Dec 25, 2010

Politics around farmer suicides. To whose benefit?

So former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh Chandrababu Naidu has ended his indefinite fast on the eight day. Former Congress MP Jaganmohan Reddy too has finished his 48-hour hunger strike against “leaving distressed farmers in the lurch.” They are demanding an enhanced compensation package for farmers who lost their crops because of natural calamities.

While nine political parties forced Naidu to break his fast, the Congress rebel garnered support of many sitting Congress MLAs. CPM politburo chief Prakash Karat and his colleague Sitaram Yechury, CPIs AB Bardhan, Janata Dal's Sharad Yadav were among several of the Third Front leaders who called on Naidu. Several other political leaders from AIADMK, JD (S) and JD (U) have visited the fasting leader at Hyderabad. A delegation of party leaders had also met Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in New Delhi this week.

Naidu has now announced a massive rally to be held at Guntur on Dec 30.

But before Naidu ended his fast, Prime Minister didn’t waste the opportunity. Knowing that the Andhra Pradesh elections are around the corner, the Centre promptly announced a relief of Rs 400-crore to the farmers affected by recent incessant rains.

With more political support pouring in, Chandrababu Naidu’s fast will surely take a political turn. It already has. While the political fallout will definitely boost Chandrababu Naidu’s electoral prospects, the bigger question remains whether his support for the farmers’ cause will finally bring an end to the great Indian farm tragedy.

The serial death dance in the crop fields across the country has already taken a heavy toll. More than 200,000 farmers have taken to the gallows in the past 15 years, and the nation is still counting.

First of all, let me acknowledge that Chandrababu Naidu is the only political leader who has taken this important step to draw the nation's attention to the plight of the farming community. Naidu succeeded where other farmer leaders failed. I have always wondered why have the farmer leaders (who claim to be non-political) failed to sit on a nationwide indefinite fast to demand better conditions for the farming community.

Nevertheless, there are lessons to be learnt. And I hope Naidu will be talking of policies and approaches that can be sustainable in the long run and also economically viable.

Chandrababu Naidu is essentially demanding Rs 10,000 per acre as compensation to farmers who lost their paddy crop and Rs 15,000 for commercial crops like cotton and sugarcane. While the short-term gain may win him accolades from the beleaguered farming community, this is unlikely to stem the tide. I am not sure whether he has learnt any lessons from the debacle that he had actually created on the farm front before his government was swept away by a tidal wave of angry farmers. Blindly aping the World Bank model of agriculture (as suggested by McKinsey), Andhra had pumped in huge finances to push in an industry-driven agriculture that has not only exacerbated the crisis leading to an environmental catastrophe but also destroyed millions of rural livelihoods.

Chandrababu Naidu’s much talked about Vision 2020 programme aimed at reducing the number of farmers in the State to 40 per cent of the population, and did not have any significant programme to adequately rehabilitate the remaining 30 per cent of the farming population. The objective was to promote the commercial interests of the agribusiness companies (read foreign financial institutes and international bankers) and the IT hardware units. All benefit would have accrued to these companies in the name of farmers.

In reality, Chandrbabu Naidu is only helping the rich kamma community which is keen to make investments in land and agriculture. Because of his faulty policies, which benefit the rich business class, rural-urban migration had reached its peak and livestock deaths and the plight of dalits and other landless and marginalised had worsened. Farmers were asked not to produce more rice (the staple food) as the State had no place to stock it. Farmer suicides had become so common that Mr Naidu had actually sent team of psychiatrists to convince them against taking their own lives.

The unending bloodbath in the Andhra Pradesh countryside has not only failed to evoke any political urgency so as to turn suicides into history but at the same time failed to move the intelligentsia and the academicians to point to the fundamental reasons that have led to the unprecedented agrarian crisis. In fact, what Chandrababu Naidu needs to realise is that his own model of growth what is popularly called the ‘Naidu model’ had failed. It also means failure of the McKinsey’s model of economic development. To talk of ‘Naidu Plus’, as some economists have said, indicates the level of arrogance among a school of economic thought that refuses to see anything except what benefits the industry.

Instead of only stroking the fire, I think here is an opportunity for Chandrababu Naidu to first accept that he committed mistakes, and then come out with a set of policy recommendations that may force the governments to enunciate radical measures that helps resurrect agriculture. It has to begin by providing farmers with an assured monthly income, and extending the non-pesticide management system of sustainable farming that Andhra Pradesh has created to the entire country. After all, with agriculture turning into a highly losing proposition, what is more startling is that over the years the farm earnings of marginal farmers have dropped to less than that of the daily wage labourers.

The only way to ensure economic viability for the farm sector is to set up a Farmers Income Commission on the lines of the 6th pay commission. Based on the minimum land-holdings, and the agro-climatic conditions, the Commission should work out an assured income per acre for the farmers. There is no reason why a farmer cannot earn equal to at least what the peon in the government service gets every moth. Isn’t it sad that while a chaprasi earns Rs 15,000 every month, a farmer does not get more than Rs 2400?

Chandrababu Naidu also needs to know that the future of farming remains hidden in the non-pesticides management of agriculture being promoted by the Society for Elimination of Rural Poverty in Andhra Pradesh. At present, thousands of farmers are cultivating crops without the use of chemical pesticides and fertilisers in 28 lakh acres. Their incomes have gone up, and the soil health is being restored. The programme which began from Andhra Pradesh needs to be extended to the entire country if the aim is to wipe out every tear from the farmers face.

1 comment:

Amandeep Singh Dhaliwal said...

Divender Ji,

Do you have more details around idea of paying monthly wages to farmers? Is this your idea? I want to know more about this if you could help.

Thanks