It could be churlish to write off reported moves to ease financial distress in the agrarian sector as entirely aimed at a bumper crop of votes a few months hence, yet it would be politically naive not to perceive them as drastic efforts of this election-focused government to help reverse the situation of a few weeks ago when BJP governments were ejected from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh ~ and dashed were its hopes to establish a presence in Telangana.
More than all Rahul Gandhi’s ranting about corruption in the Rafale acquisition, the chowkidar being a chor etc, what hurt the Modi-Shah duo was their making light of farm woes, and a skewed belief that higher minimum support prices (MSPs) would suffice. Or that soil-health cards were a cure-all for farmers’ woes.
The BJP, ever seen as urban-oriented, needs to strive for a rapport with the rural populace, none of its leaders have a rustic following. Rahul did make some fanciful promises: how quickly the new Congress governments in the “heartland” appear to be keeping them could impact the upcoming Lok Sabha poll. For, as the Prime Minister has stressed, the Congress has a history of letting down the farmers too.
There is considerable speculation over what the government is contemplating: loan waivers do not seem to be in favour since the banking sector is already under stress for repayment-defaults by industrialists. A direct transfer benefit to compensate for when market prices fall below the MSP is also, reportedly, under consideration though complications could be created by poor maintenance of land records.
Measures taken in several states are also said to be under examination; details of any formula are awaited since rural affairs are not a strong point with the BJP’s economic policy planners. Must governmental moves be limited to the financial front only? They are at best short-term, treat only symptoms of the malaise. The farm sector lost priority after the Green Revolution banished the threat of famine, and then the Kurien-led milk revolution put more money into rural households.
Alas since then the gap between urban and rural lifestyles has been exacerbated, rural economies have been further hit by cow-vigilantes throwing the livestock business/leather trade out of gear: that has also fuelled communal tensions. There is need to extend the success of the green and white revolutions to the poultry, vegetables, meat-processing and horticulture sectors too: the farmland needs to look beyond paddy, wheat and coarse cereals.
The “rich” farmer must no longer be treated with scorn and the farm worker looked down upon. Ensuring education facilities, continuous power supply, cooking gas and even the provision of sanitary toilets must be assured in villages too. The farmer no longer wants pity, he demands his share of the national cake and will not accept the mere crumbs Raisina Hill throws out to him. Has the NDA left it too late?