India’s small farmer finds a champion
Words carry the power to shape the future. Not many statesmen can speak in a manner as powerful as Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi. His response to the debate on motion of thanks on the President’s address pressed all the right buttons with people at this critical hour.
Replete with hard facts, and with a sprinkle of humour and wit, his speech addressed apprehensions related to crucial issues such as the farm laws. His message to the nation was clear — this is India’s moment under the sun and we must seize every opportunity for growth that lies ahead of us. It is time to re-energise our inherent capabilities and rebuild our nation. It would be a colossal mistake to lose sight of the big vision for India, and so, our differences should not come in the way of this vision.
The most important aspect of the PM’s speech was the elaborate explanation of the government’s aim to empower small and marginal farmers through the three farm laws. In all discussions with regard to agriculture in India, this section is often forgotten. It is a well-known fact that, after all these years, the Green Revolution’s gains have not trickled down to this section. India’s small farmer has neither the ability to organise, nor the time to devote himself to political pursuits. Thankfully, India’s small farmer has got a powerful spokesperson in the form of the PM.
That India’s agriculture is riddled with many challenges is not hidden from anyone. Land holdings are shrinking, agri-technology is becoming obsolete, and farmers face exploitation at the hands of middlemen. To free the small farmer from these shackles, the government has combined an innovative approach with zero tolerance towards malpractices. PM Modi referred to modernising the long-standing mandis, while also complimenting efforts by various states towards improving agriculture systems. The unequivocal message — minimum support price (MSP) was there, is there and will remain — should answer all those who have spread canards about MSP. After all, it is this government that has increased MSP to 1.5 times the cost of cultivation. Other initiatives, be it neem-coated urea or the modified crop insurance scheme, have touched the lives of small farmers the most.
At the bedrock of good governance is listening and accommodating divergent views. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has always shown utmost empathy and sensitivity towards the issues of the poor and the marginalised. This is why it initiated an unprecedented 11 rounds of talks with the farmers. At a time when egos and oneupmanship are rampant, it takes a big heart to offer to put the laws on hold for 18 months until all the issues are addressed. PM Modi is a leader who understands the pain of the farmers, and every step taken under his leadership will, undoubtedly, be in line with their best interests.
To elaborate, as the PM underlined, there is a need to widen the ambit of what we see as “improvements” in agriculture. At the base of it, if infrastructure, including roads, rail and air connectivity improves, farmers will be able to gain access to distant and diverse markets. The government’s focus on allied sectors such as dairy and fisheries is aimed at generating additional revenue for the farmers, and giving them opportunities to showcase their innovations. Similarly, the PM’s vision for water in every household too has its gains for the farmers.
Today, millions of small farmers need our attention. They are talented and hardworking. They do not need doles to keep them poor. They need support to enable them to rise and contribute to the welfare of India. No less a leader than the PM speaking about them is noteworthy. He addressed every critical issue with farsightedness. At no point were those protesting called names. He highlighted the monumental contribution of the Sikh community to national development. He appreciated (rightfully) the pioneering contribution of HD Deve Gowda towards the cause of farmers. He referred to Sharad Pawar and appreciated Ghulam Nabi Azad.
These are things to learn — we may all be on different sides of the political spectrum and will certainly fight electoral battles with our full might but on the floor of the House, decency rules the roost. Our friends in the Opposition who boycotted the President’s speech and indulged in sloganeering could learn from PM Modi.
PM Modi quoted two former prime ministers, the farmer leader Chaudhary Charan Singh and Dr Manmohan Singh. From their words, we understand that there has always been a desire for agricultural reform. It was the inability to navigate the roadblocks that delayed them. PM Modi has tried to navigate the roadblocks. It should, as a nation, make us happy that a PM is fulfilling some of the ideas of his predecessors despite having different political affiliations. Such continuity and bipartisanship augurs well for our future.
Parliament was also the right forum to isolate those who are perpetual mischief-sniffers (Andolanjeevi as the PM called them), who lack the ability to ignite a positive change but are quick to latch on to others, and subsequently, mislead them. The PM was right to caution us about such elements. After all, when a nation’s economic revival is right on track; when the world is all praise for India’s humanitarian ethos of supplying vaccines; when India’s young are scaling new heights, who gains by causing mindless roadblocks?
PM Modi’s Rajya Sabha speech has set the benchmark — it was a speech which said the right things, exposed many mistruths but most importantly one where India’s small farmer was brought into the mainstream of national discourse.
Jyotiraditya Scindia is a former Union minister, Member of Parliament and a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party
The views expressed are personal