If one were to go by President Ram Nath Kovind’s address at the joint sitting of Parliament, farmers must clearly be the most advantaged category of people in the country, “as pillars of the rural economy”. Even as farmers are falling, literally, like ninepins ~ in Maharashtra, India’s most prosperous state, 610 of them have committed suicide between January and March 2019 ~ all over the country, there was not a word of commiseration. As terms of trade have inexorably turned against the farmer post-liberalization, the incorrigible condition of the farm economy has worsened even beyond the proverbial clutching-at-straws state.
Yet, amongst the few celebrated facets of Modi 1.0 has been inflation control, for which the farmer has borne the brunt with drastic cuts in income and agonizing cost-escalations. There are three key reasons why the truth around negative earnings over two decades escapes the radar of the ordinary citizen and policy-makers, accounting for insensitive statements like it being fashionable for farmers to kill themselves when confronted by such statistics as more than 12,000 farmers committing suicide in Maharashtra between 2015 and 2018. First, is the incessant chatter around higher minimum support prices (MSP) that generally cover few items others than rice and wheat ~ never have all major crops been covered by the MSP mechanism ~ that may help wealthy farmers with a surplus to sell but not the remaining 80 per cent, barely producing enough for self-consumption. Second, is the actual price drop for many commodities such as maize, even for the bigger farmers or income from ‘profit-making’ soya beans falling in major states as Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra, while costs soared. Third, the sheer selfishness of the consuming class, unconcerned about the starving food producer as long as it receives food at modest costs.
The President’s speech about his government making large-scale investments to strengthen rural India and promising Rs 25 lakh crore to enhance agriculture productivity in the “coming years” is at best a case of brushing past sins under the carpet and wrapping up the future in self-deceiving mendacity. It can never bode well for any government that its food producer is the single largest fooddeprived segment of the economy. Given the President’s comments, it is time that policy-makers visited the fields to ascertain first hand the cause for this pathetic state of affairs. A doubling of farmer incomes will never be a reality if there is little knowledge of how small the income is or of what it will take to ease affairs. Tall talk around irrigation, farm credit and doles comprise the blithe world of conjured reality for the government and the bitter one of promises belied for the farmer. Turning things around must begin with accepting this fundamental fact or else the future will show up the President’s address as yet another chip of the fake-news block.