There is need to examine the prevailing situation in the agricultural sector in the larger context of the direction of economic policy framework.
The Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, while replying to the Motion of Thanks on the President’s address, said in the Rajya Sabha that every previous government had spoken for agricultural reforms and everyone agrees on the need for reform in agriculture. He expressed his shock on the U-turn of many and said that politics is so prevalent that people forget their own views. To support his argument he read out something former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had said in support of one large common agri-market. He further quoted the concerns raised by Former Prime Minister Chaudhary Charan Singh on the plight of small farmers and asked the question “ Don’t we have a responsibility towards the 12 crore farmers?” He intensely spoke in support of the three fam laws which triggered the unprecedented farmers dharna and agitation across the country and the 72-day long ongoing sit-in on major highways leading to Delhi.
The Prime Minister is spot on here. All the national and regional parties have been opposing various reforms when they are in opposition but start implementing the very same reforms, with vigor, when they attain power. This lack of consistency shown by all these political parties for decades in deciding the appropriate policy paradigm for development has caused the nation dearly. We, as a country, have failed to solve any of our pressing problems despite tall claims made by all the governments led by all these parties that “ unke zamane mein to vikas ki ganga bahi”. This lack of understanding shown by the ruling classes regarding the economic growth path, has been the hallmark of our journey as a nation, after independence and the same situation prevails even today.
Undoubtedly, agricultural sector in India is at the crossroads. The fact of the matter is that more than 70 percent of the our country’s 1.4 billion population is still dependent on agriculture so whatever happens in agricultural sector is going to determine future of crores of Indians. During the corona pandemic period, our farmers saved the country from disaster and our people did not face the kind of hardships faced by people of many affluent countries. Now the same farming community is up in arms against the three farm laws as they feel that vested interests are hell bent on destroying India’s indigenous agri-food sector and are trying to transform it into a money making machine for themselves.
We need to examine what is happening in the agricultural sector in the larger context of the direction of our economic policy framework for the past several decades. Undoubtedly the license-permit was the outcome of corruption ridden politico-bureaucratic system, which while ignoring the national interest and interest of the common man, continued to devise policies which served their own self interest. The corrupt intentions of the ruling class led to the perpetuation of mass poverty in our country. Even today, we have more than 40 crore people living below the poverty line , which is more than the population of the United States of America. But despite these visible signs of corrupt governance, there has never been any sincere effort made to dismantle the corrupt politico-bureaucratic structure. Instead of correcting the malaise, in the name of “reforms”, the neo liberal economic policies were thrust upon the nation and free flow of international capital as the basic mantra of any future developmental policy framework. This free flowing global capital movement has made the nation states, including us, more and more dependent on capital markets and the oligarchies controlling them.
The effects of the influence of big capital is visible to every one through naked eyes when on one side our country’s economy is projected to shrink by more than nine percentage points in the current financial year and on the other side our stock market index, in these depressing times, has broken all records and has crossed the 50,000 mark for the first time ever. Not only that, during the corona period when every Indian, including the public servants, saw lowering of their pay cheque, but the net worth of top two corporates jumped to new heights. Can any economic theory explain this unprecedented phenomenon? Certainly not, it is only the outcome of unbridled power of big money which is indifferent to its surroundings.
The time has come to take stock of our policy direction and mould it to make it subservient to the common man’s interest instead of serving the corporate interests. Such policies can be devised, which will not only raise the living standard of all our people and provide them a decent living environment but also ensure that businesses, industries, manufacturing, entrepreneurship also reach their pinnacle. The nation now urgently needs wholesome policies to make India great and not these piecemeal efforts-which are ineffectual and redundant now. The beginning has to be made with the scraping of the three contentious farm laws.
(Vijay Shankar Pandey is former Secretary to Government of India)