Politics apart,
BJP MP Varun Gandhi has just completed a two-year project to draw up ‘A Rural Manifesto’ to address farmer distress.

He speaks to ET on what his book says on rural distress, its causes and where policy and politics may have failed the Indian farmer.

Why a rural manifesto?

I have been associated with the rural cause since 2009 when I first became an MP. After 2014, I worked to draw up an economic model to understand why farmers commit suicide. It is then that I began thinking over the need for a roadmap to build a village into a sustainable economic unit. That idea led to this book. Perhaps, after these elections, I would like to get together with people who are working in areas of waters security, greater labour protection and reforms and create an alliance which may be non-political in nature but acts as a pressure group to get things done.

What are the concerns you’ve identified?

The key area is farmer pauperisation. Today, we’ve a situation whereby farmers don’t want their children to take up farming and the reason is purely economic. The input costs and inequitable access make farming an almost impossible proposition today. From poor irrigation facilities leading to farmer suicides to lack of legal backing for agricultural tenancy and poor farmer income — all are key to this situation.

Is this Indicative of policy failure?

It is indicative of the fact that we need to have a new conversation about improving the lot of the marginal farmers and a policy environment which improves the efficacy of systemic structures. It also demands a close look at political policies that may have led to long-term damage in rural sector — like misuse of groundwater. Our tubewell subsidy culture runs through patronage.

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Is there inadequate political sensitivity to farmer issues?

Look at speeches in any election, of any politician and by any political party. While there is a lot of academic discussion by people like us, the amount of time devoted to this in public narrative is minimal politically. It is also so because farmers seldom vote as farmers. Sometimes they vote as Marathas or Patels, Hindus, or on regional considerations or may be against a dispensation but there is no such thing as a pure farm narrative in Indian politics. I also think that inevitably as communication revolution reaches its zenith, you will see farmers voting as farmers.

How do loan waivers fit into this matrix?

India’s fiscal pundits have been quick to decry loan waivers. Many people say this is a handout but look at it vis-a-vis the handouts that have been given to industry over the years. If you look at the current NPA crisis, it’s not because of farmers holding back on repayments. The culprits are somewhere else but I do accept the point that we cannot be fiscally irresponsible just to be politically expedient. We do need to re-tailor our schemes. There are examples like that of the Kerala State Debt Relief Commission which is empowered to deal with both institutional and non-institutional debt. The crux of the matter is to decentralise.



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