A proverb in Kannada when translated runs thus: nobody cries for people who die everyday. Which in essence sums up the ruthless tear-shedding one can witness both in the mainstream and online media, and blogs on the issue of farmers’ deaths in Vidharba. The heartless, capitalist guy that I normally am, my eyes do grow moist when I read some really moving accounts of their plights.
But that exactly is the problem.
On the Vidharbha issue, talking about the problem seems to have become the biggest obstacle–crying over the spilt milk seems to occupy time, effort and column inches/web space rather than running to the milkman to buy fresh milk.
It isn’t as if no solutions have been suggested; in fact, a lot of sensible people have suggested pragmatic solutions but that of course escapes the attention of the critics who insist that we perpetually mourn about the dead farmers and worse, prepare to mourn for those who might follow–I’m really heartless but since you’ve read this far, do indulge me.
The cotton-growers of Vidarbha have reached this sorry state mainly because of the regressive economic policies enforced by a draconian state which has no business to be there. Ostensibly, these policies were framed to benefit people but has since led them to kill themselves. Here for instance, is an illustration of how the retrograde policy works and a possible solution.
I read a lot of editorials in the local press blaming “illegal” moneylenders for “harassing” farmers and forcing them to commit suicide. To have a reality check I talked with one of the farmers in our native village. The feedback I received was that government is exploiting the farmers through its monopoly procurement of cotton scheme. Govt. is paying the farmers below the market price. Not only that, payment is not immediate and govt is also taking out previous years loan payments before paying the farmers. Moneylenders actually help farmers by lending money during their need. The land that is pledged against the loan is sold off at the market rate to recover the money and rest paid to the farmer. Therefore, there is no exploitation there. By restricting the entry of moneylenders through licensing and prosecuting “illegal” moneylenders govt is raising the interest rates and reducing the supply of the credit. The best solution is to allow anybody to lend money to the farmers and thus increase the supply of credit to the farmers and also reduce the interest rates. Coupling that with free market in the farm produce (by abolishing the monopoly procurement scheme) will solve most of the problems. By prosecuting “illegal” moneylenders govt is ensuring that next time farmers won’t even get whatever credit/loans they were getting. Thus, next time around farmers will commit suicide for the lack of access to the credit/loans.
The way out is to ask the government to exit gracefully before more lives are snuffed out. Easier said than done because it’ll lose another valuable category of the rural votebank. Every election is fought on the plank of–apart from caste–alleviating the rural folk who like sheep fall for it each time and unfailingly. In Karnataka, the selfsame suicide problem grew alarmingly during S.M Krishna’s rule. The reason: a three-year drought. Ideally, that shouldn’t have worried him because we were supposed to have bountiful water stored away for a
rainy dry day. Except, most of those “dry day” projects are in various stages of incompletion owing to what else? Corruption. The farmers can’t repay loans, and they begin to kill themselves. And Krishna undertakes a mutltitude of political gimmicks. As the elections approach, he desparately, hurriedly announces that he’ll waive off all the farmers’ loans with immediate effect. That’ll fetch him votes and sound like music to millions of bleeding hearts who’ve wept at their plight every single day; they’ll sing choruses to Krishna and bless him.
Krishna in turn accepts all this steadfastly, with a smile because he’d have set in motion a process to dip into the pockets of the Uncomplaining Indian Taxpaying Middle Class. You see, he has waived off 600-odd crores of rupees of farmer loans. And because we have steady jobs and a regular income and feel sorry for our poor rural brethren (that’s right, a sizeable chunk of the Bleeding Hearts Club come from this very middle class who’re made to feel sorry, guilty, angry, and shameful because the government keeps robbing them), and are too scared to protest, we’ll go along anyway. And so the Theatre of the Absurd rolls on, no curtains in sight.
The Vidarbha issue is not terribly different from this. The government may dole out more money and/or introduce newer “reforms” that’ll only tighten its (existing) vise-like grip–all of course, to help the farmers and the (surprise!) suicides may finally stop. Only temporarily because money has a tendency to get spent. If government aid is the proposed solution, I’ll say go ahead, but keep doling it out till eternity like the never-ending efforts at resuscitating the sick Public Sector industries–the elaborate charade of the BIFR and the rest; yet, how different are these companies today before they were declared “sick” (sic)?
The Vidarbha farmer-suicide subject has been the butt of some heated discussion on several blogs most notably this one, which while it does a good job of covering the plight of the poor farmers, offers no workable solutions.
After pontificating at this length, the obvious question to ask me is the solution I propose. Here it is and I’ve said it earlier: ask the government to get out. For detailed treatment, analysis and all the other nice things, you might want to head over to the excellent Indian Economy blog as well as the individual blogs of its contributors because my position is more or less the same as theirs.
As for those opposing privatisation/globalization, I’d direct them to this fine essay by Madhu Kishwar. Here’s an excerpt:
Too many of our social movement leaders and non-government organisations (NGOs), who work hard to bring to focus the plight of the impoverished and the marginalised, seem to act out of the belief that they can safeguard the interests of the vulnerable only by raging against and undermining the legitimate interests of others.
Till about the 1980s, organised Left parties and intellectuals exercised a tremendous ideological influence in imposing a restrictive environment on economic activities. However, in the last two decades, that space has increasingly been occupied by a highly articulate group of NGOs who have assumed a crusading role as the Anti-Globalisation Brigades (AGBs). These groups specialise in whipping up frenzied campaigns against the liberalisation of India’s economy – campaigns for which generous political and monetary support is available from a host of Western funding agencies, most of whom work in close collaboration with their respective governments. In the year 2003 alone, the Indian NGO sector received $1 billion from various foreign donors. A very substantial part of these funds are going to AGBs, who, with these fabulous grants at their disposal, are then to be seen jet-setting from one exotic destination to another, preaching, mainly to their own incestuous fraternities and to foreign donors and governments, of the need to protect our people from both the global economy and the evil influence of Western culture.
They generate the politics of emotive outbursts and think that these can be a substitute for any meaningful analysis of social and economic problems.
It is only very recently that the AGBs appear to have noticed with the excessive zeal of new converts, that Indian farmers are committing suicide by consuming pesticides. Unfortunately, the debt-ridden farmers of India have been committing suicide for much longer than the Anti-Globalisation Brigade finds it convenient to remember.
Why do they want us to forget that the State’s monopoly over our natural resources has already caused deadly environmental havoc for all citizens, but especially for poor rural communities? Most AGBs are well aware that the Indian State prevented farmers from selling their land at market prices through the use of laws like the Land Acquisition Act.
Before going after Monsanto with loaded guns, it is equally important to recall that the Indian state as Kishwar says, is at the root of the problem. Not that Monsanto is a saint but blaming it for the suicides isn’t entirely right.
Like thousands of other problems facing this country, this one, too, is the legacy of the (failed) Socialist Indian state.
Cross-posted on Desicritics