal Chief Minister is a good example of what can be done, if the government changes its policy to attract investments. No agriculture value addition would take place, unless alongside we see industrial growth also. Also, the motivation of the rural people would change once there are “pull” and “push” factors. In Maharashtra, Kerala, Orissa and West Bengal this concept might produce the needed positive change.

The point is that the Government needn’t imagine there are no alternatives that are much more realistic and much more likely to change things in Indian agriculture.

As pointed out by many others, the PM is a learned man; he is a competent professional economist. All this is good for really thinking out newer approaches. The PM must be the most qualified person to admit that economics in itself makes very little impact. Unless economic policy is couched in politically meaningful way, there can’t be any chance of economic growth happening. Also, no amount of economic policy will work or change the rural realities unless the larger economic changes take place in the economy. Also, the historic context matters. Every aspect of the economy matters, the latest IT technology to large scale manufacturing industries and also the rural socio-economic profiles are all matters that contribute to economic growth.
2020 Vision would mean anything to anybody. Or nothing to others. Vision is one thing, what we do everyday by way of policies, more so in the political sphere also matters. The public mood is much more important.

The poor are seeing how the rich and the powerful like, how justice is dispensed or justice denied to large sections. That is what the RTI made some sense. Unfortunately, the RTI is now diluted and also other counter measures like Lok Ayukta or Lok Pal or other transparent Governance mechanisms are not put in place.

Now, the very delivery of public services in core sectors has come centre stage.
Some of the Singh Cabinet Ministers are doing fine. Seen from this distance, Kamal Nath, P.R.Das Munshi, of course the Defence Minister, are doing fine. Even Lalu Prasad Yadav seems to be surprisingly efficient. So, the point is that there are always the chances for any PM to deliver on so many of the promises and expectations of the people.

We admit it is never an easy job for any Prime Minister to live up to the expectations of the people. This PM has been doing a great job. That must be conceded and we do concede.

But for agri sector, there must be a break from the present mindset. There is a sense of helplessness or complacency. We don’t know what the reality in Delhi is. But one thing is sure. It is the failure on agriculture and a host of the unlikely promises, be it OBC quota or generating employment, that would break this government if an election is called for now. Or, even at a later date!

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