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Indian farmers want parity, not charity. Modi govt would do well to not teach them agriculture

The Indian farm laws are as convoluted and ill-advised as the notebandi.

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Nassim Nicholas Taleb, renowned mathematician and statistician par excellence, in his book Skin in the Game, coins a new abbreviation: IYI, which stands for Intellectual Yet Idiot. He uses it to describe well-born and privileged ‘experts’ who have little knowledge but have an opinion on everything. In Taleb’s view, these people, though small in number, have a disproportionate influence on policymaking and since they don’t accept any risks for their recommendations, they have no qualms in telling common people what they should do, what they should eat, how they should think and how they should speak.

I hope Taleb is closely watching the way farmer protesters are being dealt with by the Narendra Modi government in India, and the way the poor protesters (who have not even used an iota of violence) are being termed as ill-informed, misled, selfish and, most despicably, as militants. Of course, it doesn’t occur to these experts that unlike them, the protesting farmers have produced bumper harvests, led the green revolution and, in the process, made this country self-sufficient in food.

On the contrary, the so-called ‘expertise’ has often resulted in terrible consequences. The Bengal famine of 1943 was not caused by crop failure but due to bad government policies and poor economic advice resulting in a black market, withholding of stock and hoarding. Further, lack of governmental oversight in procurement and distribution for the local population all led to that monumental disaster.

Also read: Farmers’ protest shows Modi’s politics is caught between India’s two middle classes

Parity, not charity

Coming back to the ongoing protests, the farmer is justified in asking why the three controversial farm bills were introduced in the first place. Why were they not brought before the public, discussed with policymakers, and most notably with the farmers? And once the farmers had started protesting, why didn’t the Modi government reach out to them and talk? Instead, it chose a condescending tone and had the audacity to imply that the farmers do not understand agriculture!

Naturally, the farmers, having protested in their respective states, started moving towards Delhi to intensify their protest. If the Union Government had heeded the farmers or even listened to the Punjab government’s suggestions, the agitation would not have reached Delhi’s outskirts. However, it does remind me of the famous farmers’ protest in the United States in 1979, when during the presidency of Jimmy Carter, hundreds of tractors entered Washington DC. Their slogan was “Parity, not Charity”. They demanded “parity” between what they were spending on growing crops and the returns that they were receiving from their crops.

Indian farmers are asking for the same. They are asking for parity and not charity.

Second, the Indian farm laws are as convoluted and ill-advised as the notebandi. Those who work in farms know this — these Acts amount to ‘farmbandi’. This is nothing less than demonestisation of the rural economy.

I am yet to meet an agricultural expert who speaks in favour of the three farm laws brought in by the Modi government, except for a dwindling number of armchair commentators who cannot tell the difference between jowar and bajra, and who cannot distinguish between saffron and a mustard crop.

Unfortunately, they are surreptitiously packaged under the umbrella of “reforms”. History informs us that collectivising farms was also touted as a reform in totalitarian regimes, and they resulted in hunger, famine, misery, and deaths of millions of people. So, before lapping up everything sold as reform, one must analyse the consequences of such legislation.

Also read: Teflon Modi does not have one Achilles heel, but two

An obligation

If the Modi government does not relent, I am afraid the situation could turn for the worse. I hope wise counsel prevails and the BJP government realises that the threatening tones, the concerted efforts at patronising, and the juvenile attempts by media managers to paint the Indian farmer as the devil will ultimately result in a severe backlash.

Let us also take a look at the respective roles of the farmer and the government. What is the job of the farmer, and what is the job of the government? The farmer’s job is to plant the crop, but it is the government’s job to help the farmer nourish the crop so that nature gives us a bountiful harvest.

The farmer plants the crop every season, but the government’s responsibility is to provide good fertilisers, quality insecticides, adequate water for irrigation, and support from scientists and extension workers to help the farmer. Unfortunately, the government is attempting to run away from a vocation that deals with 60 per cent of Indians’ direct livelihood.

Supporting farmers is a universal obligation. One-third of the EU budget goes into agriculture subsidies. India’s agricultural subsidy is way lesser than what would be ideal, and it is much lower than Indonesia, South Korea, and Japan (to quote a few), and only 10 per cent of what China provides as agricultural subsidy.

Also read: Thatcher or Anna moment? Why Modi’s choice on farmers’ protest will shape future politics

Trust farmers first

The Punjabi farmer is well-aware and has been at the forefront of embracing technological change. Punjab’s farmers have unleashed agriculture revolution not only in parts of India but also in New Zealand, Australia, the US, and Canada. They have virtually resurrected Parmesan cheese in Italy and given a boost to groundnut farming in Argentina. They are the true children of soil and will face all hardships to turn even the most sterile tracts into fecund fields. They know what suffering is and what all it takes to feed hungry stomachs.

I would appeal to the citizens of India to try and imagine their plight and give them credit for all that they have achieved thus far. The so-called experts or biased media have no skin in the game. They don’t understand agriculture and the sacrifices it entails. As the great Hindi poet Sudama Prasad ‘Dhoomil’ once wrote, “Lohe ka swaad, lohar se mat puchho, us ghode se puchh, jiske muh me lagam hai.” If you want to know the taste of iron, don’t go to an ironsmith, but ask a horse, which carries the bridle in its mouth.

Manpreet Singh Badal is the finance minister of Punjab. Views are personal.

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  1. This is not about farmers but commission agents who are going to suffer. Why is that only sikh farmers are having problem and rest 25 states no problem. People are not fools now and social media is exposing all these biased article as if all farmers are having problem.

  2. Manprit ji, you are a clean politician. Your analysis should be honest. Why only Punjab farmers are protesting. Few farmers from Haryana, western UP, Rajasthan were quiet but have lately joined for solidarity sake. Rich Punjab farmers are also ahratyias hence congress and SAD have vested interests are providing logistic support. Farmers are now shifting their goal post. Not interested in negotiation and only demand Yes/No for repealing the three farm acts. No Punjab politician has shown the will to lead them from front instead are being lead by them.
    Farmers have been producing unwanted wheat and rice , asking for govt purchase at MSP only to let it rot in godowns. They have become lethargic , do not diversify crop cultivation. Water being wasted on unwanted paddy should be shared with other states on basis of Gurus teachings Vand Ke Shako !
    Farmers appear to be suffering from Macho Image syndrome, issuing threats of total India Bandh. It is time that Punjab artists play positive roll and NRI are not allowed to muddy the waters. We can trust Modi govt ,who will do nothing knowingly to hurt our Punjab farmer brothers, now or in future.

  3. punjab farmers need not taught anything. that is why there is still producing rice and wheat which we don’t need now!!!
    and not to talk about polluting the atmosphere.
    of course what better to expect from a congress man!!!

    • the same reason you stick to your job – whatever it is . To feed their families and live a reasonable life. To ensure people like you could grow up with food on the table when India was dependent on imports.

  4. Modi govt is absolutely nuts………..Modi is at war with neighbors…………..Every Kashmiri hates India now……….Muslim, Dalits abhor this govt…………now ever Sikhs……..!!!

  5. Will you tell us why exactly the laws are bad. Maybe we did not read other opinions and want an explanation from you? Farmers know farming best, industrialists know industry best but all these are connected together. That’s exactly why a government is needed. Do you think wall street traders could come up with a plan in 2009 to save American economy? No. The federal government had to come up with stimulus package. And where exactly Government said they do not want to give subsidy? The law only brings private players in the field. Now they have also accepted MSP. What on earth is your problem now?

  6. Can anyone explain to me what does he mean by govt job is to nourish the farmers crop? Thats exactly why time has come to move on…..Times have changed….at least farmers in Punjab dont need nourishment. I can understand that happening to smallholder farmers across the country… Why should only govt get into the business of buying everything even now after record harvests?…others need to come in…yes the regulation by govt is a good point!

    • what is the average land holding in Punjab? have you ever been to the countryside. True the Punjab farmer has marginally larger holdings than the rest of India because of the massive search for jobs in other countries. Why do people risk their lives to work in other countries? Because they have too much money at home ? maybe you never use the grey cells. Every generation of farmers creates problems for ht elanded with land holdings depleting / person.

  7. If Indian farmer doesn’t want charity then ask govt. to stop MSP. Why end users like me should pay more then what it actually costs. Fix your economy Punjab, hiring cheap labour from Bihar isn’t going to a working model for long.

  8. Dear Manpreet, while you make some excellent points and I am with you all the way when you rightly point out that the laws should have been debated and analyzed with all stakeholders before being formulated, I disagree with you a few major (at least according to me). First it is mainly the wealthier farmers from the North who seem to be up in arms and not the whole country as it is being portrayed. Why is that? Can we follow the “money” trail and see which state has benefitted disproportionately since independence with government provided subsidies? Secondly, Punjab is no longer the bread basket as is being touted – actual production of rice, wheat and vegetables has shifted eastwards to UP and Bengal – this is a fact that is conveniently ignored. Thirdly, as an Income tax payer – I along with others have watched helplessly as “our” financial contribution has been gifted without any riders to north based farmers when things go sour – the same courtesy has not been extended to us the Income tax payers when we lose our jobs – is it our moral duty to earn and feed others only? Fourthly – would the farmers agree to pay income tax like we do? If not, then why not? Is our work not important or should we too strike and bring the country to its knees? Fifth – I strongly believe that if “you” cannot do something efficiently – then you should either improve or quit. Is this applicable to the farming community? Sixth – why did the north based farming community want privatization in 2010 and now don’t want it? If this is not politics then what is? And seventh – why has the northern farming community not disavowed comments from Canada and the UK – is “me” the Indian Income tax payer paying for the escapist and rich Punjabi expats in these countries by supporting their families in India? What interests do people who migrated to richer western countries have with the farm protests and livelihoods in India? These are my rants if you will. Thanks

  9. An opinion piece should present balanced views and give stats. It should not be a forum to vent one’s own frustration. This author demonizes the three farm laws but has not given one good explanation as to why? He even trivalizes experts who support the laws. If the farm laws are so bad why aren’t farmers from other states not even showing interest. When you see large amount of khalistani flags and banners outside Indian embassy offices inUK and Canada, supporting farm laws, you wonder if any part of this protest is still genuine or not

  10. Lets come to the point.

    What is farmers demand. Since the time protest started more specifically in Punjab, what exactly farmers want from farm bill is unknown.

    There is this umbrella demand to repeal or take back the bill but this is not how negotiations work.

    Protesting farmers should come to the table with demands that they don’t like this item why they don’t like it what is the impact it will have.

    These protest are day by day looking like headless chicken. Just for the sake of protesting.

    Which reminds me of Bunty or babli scene where they are shouting hamari manage poori karo but when asked what is your demand they come up with angrezo bharat chodo inquilab zindabaad.

    Government will do best to remember that farmers of Punjab do not represent the whole farmers of India but just some percentage.

    If these demands are untenable for all the farming community then just moved ahead if they can be discussed then that is what negotiations are for.

    Again these demands have to be checked against the whole farming community and not just a section. A holistic view is much warranted and farmers of Punjab have to think this way as well.

    Next time you do a write up come with substance otherwise it’s like umpteenth articles I have read all over the place.

  11. He has not said even a single word about the bill or how this bill is harming farmers. He has quoted many authors and poets and also give the example of EU but he did not tell whether there are APMC in EU and private players are banned from trade in agriculture. The real issue for them is the tax they are collecting from Central government. On one hand centre is buying paddy and wheat from Punjab to distribute yo poor at 1 and 2 rs/ kg and on that too they are taking 4- 6% tax. Have some shame minister. You have shamed our gurus who educated us to feed the poor.

  12. MSP IS LIKE CHARITY my friend. And in democracy which all are referring to there is always a middle way of doing things.

  13. Too many words but hollow. No technical explainatiom by the author regarding how will this effect farmer income, state subsidy bill etc.
    I would have loved too see the arguments why there bills are tragic for farmer. What is wrong in selling outside mandi when everyone is selling their things on amazon and flipkart why you want poor farmer to be strangled by mandi and arthiyas

  14. Punjab farmers are holding ransom rest of the country, If they keep insisting repeal is the way they will rapidly lose support. it is better to negotiate and get what assurance they think is important.

  15. Yes. Now the final word has come. From Govt’s side also it is now take it or leave it, just like farmer’s YES or NO answer. I cannot understand how Govt can force me to buy certain thing at a price set by them. This goes against economics of Demand and Supply. No group of Farmer or Govt. can defeat economics. I would rather use my money elsewhere, will not buy farm produce at all for trade. Indian farming is inefficient and wasting money. because Farmers are getting money anyway, they have no real incentive to improve productvity. If Govt. and others for political reasons are indulging farmers good for them. It is tragedy of India that any progressive move it opposed by vested interests. Here the opposition is coming from people who control Mandi Samiti’s. They are the real beneficiaries of existing current system. You should see their life style.

    • the only part missing is that there will be no one to produce goods at a loss. Economics. Agree why should you buy at high prices . Import everything from China. Stop talking nonsense

  16. These laws are not about how to do farming but how to MARKET farm produce and that is something farmers know nothing about – economists and traders know this.

    Threats and ulimatums by semi-literate ruffians trying to hold the national capital to ransom wont be tolerated or excused by the people of India .

    FYI – there are more farmers outside Punjab and Punjab doesnt produce anywhere close to feed even N.India, let alone the entire country. Please dont teach Indians about farming when everyone in India is connected to farming one way or another !

  17. if present law and state farm is sufficient then why now and then talk of farmer distress why always demand of loan waiver and support. that means state of farm as usual is not good. changes need to bring into the syestem. Farmer of Punjab Hariyana and many otheres are still operate in syestem which was devised state of shortage of food grain now many food item is surplus therefore syestem need to be changed for larger intrest of nation and farmer the subsidsed farming is not sustainable. All stupid politician and farming poltician are using dirty tactis Govt offered modification that should be discussed. mindset of resisting change is deeply ingrained in our system is very harming

  18. Not even a single point n how new laws will affect the farmers. Only beating around the bush and lots of poet and author references. Everyone know what Punjab government is doing, you are taking 6 percent tax from central government on the wheat which government is purchasing to distribute among poor people, that is worst kind of extortion and that is the money for which all this agitation is being done by Punjabis. You have shamed all the 10 gurus of us who educate us to feed the poor.

  19. Lo behold! The author is a Congress stooge!!
    Is it a surprise that he finds the farm laws “convoluted”?
    Ask your leader Pappu to add 1+1 first.

  20. Can Mr Badal explain how the govt is running away from its obligations? Instead of offering a reasoned critique of the laws, he indulges in a diatribe and name-calling. Apart from parading his erudition, this piece achieves nothing. Can he please tell us what is his skin in the game? He and his ilk would have made their millions over the years. To see them froth at the mouth is amusing.

  21. Agree. The bill should have been discussed. What is galling is that an Ordinance was passed. What was the hurry?

  22. I ask Punjab’s FM as an indian taxpayer. Why should my tax money keep going into the blackhole of agri subsidies which neither are helping farmer grow rich, not giving india agri exports, not solving India’s hidden hunger, horribly depleting Punjab’s water table, all the while robbing much more productive sectors of the economy of decent investment in infra, robbing people of social sector expenditure which govt must do? Also get your farmers out of agri…there are way too many farmers and less value. No matter how powerful the state is, it can’t fight against the laws of economics. Whether you like it or not. And I support these laws and i am just as equal as the punjabi farmer in eyes of the law.

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