Egged on by the CPM’s All India Kisan Sabha and other unions, large processions of farmers that have converged at the Azad Maidan of Mumbai threaten to throw India’s financial capital out of gear. Their demands make a laundry list of socialist doles, where an unconditional waiver of loans and allowing non-payment of electricity bills top the chart. They further want recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission, including an announcement of a much higher minimum support price for agriculture produce and a pension scheme for farmers, implemented. The news of 15,000-50,000 farmers traversing a path of 180 km to reach the destination has excited the monotonous lives of the denizens of an otherwise business-minded city. Maudlin urban groups are offering the demonstrators food and footwear, running mobile applications for relief and showering flower petals on the activists — betraying a kind of human psychology that communists of the country are adept at exploiting. Earlier in the ongoing decade, a Ford Foundation-sponsored PV Rajagopal had dared to hold New Delhi to ransom during the UPA regime when they were dissuaded by a delegation of the Manmohan Singh government before they could reach the national capital. Subsequently, several foreign agencies — prominent among them FF and Greenpeace — propped up an assortment of NGOs to put in place the ‘movement’ called India against Corruption, from which another FF beneficiary Arvind Kejriwal drew maximum mileage by launching his political party, AAP. The Narendra Modi government, which dismantled the National Advisory Council floated by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi, does not enjoy the benefit of housing an extra-constitutional body made up of foreign-funded NGOs to dictate policy to it. It is, therefore, unlikely that it would have its own version of a Jairam Ramesh who could prevail upon the communist crowd. But the conspiracies by disruptive elements apart, the farmers do have some genuine grievances. The problem is that meeting their demands will not solve their problems once and for all.
Union and State governments have been waiving off the loans farmers are supposed to repay for donkey’s years. As inflation and price rise take their tolls, no MSP proves adequate for all times to come. As such, since farming is also a kind of business — the political correctness that inhibits people from saying as much be damned — it is unwise of farmers to plan their production in a manner where the produce wouldn’t be sold in the running season but will be bought off by the state in a gesture of charity. The fact that feeders of the country rely heavily on rainfall, a departure from the ancient practice of agriculture limited to river banks, means that these businessmen are bad investors who do not know where to put their money. Nevertheless, rather than persuading them to understand that their vocation cannot secure the future of their children and gradually helping them diversify, the Devendra Fadnavis government will, in all likelihood, concede all the demands, given that the Shiv Sena, NCP and INC have all thrown their weights behind the rabble-rousers. Only to see a few years hence that these homesteaders are demanding of the state another round of freebies! Importantly, the fact that even the motley group of filthy rich farmers does not pay income tax is never considered in this scheme of things. In short, farmers will take other citizens’ money, and then these non-farmers will also have to repay it!
The solution isn’t quick; it will be a tad long-drawn, but this is the only way out. First, the legendary 60% of the population engaged in one profession is well beyond the surplus manpower any industry can sustain. So many peasants would always mean that a huge majority of them will stay impoverished. The children of ranchers who are not interested in continuing with their parents’ means of livelihood must not be discouraged in order to keep the ‘sacrosanct’ figure of 60% intact. Second, they should not be condemned as appeased businessmen because, unlike traders, they cannot fix the price of what they sell. The prime minister’s initiative of a national farmers’ market is yet to be realised, but that is a step in the right direction. A market bereft of middlemen will translate to higher prices recovered by the farmers as well as lower cost of the produce for the consumers. The brokers who lose jobs in the process may move to ancillary industries like sorting, storage, stocking and transportation. Finally, as the ratio is in developed economies, those who are making a lot of money from farming alone must stay farmers, holding large tracts of land that permits modern agricultural science experiments, higher yields and lower crop losses. About 11% of Indians — just about 18% of cultivators, who make 60% of the population, are well-off — should be able to feed 100% and also be left with enough to export.