Is Rs.50 greater than Rs.60? Or for that matter can it be greater than even Rs.170? Yes, if you go by Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal and his son and Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal.
Not the ones to spare the UPA government at the centre in the past one decade on the "meagre" increase in the minimum support price (MSP) of paddy and wheat, the Badals have chosen to remain quiet when the successor NDA government announced the latest MSP for paddy.
The Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) of the Narendra Modi government, of which Punjab's ruling Shiromani Akali Dal is a partner, has announced a Rs.50 per quintal hike in the MSP for paddy at Rs.1,360 per quintal.
When the UPA government, which was in power at the centre from May 2004 till May this year, announced a hike of Rs.60 per quintal for paddy last year, the chief minister termed it as a "retrograde step to rob the farmers" and rejected the hike outright. Badal senior had even warned that if nothing was done for the plight of farmers, this could lead to a law and order situation.
On May 25 last year, Badal demanded that the MSP for paddy be Rs.1,800 a quintal.
"This is a retrograde step to rob the farmers of genuine margins of profit, thereby taking the plight of the already distressed farmers from bad to worse. Farmers, particularly in Punjab, would be further demoralized by this," Badal had said.
However, Badal had nothing harsh to say this year on the Rs.50 per quintal hike.
This time, Badal meekly said: "The new MSP must measure up to the massive hike witnessed in the cost of farm produce during the UPA regime. The recommendations of the renowned farm economist Dr M.S. Swaminathan on fixing the MSP of farm produce must be implemented."
Besides being an important alliance partner of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Badal's daughter-in-law Harsimrat Badal is also the union food processing minister in the Modi government. Harsimrat is the wife of Sukhbir Badal, who is the president of the Akali Dal.
In June 2012, Sukhbir Badal had rejected the Rs.170 per quintal hike on paddy MSP as a "cruel joke with farmers". He has not said a word this time.
Punjab Congress President Partap Singh Bajwa took on Badal over the double speak.
Criticizing the "negligible Rs.50 hike", Bajwa said that it was a "cruel joke on the farmers". Rejecting the hike, Bajwa said that this was an indication of the worst under the NDA government.
Questioning the "deafening silence" of the chief minister over "this meagre hike", Bajwa reminded Badal of his statements last year.
Bajwa also pointed out that the UPA government had effected a hike of Rs.270 per quintal from Rs.1080 to Rs.1,250 in 2012.
"Badal puts on the mask of a pro-farmer leader whenever his party is not a partner in the government at the centre. The farce of being a pro-farmer leader when his party is a partner in this meagre hike has been exposed," Bajwa told IANS.
Pushed on the backfoot on the issue, Badal even tried to defend the NDA government saying: "I fully understand that the NDA government has to grapple with the most difficult legacy of the UPA's 10 years of fiscal mismanagement and neglect."
Badal had earlier been demanding an MSP of Rs.1,900 per quintal for wheat also. He has been seeking a higher MSP for cotton and other crops as well.
Even the president of the BJP's Kisan Morcha, O.P. Dhankar, had demanded an MSP of Rs. 2,100 per quintal but has not repeated the demand after Modi came to power.
Green revolution state Punjab, with just 1.54 percent of the country's geographical area, contributes over 60 percent of foodgrain to the national kitty.