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Selfish Politics

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Preconceived notions about Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s politics have assisted those seeking to fan the emotions of various sections of society. The ‘accepted’ belief among certain people that Modi is ‘communal’, or a stooge of corporate interests, has been deliberately sought to be reinforced by adversaries for political advantage. This is why the protest against the Citizenship Amendment Act found so much support among ordinary but uninformed Muslims – with ultra-left instigators at the core of the disturbances. This extreme dimension to the movement led, eventually, to bloody confrontation on the streets and the loss of many innocent lives. The carefully directed disinformation achieved its objectives, with the masterminds remaining cleverly in the background.

The same is being done by vested interests in the case of the new legislation on agriculture. The Modi Government is being accused of abandoning the ‘poor’ farmer to corporate interests. It is interesting to note that ‘knowledgeable’ people keep exhorting the government to introduce reforms as it has a solid majority in Parliament, but when it does, they become divided on political lines, or seek to protect their vested interests. As the saying goes, ‘Everybody wants a Bhagat Singh to be born, but in the neighbour’s house.’

If one were to go by the speeches made in Parliament, it would seem that Indian agriculture has advanced considerably owing to the political interventions of the past, and these are sacrosanct. The truth is that there is much ailing agriculture and India’s productivity is among the lowest in the world. Subsidies are definitely required, but these have to be intelligently provided and transformed from time to time to achieve the desired objectives. They certainly should not trap the farmers in a debilitating loop that denies them a future. It may be recalled how subsidy on diesel was intended for the farmer, but it actually led to the proliferation of polluting diesel driven cars bought by the rich. Free electricity and ground water have led to enormous wastage and overuse, burdening the system with costs that eventually the poor, including the farmer, have had to bear. The sugar industry has been under challenge for a long time now and will be so in the future because of the decline in consumption. Unfortunately, owing to the subsidies, MSP and other kinds of support, farmers refuse to change the cropping pattern.

It is the same with the Mandi Samitis that have played their required role in the past, but the marketing of products has entered another paradigm in the present. State governments, commission agents, etc., make a lot of money at the farmer’s cost and are unwilling to let go of this captive producer. They have the clout in the system to create disturbances and the farmers are, willy-nilly, being taken along, even if it is against their interests. And the reform agenda will have to, once again, face pressure from populist politics.