President Ram Nath Kovind's address to Parliament indicates government sees agrarian crisis as major challenge

If Gujarat Assembly election results were an indication, and if one reads the fine print of President Ram Nath Kovind’s address to the parliamentarians ahead of the Budget Session on Monday, then the agriculture sector seems to be emerging as one of the biggest challenges for the Narendra Modi government and the BJP. It is also a challenge that the government appears to be keen on handling before it goes out of hand ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.

Kovind in his presidential address emphasised on the farm sector, reiterating the government’s promise to double agricultural growth by 2022. While showcasing government schemes and initiatives for rural and agriculture sector, the president tried to give a message to the people about the government’s plans for the farmers.
The Economic Survey 2018 tabled soon thereafter projected agriculture growth of 2.1 percent for FY 2018.

Representational image. Reuters

Representational image. Reuters

However, agriculture experts and the Opposition are not convinced about the growth story and see the predictions as a ‘mirage’ created by the government to impress the electorate.

“If agricultural income is to be doubled in the next four years, the growth trajectory of agriculture has to be assumed at an annual rate of minimum 20 percent, which anyway is not happening,” Sompal Shastri, former Union minister of agriculture in the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-government and an agriculture expert told Firstpost. “In the last four years, the purchasing power in rural areas has declined by 30 percent to 40 percent. There’s no clear roadmap of public investment in agriculture, which at present is less than 3 percent of planned allocation,” he said.

Referring to the minimum support price (MSP) issue, Shastri, the first chairperson of the National Commission for Farmers said, “PM Modi’s main poll promise in 2014 and also as per BJP’s election manifesto was to implement Swaminathan Committee’s recommendation and ensure that the crop prices were remunerative. But, immediately after coming to power they went back on it by giving an affidavit to the Supreme Court. The farmers are not even getting the MSP on 17 commodities except rice and wheat as announced.”

The Economic Survey noted, “The first new issue—yet in some ways the oldest issue—is agriculture. Successful economic and social transformation has always happened against the background of rising agricultural productivity. In the last four years, the level of real agricultural GDP and real agriculture revenues has remained constant, owing partly to weak monsoons in two of those years.”

Shastri’s apprehension is not misplaced as during the recent Gujarat election, the farmers’ distress emerged in a big way and the Opposition Congress reaped benefits from the anger of the farmers. The ruling BJP didn’t perform well in the rural segment in Gujarat.

In June 2017, Mandsaur district in Madhya Pradesh became the epicentre of farmers’ agitation and witnessed large-scale mob violence. Among eight states going to polls this year, the farmers’ issue is likely to emerge in a big way in at least Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan. “There’s no concrete projection given towards achievement. It’s mere sloganeering. One needs to take lessons from the results of the Gujarat election. The promises made by the government to farmers are nothing less than a potent bluff and it’s going to have a cascading effect in the forthcoming elections,” Shastri added.

The principal Opposition Congress has been trying to sway public opinion on the agrarian issue. Senior Congress leader and deputy leader, Rajya Sabha, Anand Sharma said, “The president’s address to both the Houses of the Parliament is disappointing. Whatever the President said in his address regarding agriculture is far from the ground reality. The agricultural growth rate has declined to 1.9 percent-1.7 percent from 4 percent.”

“This government is in denial and therefore will not be in a position to improve the situation on all fronts including alleviation of agrarian distress, redressal of grievances of the farmers, improvement in rural wages which have fallen sharply, and so has agricultural growth,” he added.


Updated Date: Jan 29, 2018 21:20 PM

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