Special Report

2019 will belong to farmers

2019 will belong to farmers

Even as this column is being read, most of you have already started preparing for the New Year’s Eve celebrations. We all wish to welcome the ensuing year with a great hope and expectations. Like last year and the year before and many many years before, we celebrate the arrival of the new year with great enthusiasm. This is because as it is said, ‘the hope is eternal!’ We do have pain and distress every year in one form or the other. However, life moves on because all of us and all philosophies in the world do believe in ‘better tomorrow’. That’s the only ray of hope that keeps us alive and moving. We bear the pain, sorry and distress today only because there is a ray of hope for tomorrow. On the same lines, people in most parts of the world are readying themselves to sing and dance to fare good-bye to the setting 2018 and welcoming the emerging 2019.

In Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Chennai, Bengaluru and many other metropolis of India, special arrangements are being made to facilitate the citizens to gather together and welcome 2019. In Maharashtra particularly, the state government has promptly bowed to the demand of Shiv Sena Youth Leader Aditya Thackeray to allow restaurants, pubs and bar to remain open all night. It means the celebrations will continue unabated tonight without the fear of police interference. This is a welcome change in the mind-set of the government. So far, these facilities were withdrawn after stipulated time of 10 pm. However, this restriction never prevented the bars and pubs to run their business overnight. The main shutters were seen to be down but inside the business ran as usual. This had only paved way for illegal and unauthorised business that often invited troubles. Let’s hope, this year the entire civil society will be able to enjoy the onset of the new year without the meaningless fear of police intervention. The police force would also find this a welcome change as they would also be able to enjoy instead of keeping the vigil on the ‘law-breaker’ without a meaningful purpose.

Election fever

The year 2019 is important and significant for the nation also as this year will witness the test for the new mandate for political bosses of the nation. In 2014, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) snatched the power from the Congress that was reduced to less than the number required to be considered as the official ‘Opposition Party’. In other words, there was no opposition party in Lok Sabha after the 2014 elections. The mandate granted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, however, expires in 2019 and thus the nation will face fresh elections at union and state levels this year.

A lot of water has flown under the bridge in the last five years and going by the observations of various political pundits and opinion polls, the war of 2019 would not be as easy for the BJP as the party spokespersons speak. The party has already lost three major states – Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh in the recent assembly elections that preceded its defeat in a few important states like Punjab and Karnataka. This is only an indication that the charisma of Modi that the nation witnessed in 2014, hardly exists now. On the other hand, the new Congress President Rahul Gandhi has come out of his derogatory and insulting image of being ‘Pappu’ to an able ‘Young Leader’. He has been able to establish himself as a ‘Rallying Point’ for the opposition unity – Mahagathbandhan.

Now that the Lok Sabha elections are round the corner, both sides have begun to chalk out and execute their strategies to woo the electorates singularly and collectively. The new ‘pro-people’ policies of the government have started coming in, while the opposition parties have started looking for the obvious and strategic loopholes in that. Realising that the religious issues, like Ram Mandir at Ayodhya or Gow Raksha have failed to mobilise the mass opinion, the BJP and its right-wing allies are concentrating on addressing the farmers’ issues. The recent assembly election results proved that the agrarian problems matter and farmers have the capacity to turn the tables. As a result, within days after wresting power in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the new incumbents there promptly announced mass-scale agro-loan waivers putting intolerable fiscal burden on the state exchequers.

In the chain and obvious reaction, the BJP-led state governments are also forced to toe the line and address farmers’ issues actively. The government is reported to be studying a couple of options to address the distress. One proposal under consideration is an upfront income support which will be disbursed straight to a farmer’s bank account ahead of sowing. This model was pioneered by Telangana government as an investment support which comes with no conditions attached. The farmer is free to make the choice on what to grow based on price and other signals. This option has two distinct advantages. One, it does not introduce distortions in the agricultural market. Two, it’s easy to implement.

Niti Aayog’s proposal

A few other options are also under consideration such as Niti Aayog’s proposal to provide price support in the event of a glut. Experience suggests that it is best avoiding complicated schemes on account of limited state capacity in execution. A scheme which rests on the bureaucracy having to work out price differences is almost sure to run into implementation problems. One of the causes for the agrarian crisis is not the lack of effort but the choice of tools which overestimate state capacity and funnel support through India’s infamous bureaucracy. This has led to a complex web of cross-subsidies that trigger large-scale distortions and consequent distress. While there’s no denying that farmers deserve a more sophisticated level of government intervention which provides support without inducing distortions or anti-competitive mechanisms, the most durable solution is an economic environment which absorbs surplus agricultural labour into labour intensive manufacturing.

In all, it looks like ‘2019 will belong to farmers’ for obvious political reasons. Hopefully, the peasants and agro-workers would be benefitted for long term due to the various schemes those would be offered in a platter for the ‘sons of the soil’.

Bharatkumar Raut is a political analyst and former Member of Parliament (RS).



Mobile No
Your Comment *