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  Opinion   Columnists  15 Jun 2017  Farmers need a lot of help, don’t make it a political issue

Farmers need a lot of help, don’t make it a political issue

The writer is minister for parliamentary affairs, Government of India
Published : Jun 15, 2017, 1:52 am IST
Updated : Jun 15, 2017, 1:52 am IST

The violence started earlier, with the agitation apparently infiltrated by anti-national forces.

Farmers' agitation turns violent as they torch trucks at Mhow-Neemuch Highway in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh. (Photo: PTI)
 Farmers' agitation turns violent as they torch trucks at Mhow-Neemuch Highway in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh. (Photo: PTI)

The farmers’ agitation in western Madhya Pradesh has grabbed nationwide attention after six people were killed in police firing at Pipiliya Mandi, 20 km from Mandsaur town, on June 6. This was doubtless unfortunate, but the firing wasn’t the trigger for the violence, it was the other way around. The violence started earlier, with the agitation apparently infiltrated by anti-national forces.

Acts of hooliganism were visible from day one. The mandis were forcibly occupied, and trucks carrying milk, foodgrain and vegetables seized, and the perishable cargo thrown on the roads. This created an extreme shortage of edible items, with children unable to get milk.

Even if the protest was in a just cause, the methods were unacceptable. These provocative tactics may have led to the firing tragedy. The policemen responsible will be punished if found guilty, but the onus of keeping an agitation orderly and peaceful is primarily on its organisers. And violence is always counterproductive.

Dilip Mishra, a Congress office-bearer, is seen in a video threatening that farmers would return bullets for bullets. In another video that went viral earlier, Shakuntala Khatik, Congress MLA from Karera, was seen instigating a crowd to set a police station on fire. The Congress seems desperate to secure a foothold in the political space it has lost. Except Karnataka, it’s not in power in any major state. It’s planks like “intolerance”, “anti-demonetisation” or “beef ban” have failed, so it was quick to seize on the farmers’ agitation. Its script seems predetermined. Immediately after the firing, it sought the CM’s resignation and blamed the Centre’s agricultural policy.

It seems to have forgotten Madhya Pradesh has seen an unprecedented spurt in agriculture in the past decade, with 20 per cent year-on-year growth in the last five years, almost five times the national average. The Congress left Madhya Pradesh in shambles, and the BJP government inherited negative growth in agriculture. But the CM, who proudly calls himself a “Kisan Putra”, has turned it around. Under him, the state has shed its “Bimaru” tag.

Madhya Pradesh has emerged as India’s new rice bowl, with more acreage of irrigated land. Its 2018 Vision Document plans to raise the irrigated area to 33 lakh hectares.

The agitators were troubled by demand side problems, not supply side ones. Prices crashed on the bumper harvest on winter produce like tomato and onions. These perishable items are not procured by governments anywhere. These problems arise in a glut or a “problem of plenty”. While shortages lead to a massive public outcry, farmers alone suffer during a surplus. We need more cold storage chains and food processing units to remedy this. Farmers also need lessons in crop diversification, on how to anticipate high and low yield seasons.

This time it wasn’t about the field but the mart. That explains why the agitators tried to choke the market and disrupt supplies from other states. In contrast, the January 1998 Betul agitation, during Congress rule, was about compensation for damaged crops due to rain and hailstorm. The centre of protest was the tehsil office at Multai in Betul district. Digvijay Singh was chief minister. There was police firing on January 12, 1998 that claimed 24 lives. No major Congress leader visited the victims’ families, instead the Digvijay government filed a huge number of cases against Sunil Mishra, the agitation leader seen as close to George Fernandes. How can the Congress use different yardsticks on violence in farmers’ agitations in 1998 and in 2017?

Agriculture remains highly regulated in India. A proper balance between free choice for farmers and state intervention is in the realm of policymaking. Instead of politicising the issue, we should try to fine-tune policy. The Narendra Modi government at the Centre has taken a slew of measures to address both supply and demand side problems like Soil Health Card and Kisan Fasal Bima Yojana. An unprecedented Rs 48,572 crores was allocated for agriculture in FY 2016-17.

The National Agricultural Market Portal (eNam) has been launched, which networks existing APMC mandis to create a unified national market for agricultural commodities through a mobile app and a website. Till March 31, 417 mandis across 10 states were linked.

Loan waivers aren’t a permanent solution, at best only a temporary solace. While India is self-sufficient today in food production, the woes of farmers haven’t ended. One hopes with better technology, parity will be achieved between demand and supply. The 1960s’ Green Revolution wasn’t through technology alone; as PL-480 wheat imports were reduced, farmers had an incentive to produce more.

Several factors must be perfected for agriculture, like certified seeds, appropriate soil, proper nutrition, power supply, access to irrigation, godowns and cold storages, crop insurance, etc. While the challenge is huge, the Modi government is treating farmers’ welfare on an equal footing with agricultural growth.

The Congress seems unable to accept that a person of humble origin has risen to be a popular PM. It is adopting 3D strategy — Disrupt (Parliament and government work), Disinform (false propaganda) and Defame (give the PM a bad name). Such tactics won’t work. Let’s treat agriculture as a non-partisan issue than a political squabble.

The writer is a Union minister. The views expressed here are personal.

Tags: farmers agitation, digvijay singh, national agricultural market portal