To actually bridge the rural-urban, agriculture-non-agriculture divide, it will take a policy that has a fixed and sensitive gaze that goes much beyond politics and re-focuses on nation-building.
Clichés run the risk of going unnoticed because they point at things all too obvious. But clichés are clichés because they are truths solidified. So it was heartening to note that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh talked about the truth of ‘Two Indias’ in his Independence Day speech on Wednesday. Broadly, the schism is that between Indians who are marching ahead and Indians who are being left behind. And the most visible — and rectifiable — divide is that between rural and urban India. Sixty years after we took on nation-building responsibilities, rural India still overwhelmingly runs on an agricultural economy.
While the drop to less than 20 per cent of the agriculture share in GDP from 50 per cent in 1947 tells only part of the picture — other sectors have picked up, many at the cost of an increasingly urbanised agricultural labour force — Mr Singh is right to focus on a swathe that affects millions of Indians. He has talked about the need to “transform rural India”, something only possible when “we increase the productivity of our farms and the income of our farmers”. But the PM is wary of any diktat driving this change; instead he spoke of an inclusive growth plan that does not pit development against agriculture, but knits the two together.
The last six months have shown how such a programme, despite perhaps the best of intentions, can go awry. The land acquisition drives in West Bengal and other parts of the country have caused friction between two notions of prosperity. There is no doubt that agricultural land is required to develop industry as well as infrastructure, to not only support and sustain industry but also to improve the lives and livelihoods of rural India. But the signals get crossed when one finds that there is no real set of rehabilitation norms in place for the displaced. The ad hoc nature of land acquisition gives rise to the notion of a development vs agriculture duel. Mr Singh has announced that the government will invest Rs 25,000 crore in the rural economy. This amount needs to be treated as seed money, where its utilisation is intrinsically linked to the benefits to be provided by infrastructure and technology. Turning on the rhetorical tap when it comes to boosting agriculture and the prospects of India’s farmers is easy — as 60 years of promises prove. But to actually bridge the rural-urban, agriculture-non-agriculture divide, it will take a policy that has a fixed and sensitive gaze that goes much beyond politics and re-focuses on nation-building.