Blog Post

Time To Avoid Complacency

Rajiv kumar, 22nd June 2017

Until the farmers’ agitation in Madhya Pradesh, which unfortunately resulted in severalcasualties,punsters did not evenbother to quote odds against Modi’s victory in 2019. Amit Shah and he apparently had it all sown up. Opposition is in disarray with Rahul Gandhi led Congress firmly relegated to the margins of national politics. Regional parties, pursuing their narrow self interests have been unable to stitch together a pan-India platform to oppose Modi. A smart unbeatable choice for the Presidential candidate and politically, Modi seems unassailable.

Platform

On the economic front as well itappeared all hunky dory. Economicactivity, having slowed down in 2016-17, is already picking up. Industryleaders tell me that domestic investments, finally beginning to perk upsupported by rising consumer andexport demand. Inflation is at its lowest levels. Infrastructure, a Modi-Gadkari forte, has seen eye-catchingprogress, with Piyush Goel also chipping in. Progress in financial inclusion; more efficient targeting of subsidiesand the relentless drive against blackmoney including demonetisation, haswon Modi overwhelming support fromthe ‘have nots’constituency. With thepassage of the Bankruptcy Law andthe imminent roll out of the longawaited GST, the reform agenda hasalso been pushed forward. Secondterm seemed assured.

Suddenly, with the violent farmers'agitation in MP and on goingfarmers’protests in several states, the mediais full of dire warnings to Modi and theBJP Agriculture, despite its reasonably good performance (2.7 per centgrowth) over the past three years, isbeing projected as Modi’s Achillesheel. The farmers’ agitation, duly supported and aggravated by a grateful opposition, could, it is argued, spread rapidly across the country, thereby overcoming the political fragmentation that benefits Modi. Farmers can surely provide a pan-India platform from which to attack him. Secondly, the specter of jobless growth is being raised strongly.Youth and farmers coming together in opposition could well precipitate another India Shining moment for the NDA. A prospect Modi must avoid at all costs. The opposition will relentlessly exploit the farmers’ bitterness and youth’s disillusionment to create Modi’s India Shining Moment.'This must be expected as it offers the only means to over turn Modi’s current sky high approval ratings. My fear is that many luminaries in the government and the BJP assume Modi's re-election as a done deal. This is duly reflected in creeping complacency and spokespersons’ arrogance on the television channels.

Reform

This is surely avoidable. In thesedays of hyper communication,even a small incident can go viral overnight and upset all existing approval ratings. A combined movement of disgruntled farmers and youth could surely transform ground realities in double quick time. A farmer-youth coalition, if allowed to gain momentum, could very quickly undo the amazing, perhaps incomparable amount of work undertaken in the last three years for improving governance and ushering in major, transformative reforms. Even the most die-hard critics of Modi will have to admit that Raisina Hill has never seen such concerted and unremitting action as over the lastthree years. However, it is also truethat most fruit and vegetable (F&V)prices in major mandis are appreciably lower than a year ago. However, this is not true across the board. Milk prices, for example, have ruled steady as have prices for sugarcane. From personal experience I can say that the weakening of traders' exploitative strangle hold in F&V mandis does not necessarily imply lower prices for farmers.

Mission

My wife, a part-time farmer, has only recently started earning much higher prices by supplying directly to retailers. That then is the key to addressing rising farmers' distress— connect them to retailers and eliminate layers of intermediaries who have traditionally exploited vulnerable farmers. NITIAyog should have addressed this as a priority and ensured accelerated activation of E-Nams; establishment of farmers producers’ organisations; strengthening Kisansamitis and liberalisation of FDI in F&V retail. If taken up in a mission mode, farmers can still be given the benefit of higher prices without necessarily raising F&V prices for the common consumer.

In addition, all administrative controls over agro-exports must be immediately removed. These are distortionary and discriminatory. Putting in place direct and robust marketing mechanisms and permanently removing bans on agro-exports will together suffice to address farmers' distress. Subsequently, much needed productivity enhancing measures will also have to be taken. The India Shining moment can surely be and must be avoided. Missing jobs is the second-chink in Modi’s armour. Addressing this requires jettisoning of all pre-conceived notions and rooting proposed solution in Indian ground realities. But for that we need reliable data! NITIAyog, again quite inexplicably, has not ensured dependable employment data.

The writer is founder director, Pahle India Foundation, Delhi

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