Farmer protests: Radhamohan Singh's silly statement shows govt can't solve agrarian distress
When a government begins to realise that it does not have an answer to the country's problems, its leaders simply begin to negate and mock the existence of all issues that affect people. This had begun to happen with the UPA in last three years of its rule. The government simply failed to recognise the country's anger against rising inflation, increasing corruption and crony capitalism. It was natural that people ousted the Manmohan Singh government in 2014.
But the NDA has reached that stage in four years, despite coming to power with the promise of setting right what the UPA had allegedly done wrong.
At a time when farmers across the country are finding it difficult to make two ends meet, Union Agriculture minister Radhamohan Singh, instead of addressing their problems, chose to make a ridiculous statement.
“They don't have any issue; they are just focusing on unnecessary things through this strike. Not selling produce will bring losses to the farmers only,” said Union agriculture minister at an event in Patna to mark the 4th anniversary of the Modi government. He further said that farmers' protests were only for media attention.
Farmers in India have had a tough time under the Modi government in the last 4 years. In 2014-15 and 2015-16, farm sector grew at -0.25 and 1.1% respectively due to back-to-back droughts. In 2016-17, the rain god did not disappoint farmers, but the government did. There was a bumper crop in 2016-17 but farmers in states such as Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana saw the price of pulses crash, thanks to a silly decision to flood the Indian markets with imports from Myanmar, Tanzania, Mozambique and Malawi. Some say that the decision ended up benefiting certain corporate houses.
But since not every farmer grows pulses, many were saved from the harrowing experience of realising less then their input cost on the produce in a good crop season.
The government was reprieved by farmers' associations, experts as well as opposition for punishing the farmers in a good crop year. But the decision of importing pulses in a good crop year would have affected a few thousand farmers. For the rest, government had even bigger plans. In November 2016, just ahead of the Kharif season, Prime Minister Narendra Modi took a horrendous decision to demonetise 86% of country's currency, destroying each and every farmer with one stroke. Due to cash shortage, vegetables and other farm product prices crashed by more than 30% taking away all the resilience of the farmers that saves them during bad times.
Cow politics made selling cattle in cattle markets difficult for farmers and this also resulted in diminished incomes of marginal farmers who rely on livestock to supplement their incomes.
It was only after three years of drought and bad government policies that the farmers came together and began protesting on roads. They were not in a position to repay their debt and demanded loan waiver from the government. Since, it was due to bad policies of the Union government that the farmers were under financial distress, there should have been no questions asked on the need of the farm loan waiver by the central government. But the Centre refused to help and put the onus of bailing out distressed farmers on respective state governments. Since states have limited resources, the waivers were designed to help only a section of those demanding it.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had promised to double farm incomes by 2022. Far from doubling it, the government policies have forced farmers to protest against the government in a way that is self-destructive (as suggested by the Union agriculture minister). But instead of calling it foolish and stage-managed, the government should see the writing on the wall. The results in Kairana bye-poll could well be the reference point for India's agriculture minister as the Opposition's “ganna” (sugarcane) plank emerged victorious over the BJP's Jinnah controversy.