Features Tuesday, April 21, 2015 - 05:30

It’s difficult to get through the famous great speech by Rahul Gandhi on the floor of the Parliament on April 20. His speech has been described as "crafty", a "blistering attack", "combative", a "strong comeback" and even a "blockbuster" (Take it down a notch, ET. BJP is in power now). It is even being said that not only did he “avoid messing up; Rahul even managed a few clever lines.” The reason it’s difficult to listen to his entire super-great-amazing speech was that within the first minute of his speech, he said, “The farmer is India’s back bone. Whatever has been achieved in this country, whatever has been constructed...everything has been built on the foundation that was given to us by the farmer. The farmer gave us the Green Revolution. And the Green Revolution happened because the farmer was given abundant credit and because the farmer was provided with idea of a MSP so that he could sell his crops.” It’s tough to carry on after this misrepresentation of both farming and the Green Revolution. This would also qualify as a mess up, apart from the factual flaws in his speech.   Image Courtesy: Indian National Congress Facebook Page First, everything that has been achieved in this country is not because of the farmer. This god-like status we give to farmers in India worked well in movies of the 1970s. The productivity of farmers is low, and they are in desperate need of better opportunities. And with 50% of the Indian workforce engaging in agricultural activity which only contributes 18% of the economic output and after having received all subsidies and paid no tax, the farmer is no back bone. Secondly, the farmer was given the Green Revolution, and not the other way around. Policy makers and agricultural scientists saved the day for the farmers so to credit farmers as the saviours who ushered in the green revolution would be funny if it wasn’t so politically manipulative. The Green Revolution did not happen because the farmer was just given abundant credit and an MSP regime. Those were the secondary aspects of the revolution and were required to keep the revolution on track after it was initiated. The primary aspects of the revolution because of which the revolution happened were technology and better farming practices. It happened because the farmer was given better fertilizers, new pesticides, water supply, electricity, education and knowledge programs. Agricultural credit, by way of setting up of NABARD for example, was obviously a part of the revolution, but it was not what the Green Revolution was all about. To put it in the words of MS Swaminathan, the Green Revolution basically was the result of a synergy between technology and public policy. Technology and modern farming practices came first. All of this might look like small differences of opinion, or just technical disparities. But this confusion, or political manipulation, over what is right for the farmer, and what policies are more important, hits at the heart of our misdirected agricultural policy. Ideas such as that farmers have to be saved through endless subsidies irrespective of consequences, that it was agricultural credit and MSP because of which the revolution happened, and that the farmers gave us the revolution, is the ideological root to our policies supporting Indian farmers, and trapping them in underproductive agriculture.  The reality is that we do not need so many farmers but more people and resources directed to industry and away from agriculture. As I said earlier, agriculture is an activity in which 50% of the workforce is engaged in contributing to just 18% of the national output. Mihir S Sharma writes in his book Restart, “If farming households were forced to live on their agricultural income alone, then more than 60% of them would be below India's poverty line.” Further, he writes, “Many people have been convinced that if there was just some way to increase agriculture's share of output...things would be better.” That’s exactly what Rahul Gandhi says we should do, and he is wrong. We have tried umpteen ways to improve the lives of farmers, but have failed. No amount of subsidy, protectionism and waivers can be the solution to what really is a different problem: we do not need so many farmers. And by focussing on palliatives like increasing MSP and access to agricultural credit, we are only easing their pain towards death. And die they will, unless we throw them a lifeboat and pull them out of poverty, and direct them towards manufacturing and services. And this is where the ongoing debate on amendments to the Land Acquisition Act comes in, which Rahul Gandhi himself hints at in his speech. G Sampath of Mint makes this point wonderfully in his column where he says that “this transition cannot take place if India’s vast farming-dependant population is given the choice to remain in the rural hinterlands and practice agriculture.” Rahul Gandhi does give his game away in the end, when he offers advice to the Prime Minister on the amendments to the Land Acquisition Act. He says, “Sixty percent of people in the country are farmers. He [PM Modi] will be politically benefitted if he changes his side (and takes back the amendments).” Perhaps, for Rahul too like it seems to have been for the Congress party throughout its political life, the farming community is just a vote bank with political capital, not people who need to be provided with a better future.

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