When the country was debating the banning of cow-slaughter, Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh boiled to arson. Five farmers killed in firing. Did the police fired at them? The confusion still reigns supreme with statements of every hue. The farmers in Maharastra are also on protest. Price and product marketing are primary issues. The agitation by farmers in MP or elsewhere is not a very newsworthy. We have seen similar agitations in many states in Haryana, Punjab and Odisha and the march to Delhi sometime last year. Farmers, their issues and plights could never make it to the news, unless the protest method has something new about it, or unless the politicians jump in to the fray or the death of farmers. The political personalities from the left, right and centre became farmers and became suddenly very sympathetic. Charges were traded across – it was worse in your regime or the agitators are not farmers but political goons. Both may be right, but that does not alleviate the conditions of the farmers.
The plights of the tiller have mostly gone unnoticed. The problem actually is different, India has never come out of feudalism, in spite of its socialistic, democratic constitution. The politics of power manifested initially in majoritarianism transcending to regional parties and coalition arrangement scarcely had time for that invisible segment. What has happened in the meantime has been a product of a process. Initially the ideology of Leninist socialism and Benthamite Utilitarianism galvanised the state to bulldoze the upper crust by abolishing Zamindary and intermediary system in agriculture, the era of land reform began. It did not bring the desired result even after so many years except in some stray pockets of the country. As a matter of fact, traditionally, the concept of property has rested on how much land and cattle one owned. The more one has the higher he is in the social scale. But the person who raises the crops is always treated as a menial in most parts of the country – quite low on the social scale. This social dichotomy and irony has persisted in many forms. The land-owning class became powerful in various spheres including in politics. This stratification continued in many different ways controlling the social dynamics. Farmers, a large number of whom are nothing more than agricultural labourers, with their limited means struggled in the vicious circle of poverty.
The problem with agriculture is that it is different from other enterprise. It is dependent on a sequence of continuous operation and there are many unknown natural forces also interact with it. If there is crop failure, less produce or produce quality falls the farmer suffers. If there is bumper crop the farmer suffers too, as prices fall below break-even. The state has failed to provide efficient storage, distribution and marketing avenues. The storage facilities and marketing channels are largely controlled by the private entrepreneurs or the corporate. The market forces are increasingly dominated by the private players post globalisation. This will slowly bring in corporate farming. A good aspect of it is there could be a purchase contract and assured capitalisation. The country has also some very good agriculture universities and research institutes. The students who study and pass out from these universities and work in these institutes are really very bright. The problem is when they pass out, their knowledge, expertise and innovations are put to real use. Agriculture is the concern of both the union and the states. It needs spending by the state too. We do not hear of agricultural infrastructure as often as we hear about industrial infrastructure. Agricultural product marketing has its own niceties and nuances of localities, a common policy cannot therefore work universally.
The silver lining is that the present government told about soil testing, alternate and suitable crop advice to the farmers. But the main issue of product storage and marketing is not approached in a coordinated and calibrated manner. We cannot blame it on federal structure or concurrent list and sleep peacefully. The synergy between the academia and government, research and policies needs to be reinvented.
The politicians across the spectrum cannot leave issues on auto-pilot, they have to manoeuvre the system continuously to make it efficient, progressive and beneficial.