Syrupy Speech and Cotton Stuffings
BY R.K. MISRA
What you get free invariably costs too much. Cotton farmers, facing ruin due to plummeting prices, are realizing that sugar in the speech may be sweet. But the proof of the pudding is in the serving when the critic becomes the cook.
Not long ago when ensconced in Gujarat as chief minister, Narendra Modi riled at the Congress- led UPA government when the minimum support prices (MSP) for cotton went down from Rs 1500 to Rs 1200. Now, the chief minister is the Prime Minister and the support prices are down to Rs 800. “What can we say”, is all that his one-time agriculture minister, Dilip Sanghani asks, adding that a farmer forced to commit suicide is more like a clarion call for urgent action.
The first woman chief minister of Gujarat manfully struggles, with the farmers up in arms and both the Congress and her critics within her own party pouring oil on the troubled waters. It was the RSS-affiliated Bhartiya Kisan Sangh (BKS) which lit the fire early last month. Farmers in Saurashtra region took to the streets demanding higher price for their cotton and groundnut produce. It wanted the MSP for cotton raised from Rs 800 per 20 kg to Rs 1000 and give Rs 200 as bonus to the farmers. The current market price of Rs 800 rates less than even the production cost which comes to about Rs 1000 per 20 kg. The government has fixed the MSP based on the premise of the cotton production cost being Rs 600 for 20 kg. BKS demanded duty-free export of cotton and groundnut and imposition of 40 per cent duty on import of oil and oilseeds.
Gujarat is not alone in it’s anguish. Madhya Pradesh is on fire as well and Rajasthan and Maharashtra will soon feel the heat. Other states as well. On December 17 in Bhopal, BKS general secretary Prabhakar Kelkar launched a scathing attack on Modi in the presence of chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan. To quote Kelkar “Modi aise maun hain jaise saap sungh gaya ho, lekin hame saap ka zeher nikalna ata hai (Modi’s silence is like one dumstruck on seeing a snake but we possess the antidote for snake poison). Chauhan did not react but stated matter of factly that his government had stopped giving bonus as instructed by the Centre.
In the run-up to the 2014 polls, Modi as well as his party leaders were promising the sky. In the case of the farmers it included factoring in increased input costs while fixing the MSP. Once in power, the tone has changed. Not only has the minimum support price not been increased but the state governments have been directed to stop giving bonus on procurement . Besides, while farmers are unable to get affordable prices for their cotton, the government has permitted the import of cotton!
Faced with a Gujarat-wide hue and cry, the Anandiben Patel government announced a Rs 1100 crore package for kharif crops. The package included a 50 per cent waiver in the interest on agro-loans and on electricity bills but remained silent on cotton MSP. The BKS nevertheless welcomed the package and called off their agitation, only to lose face. Splits surfaced in the BKS with the Saurashtra region refusing to relent. The self- immolation by a despondent 21 year old youth, Arvind Nagani, son of a cotton growing farmer ,caught in a debt spiral ,only added fuel to the fire. Protesting farmers lit up the street in various areas as these turned into platforms of protest and boycott, and ministers avoided attending them following incidents of stone attacks. A perturbed chief minister sent two of her ministers, health minister Nitin Patel and agriculture minister Babu Bokharia to Delhi to meet Modi and his agriculture minister, Radha Mohan Singh but so far there is no respite in sight.
Nagani’s suicide has also brought out the seedy side of governance to the fore. An RTI plea to the union agriculture ministry has elicited the reply that between 2009 and 2013-Modi rule- no farmer had committed suicide in Gujarat due to crop failure. However the Gujarat government, in it’s reply to two RTI applications filed by an NGO CRANTI, has admitted that 619 farmers have committed suicide in the state between 2003 and August 20,2012.This,in effect, exposes the litany of lies of the government that ruled Gujarat between this period because it is the state that submits data to the Centre!
Though the BKS-BJP matches are largely considered to be friendly affairs, matters have got out of hand because the key now rests in the hands of the Prime Minister. In Gujarat, there is a third dimension as well since most Sangh-affiliated bodies like the VHP, BKS, Mazdoor Sangh had all be reduced to non-entities during Modi rule. With a change of guard in the state, most are now flexing their hitherto tied hands to regain body circulation. Couple this with the fact that many key state BJP leaders similarly silenced and inimical to Anandiben’s ascension to the top post, would be happy seeing her squirm, and the circle is complete.
This is a scenario tailor-made for a cut-to-size Congress party’s comeuppance in the state and it has waded in regardless with a dithering BKS yielding ground. Congress leader Shankersinh Vaghela has made it clear, that if the issue is not sorted out to the satisfaction of farmers, they would disrupt the high- profile Gujarat Global investor’s summit to be held in the state next month.
Already the state is in a tizzy, as the chief minister turned prime minister is expected to camp in the state capital during the summit. For the last almost a month, the entire state machinery and private forces are at work preparing for the event.
The contrast is jarring. On the one hand thousands of farmers are being denied the MSP leading to suicides. On the other hand, the state government has earmarked Rs 200 crores to spruce up Ahmedabad and Gandhinagar for the mega-event. A Special prime Minister’s Secretariat is under construction at a cost of Rs six crores for his short stay during the event and SPG security is being inducted. Some high profile global leaders are slated to attend.
Three major events are scheduled in the state. First, the kankaria carnival from December 25 to 31, the Pravasi Bhartiya Diwas from January 7 to 9, and the Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors summit from January 11 to 13.Among those slated to attend are president Pranab Mukherjee, prime minister Modi, United Nation’s secretary general Ban-ki-Moon, US secretary of state John Kerry besides numerous other foreign dignitaries.And so it goes on. Let’s celebrate the mega events, the farmers can stuff their cotton in their…ears!