It is two weeks since the farmers have been agitating but most urban Indians, who grasped the complexities of the US polls, can’t quite comprehend why the peasants are revolting. The kisaan andolan truly brings out the urban-rural divide in India.
The cityslicker can hold forth on TikTok versus Telegram but not Kharif versus Rabi; India’s two major farming seasons. How many of us know that they are taken from the Arabic for autumn and spring respectively.
Of course, when it comes to virtual farming, the townie is a seasoned hand at FarmVille, Hay Day, Big Little Farmer… A far cry from Mahatma Gandhi’s belief: “To forget how to dig the earth and tend the soil is to forget ourselves”. A bania, he learnt this first-hand at the Tolstoy Farm in South Africa and then by fighting farmers’ battles in India.
The average agriculture household income in 2016-’17 was a mere Rs 8,931 per month (NABARD). The rural per capita income, in terms of net-value added, is less than half the urban figure; Rs 41,000 versus Rs 98,000.
So, most tillers can’t afford farmhands, who prefer the sarkari employment guarantee scheme (under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act), which ensures them Rs 200 a day for at least 100 days a year.
If the farmhand migrates to Mumbai, he gets Rs 700 per day as unskilled begari labourer. And once he learns carpentry, masonry or plumbing, he can quote his own price. There are plumbing contractors who go around from site to site in a Honda City.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi aims to double farm income through increased productivity of crops and livestock, greater efficiency of input use, increase in crop intensity, diversification towards high-value crops and improved price realisation by farmers. All this takes patience, persistence and planning.
Contentious new laws
The set of three new laws Modi has brought in are part of his grand doubling scheme and they encourage large-scale farming. Farmers say that the laws were passed hurriedly without consulting them. They are also afraid of a corporate takeover of agriculture.
Anyway, after the disastrous demonetisation and the GST mess, the PM needs more than just jumlas, such as ‘More crop per drop’, to be taken seriously.
On the other side, having been treated with disdain and been called names, the infuriated farmers have hardened their stance even though the government is willing to bend. As Confucius noted: “A general of a large army may be defeated, but you cannot defeat the determined mind of a peasant.”
Can’t there be a similar win-win solution to the current impasse? Most certainly, there can. And India needs it desperately.
The farmers need to realise the inevitability of reforms and the government needs to realise that everything can’t be achieved through stealth and strong-arm tactics. The ruling party needs to build a consensus on farm reforms. Debate it. Agriculture is not agree-culture.
As the agitation snowballed, it has dawned on the decision-makers that they too could have behaved like the ignorant and arrogant urbanite. The government is willing to tweak the new laws that do away with MSP and would have left farmers to the vagaries of the market.
It now needs to convince the farmers that allowing the sale and purchase of crops outside the state government-regulated market yards, the mandis of the APMC (agricultural produce market committee), will not harm their interests. That the Bihar fiasco will not be repeated. If need be, safeguards can be built into the law.
Instead of battling farmers, the government should be fighting the farmers’ battles. That will lead to Ram rajya.
Source: Free Press Journal