Rahul May Just Have Put BJP on the Defensive

Published: May 01, 2015 20:16 IST
There is a kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder while discussing farmer suicides or the new incarnation of Rahul Gandhi. Farmer suicides evoke a kind of melodrama which has begun to benumb the readers of the press or viewers of the TV news media. Worse, there is a feeling that the media is cynical and the political class is hypocritical.

This cynicism and hypocrisy was evident again this week in the response to Rahul Gandhi's visit to Vidarbha in Maharashtra. Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis said that Rahul should introspect about the spate of suicides that took place when the Congress-NCP alliance was in power for 15 years. So yet again, the farmer was placed before the execution squad of the NDA-UPA who strive to win brownie political points at the expense of the tragedy that is enveloping the country.

Chief Minister Fadanvis tried to appear decent and democratic by advising Rahul to offer suggestions to the state government on what should be done. But it is not as if this government or the earlier UPA is in the dark about the reasons or the solutions to the problem of rural distress and debt-burdened farmers. Maharashtra has some distinct agricultural features programmed by its geography and history. Most of the region is a rain shadow belt.

The state, when carved out in 1960, had only eight percent of the land irrigated. Even now, despite all the dams and canals, it is just around 16 per cent. The reason is not just corruption, which of course cannot be underestimated, but the complex terrain, the river belts, the rainfall, the deteriorating climatic conditions and fractured geography. For instance, the Marathwada region is heavily drought-prone, and yet, till recently, it was not a suicide belt. On the other hand, Vidarbha is relatively fertile, with rich cash crops and farmers less oppressed than Marathwada. Yet the Vidarbha region's three districts witnessed the maximum number of suicides in the last two decades. The suicides in Marathwada, are relatively recent, but no less horrifying and the number is increasing. Poverty, drought and deprivation have been the features of rural life in Maharashtra for centuries. But that did not lead the farmers to take their own lives.

The "culture of suicides" in the agricultural belt is a recent phenomenon, mainly after liberalization in the 1990s, which did bring roads, telephone networks, television, newspapers, education, health services and allowed proximity to urban areas and city markets (health facilities and education did not spread as much as media and telecommunications though).

But the most crucial point was that the cost of producing crops, vegetables, fruit, sugarcane, went up phenomenally. That also was because of liberalization, as the input costs were higher, and lifestyle changes were not cheap. The sons of farmers did not want to be farmers because it was neither profitable nor fashionable. Sure, the farmer has to be liberated from the clutches of the land and economic noose around his neck. But that could have been done by making farming profitable. By making him financially independent. Not by just promising him a glorious future of industrial-corporate India. Even that would not offer him well-paid jobs or a better lifestyle.

In Modinomics, the government bought the farmer's land and sold him dreams. That was the Gujarat model. The Congress did not improve his quality of life, but did not sell him dreams. So, the problem exacerbated with the BJP coming to power at the Centre as well as in the state. While the Congress cannot acquit itself, the BJP cannot say it is not guilty. Further, instead of showing concern and compassion, the BJP began advising the farmers about his duties towards making India a superpower. The BJP in general and the Sangh Parivar in particular have no roots in the agricultural community. It is a party rooted in the middle class, upper caste and recently in the rural neo-middle class disconnected from farming. So they neither have comprehension nor care for this community.

There are essentially only three issues that have created the crisis. The first is the farmer is getting more and more burdened by the cost of his production. He has been assured time and again that Minimum Support Price will be given to him for his crop. In fact, last year in this very month, Narendra Modi had condemned the UPA's anti-farmer policies. He had said in the election rallies in the same Vidarbha region that he was personally committed to ensuring farmers receive MSP plus 50 per cent more.

And now he has begun to pontificate that the MSP is dangerous because it generates a massive inflationary cycle. His friends in the neo-liberal economic community, seemingly driven by the Tea Party faction of the Republican Party in US, are advising him that the farmer has to be liberated from land. He has to be brought in the mainstream industrial economy without which India can't become a superpower. Therefore this an ideological question. Whether to follow the neo-liberal model of development in nineteenth century version of England and bring the peasantry to its knees in the world of Charles Dickens, or follow the Chinese authoritarian model of driving the peasantry out by force and make them proletarian slaves.

The second issue is how to deal with the climate change which is hurting  agriculture. The government has not yet defined it's policy on environment. The Modi regime  wants to dispense with "anti-development" ecological policies and encourage national and multinational capital to invest in India to manufacture. That is what Rahul Gandhi seems to have attacked. This is why the BJP has possibly suddenly gone on the defensive.

The BJP and Modi in particular have come to believe that Rahul is an ineffectual 'Pappu' and the Congress is virtually dead. Suddenly, Rahul has hit and they don't know whether to attack him about his recent lengthy absence or his critical comments.

(Kumar Ketkar is a senior journalist, political commentator, globe trotter and author. He has covered all Indian elections since 1971 and significant international events. He is a frequent participant on TV debates.)

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of NDTV and NDTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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