P Sainath: we, as a nation, have to stand up and help build the nation for farmers

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Talking about farmers’ issues, P Sainath said, “It is not just an agrarian crisis, it is now a national crisis. The Modi govt has been engaged in fooling the nation. They are telling lies shamelessly”

The founder editor of People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI), the former Rural Affairs editor of The Hindu and author of the much acclaimed book ‘Everybody loves a Good Drought’, P Sainath, has recorded rural distress for the past several decades. He now finds himself in the forefront of a farmers’march to Delhi scheduled for the last week in November. In a conversation with Bhasha Singh, he explains his reasons.

Q. You seem to have assumed the role of a key mobiliser for the farmers’ march to Delhi in the end of November. You are no longer just an observer. Could you explain why you felt compelled to do so?

A. Farmers are on the move. It is not just an agrarian crisis, it is now a national crisis. The Modi government has been engaged in fooling the nation. They are telling lies shamelessly. At this junction, when farmers are on the move, we, as a nation, have to stand up and help build the nation for farmers. That is what we are doing, as that is the need of the hour and our responsibility as a nation.

After covering agrarian crisis for more than 20 years, now I find that farmers have become assertive and they have decided to come to the street and are demanding justice. For me, this is a very positive development. They are no more demoralised or in a suicidal mood. They are standing up, moving with their demands. It is a very big move and all of us must recognise this for what it is and contribute to the cause. More than 200 farmers’ organisations are coming together for this march, so it is a national phenomenon of its own kind.

Q. Do you believe farmers’ march is going to make any difference?

A. The march involves two parallel processes. ‘Nation for Farmers’ is demanding a special session of Parliament, in which everything related to agriculture and farmers must come up for discussion—what kind of agriculture we want, sustainability of agriculture, its profitability, etc. Is it going to be agriculture driven by corporations or agriculture driven by communities? What kind of ownerships we can have—collectives, group farming and completing old agendas like land reforms. So, it is going to be a very comprehensive exercise; not just in the present context but what we want from agriculture in the next 20-30 years from now. This must be a vision for the future.

Q. The NDA Government at the Centre has also announced major schemes and claims to have helped farmers?

A. If that were the reality, then farmers from across the country would not have come to the street- be it Mandsaur (MP), Tamil Nadu, the Nasik to Mumbai march and elsewhere.

Q. The NDA Government at the Centre has also announced major schemes and claims to have helped farmers?

A. If that were the reality, then farmers from across the country would not have come to the street- be it Mandsaur (MP), Tamil Nadu, the Nasik to Mumbai march and elsewhere. When, in 2014, the Modi Government came down heavily on MNREGA, it first attacked Tripura, which was performing at the top of the states. This is not my ranking or any individual ranking; it was the Central government’s data. The Modi government cut down Tripura’s allocation by 53 per cent and doubled the allocation of Gujarat.

Q. The Union Government has been speaking in different voices but claims to have implemented the recommendations made by the Swaminathan Commission…

A. The confusion is deliberate. It is actually going on from the days when the UPA was in power. The reality is that the Swaminathan Report, which is pending for almost 14 years, is not being implemented. There is no commitment to do so.

The Swaminathan Commission submitted five reports between December 2004 and October 2006. There was no detailed discussion in Parliament. The Swaminathan Commission report is more accurately described as National Commission for Farmers report.

We have to understand that this report is much more than just the MSP, it is much more—it talks about Price Stablisation Fund, a new credit system and many more suggestions.

In 2014, the Modi government came to power with the promise to implement the first of the Swaminathan Commission Report’s recommendation of making the Minimum Support Price equal to the cost of production—COP2 plus 50 per cent. But it did quite the opposite. In 2015, the government submitted an affidavit in courts and also declared in an RTI reply that this cannot be done, as it would lead to distortion of markets. So, they were not worried about farmers, only concerned about markets. That is the priority of the Modi government—just profit-making, and that too for a selected coterie.

And you can see the series of blatant lies since 2014. In 2016, agriculture minister Radha Mohan Singh said no such promise was ever made. And in 2017, the Modi government and its minister along with Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister began claiming that they had implemented a lot more and far beyond what the Commission had recommended.

Q. But didn’t Prime Minister Modi in July announce that the government would be implementing the MSP recommended by the Commission ?

A. In 2018, Finance Minister Arun Jaitely in his budget speech claimed that the government had already implemented the Commision’s recommendations. And then comes the Prime Minister in July, when he declares that his Government would be implementing the MSP formula suggested by the Commission, that is cost of production –COP 2 plus 50 per cent.

From these conflicting claims, we can see the seriousness of the Modi government. The message is very clear that it is a mere a jumla for them. That is why farmers are now desperate. They are eager to push for fulfilment of their demands.

Q. But what do they hope to achieve by this march to Delhi?

A. To put it simply, a special session of Parliament. It is the most democratic demand which farmers are putting forward to all members of Parliament. Farmers are asking MPs to escort them to Parliament, they are putting the burden to move Parliament on their own elected representatives. This is an entirely different approach. It has not happened before in Indian history.

People are telling their representatives to function in Parliament and speak on issues which are affecting them and on the national crisis.

Q. Both BJP and the government have been very vocal about Minimum Support Price (MSP). Is it possible for them to take farmers for a ride?

A. Farmers know the politics and also the gimmicks that revolve around MSP. If the government does not want to procure the produce, it simply resorts to opening procurement centres late and close them early, forcing farmers to sell their produce at much lower rates in the market. We need to understand that agrarian crisis is not only due to MSP. The crisis is much beyond MSP. There are hosts of other related issues. The farmers have made their agenda very clear.

Q. The Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, which is a part of this march, has introduced two bills: Farmers’ freedom from indebtedness Bill 2018 and Farmers’ Right to Guaranteed Remunerative MSP for agriculture commodities…

A. Yes. Kisan Sangarsh Samiti has primarily those two demands. They have introduced two Bills in Parliament, which should be part of that special session of Parliament which we are demanding. We do, however, believe that interconnected problems of the agrarian sector have gone much beyond the sector. So, things like directive principles of state policy in the Constitution, etc. have also come in. All these need to be discussed thoroughly in the special session of Parliament.

Q. The promised Achhe Din appear elusive…

A. Whether there has been any improvement or not depends on whom you are looking at. The number of dollar billionaires has indeed increased dramatically. Look at the improvement in the status of Mukesh Ambani and 130 other billionaires. The point is that neoliberal policies are not designed to benefit the poor and the marginalised.

If you are looking at policies, there has been continuity in policies during the last two decades. And so far, our primary aim has been buttressing and boosting the corporate sector. It is not accidental what is happening in the present Modi regime. These policies are going to create these very conditions.

When Education got 6 to 6.5 per cent of the GDP and the social sector never receives any priority…When was the highest expenditure made on agriculture? It goes back to the 1980s.

Q. What is the major difference you find between the Modi government and the previous government?

A. They (Modi Government) are very aggressive with boosting the corporate agenda, they have gone much further. And I believe they have done an incredible amount of damage in a very limited period of time

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