Farm Bills Will Create a Vacuum That May Result in Utter Chaos: P. Sainath

By Mitali Mukherjee on Sept. 24, 2020 in Perspectives

Though there is a very clear pro-corporate intent behind the Bills, they may enable middle-men to wring an even harder grip on the farmers.

P. Sainath. Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Mullookkaaran CC BY SA 4.0

Amidst an uproar and stiff protest, three contentious farm Bills were passed in the Rajya Sabha on Sunday and Tuesday. The Bills seek to replace ordinances promulgated in June this year and were already cleared by the Lok Sabha.

The idea behind all the three bills is to liberalise the farm markets in the hopes that doing so will make the system more efficient and allow for better price realisations for all concerned, especially the farmers. The central concern of the Bills is to make Indian farming a more remunerative enterprise than it is right now. However, they have seen widespread protests – particularly in the states of Haryana and Punjab.

To understand why the Bills are being protested and what the points of concern for the agriculture sector and those who represent it are, The Wire‘s Mitali Mukherjee interviewed P. Sainath, the founder editor of the People’s Archive of Rural India and former rural affairs editor of The Hindu, on MondayThe following is a transcript of the interview, lightly edited for clarity and style.

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Thank you, Sainath, for joining in and speaking with me, it’s been a tumultuous couple of days and I want to address the three Bills, two of which have been passed in the Rajya Sabha now, and what the key, sort of, issues are around it. Because it seems for a lot of people who are defending it, they feel that there’s not that much wrong with it. So, let’s start with the first one Farmers’ Produce Trade and Commerce Ordinance as it was, which some people also call the ‘APMC [Agriculture Produce Market Committee] Bypass Ordinance’. You know, explain, for people watching, what it means and why people within the farming community are uncomfortable with this.

I’m going to address what it means and what it is based on. Very briefly, these three Bills – one, you have this Bill that posits the APMC as the centre of the evil empire and you’re breaking the monopoly; you know, giving too much seriousness to the rhetoric of presentation and the defence by people – I heard similar defences by the very same people when this government went in for demonetisation, and after six months they’re all busy covering their tracks.

But, here you have, one Bill that posits the APMC  as some sort of hideous monopoly from which you are releasing, liberating the enslaved farmer, right? You have another on contracts, which, the entire bill is about written agreements but nowhere mandates written contracts, it does not mandate things in writing, it makes that voluntary. And you have one on essential commodities, which simply legalises hoarding by removing any stocking limits by very big people.

Now, the first thing, the idea that the APMC is controlling everything, it’s so stupid, simply because the bulk of transaction of marketable surplus and agriculture have always been outside the gates of APMC; most farmers – the vast majority, it varies region by region, but an incredible percentage of farmers – park their produce at the farm gate because they’ve already got ‘pre-contracts’, unwritten contracts with sahukars, with commission agents, with big creditors, so they’re anyway releasing there; they haven’t realised even the MSP that is possible at the APMC.

So, in fact, what we’re doing with this agreement, with this law, is that we are exponentially expanding the reality of non-state monopolies. So, if 98% of transactions were taking place in the APMC and you say I want to break that… you know, just check how many farmers actually access MSP, how many of them are able to, because you’ve not been able to break farm indebtedness, you’ve not been able to break the hold of private profiteers over farm produce. Most farmers do not control the price of their produce anyway.

See now, please know where this comes from, it’s not different from other sectors, it’s an ideological progression, it was there from 1991 onwards with various bumps; if it hasn’t come this far yet, it’s because of resistance from the farmers. It’s interesting, also, that lakhs of farmers are resisting what we’re being told is the best thing ever to happen to them – that’s another thing.

The third thing is that it’s been done before. Here, I’m sitting in Maharashtra, not very far off is the Vashi APMC, where precisely this model was brought in years ago by a Congress government and, you have, clipping the wings of the APMC and saying it’s powers are within so many square yards – what was the purpose? The purpose was that it will bring large numbers of private markets, corporations will invest – open up private markets and there will be competition. The Indian corporate sector doesn’t at all relish the idea of any competition. When it gets public assets from the government, it wants those neatly wrapped – gift-wrapped – and delivered at their doorstep by Amazon.

So, nothing happened in Vashi, we opened this model APMC and nothing happened: no proliferation of private markets. Bihar, which they are all citing as a great example, did not even adopt the law. And there has been no great profusion of private markets offering better prices either, where? Kerala has never had an APMC, but there are no private markets. I mean, there are no giant corporate chains which have offered alternatives.

Sorry, just wanted to interrupt the point on APMC but please go ahead.

The other thing was the idea that you’re going to get great prices. You know, I’m saying that the ideological, philosophical basis of this is both, the most discredited idea of the last 20 years and a very simple alluring one which is, ‘Free market is freedom and state support for the poorest of its citizens is slavery.’ That’s what it is. ‘Free market is freedom’ – now, you ought to look, Mitali, at how that’s worked in other sectors like health, you’re racing to be the worst country on the planet in the pandemic. 90-98,000 cases a day, passed five million infections, and your figures – absolutely everyone, including those putting them out – know are gross underestimates and distortions. Your Rapid Antigen Tests, which are faulty, are far greater in number than your RT-PCR test, and I’m sitting in Mumbai – within five-minutes walking distance, and within a five-minute drive of three five-star hospitals – this is the corporate sector offering you prices and choice, no one will you get a COVID-19 test below Rs 6,500, probably more like Rs 10,000.

Now, in the corporate sector, where we did all these things in the health sector, released it, liberated it, yeah? In the last budget, this government; this government, in the last budget, put up district hospitals for private management – district-level hospitals, the hospitals that you in the district headquarters, that level. Now, your model, which is completely an emulation of what’s happening in the US, is producing worse results because you’re people are poorer and more vulnerable.

So, this is the idea of ‘free market is freedom’. Now, just note that advanced capitalist countries – Ireland, Spain – within the first week of the pandemic, what did they do? Nationalised everything in the health sector – every private facility in the health sector was nationalised. What did we do? It took two months before the Delhi government merely requested the corporate sector to lend it so many percentage of beds, before the Maharashtra government said 80% of beds have to be used for this. That’s the difference.

So, you’re not seeing something, Your philosophy here (farm Bills) is not very different from the philosophy (of the health sector). You can apply it to the education sector also.

Farmers on tractors during ‘Kisan Aakrosh Rally’ from Chandigarh organized by Punjab Youth Congress over the farm Bills, in New Delhi, September 20, 2020. Photo: PTI

I just want to finish up this point about APMC, Sainath, because, I think, what people don’t understand are the consequences of it. So, from what you pointed out – one, there is the fear of an oligopoly where large corporates come in and basically knock down prices to a point – it just doesn’t make sense for farmers. And second, as you said, the experience of Bihar itself, where private mandis were set up but, instead of stabilisation, there was intense price volatility, it was a one-two punch for the farmers, was it not?

In this last month, in Maharashtra, let’s take something that happens entirely outside APMCs. Let’s take the milk trade. Now, the milk trade, there are bulk buyers, it’s all private. There may be one state actor in it but the bulk buyers benefit largely from it. At the beginning of the pandemic, in my locality – where I am in Mumbai – we were paying Rs 48, say, for cow milk a litre and up to Rs 60 a litre for buffalo milk.

Now, on that cow milk of Rs 48 a litre, the farmer in Maharashtra was getting Rs 30. And that was after major struggles by farmers, after very major agitations by farmers in 2018-2019, the farmer was getting Rs 30 on a final sale price of Rs 48. Within a month of the lockdown, we are still paying the same price – between Rs 48 and Rs 60, cow milk to buffalo milk – and the farmer, from April, was getting only Rs 17, where it used to be Rs 30 a month before the pandemic.

There was no APMC holding the farmer prisoner, there was no APMC depressing this price. The APMCs are extremely flawed structures, that is an entirely different conversation. But, here is this transaction, done entirely in the private space, where the farmer has lost almost 50% income, 45%, from Rs 30. And you saw on television, the few channels that cared to carry it, farmers’ protest in August where they were pouring milk on the streets. So, tell me how was the APMC the villain in that? The second, again I repeat, while the bulk of transactions is outside the APMC anyway, and then you’re saying, “Oh no, the APMC will be there.” Sure, it’ll be there, like your government schools are there in the education sector – you’ve done nothing to improve them, you’ve done everything to facilitate the private sector takeover of education, and today you face a situation where your children are moving. We used to speak of a digital divide, now we need to speak of a digital partition. Your poor children are completely ruined out of the education process.

Again I’m saying, don’t abstract the farm Bills from the same philosophy that has been functioning for 28 years, causing incredible damage. Just take, again, education – in the last few months, the value of a corporate called BYJU’s has doubled, in twelve months from Rs 5.5 billion to Rs 10.5 billion. Most of the growth has come under the pandemic.

Now, what happens to the millions and millions, think particularly of girl schoolchildren, how many girls in the country below 15 own smartphones? I can tell you for your sake, for Bengal I could tell you – it’s, you know, almost non-existent. In Maharashtra, especially when it comes to girls, they have to wait for their brother, 17 years old, working in a brick kiln, to come home on Saturday, Sunday, to use his phone to download the PDFs. And they have to pay higher packages, because the normal package, the cheapest package they have, is Rs 200 for 2 GB a day. Now, if they want more and they want to download all their textbook material, their PDFs, their learning, their classes, they’re going to have to change that package upwards when they are not having any income, when the entire family’s sitting without any income.

How is it, then, that the corporate sector, which delivers us this misery in health and education, is somehow going to deliver Valhalla or Shangri-La in agriculture?

Let me tick the second bone of contention, then, within this entire farm construct, Sainath, which is the MSP issue, where the prime minister goes on record to say the government will still pay an MSP but it’s only the government that continues to pay it. I want to, sort of, layer this question also with the data that is available where, you know, according to the Shanta Kumar committee, there’s less than 6% farmers who get MSP in India. So is this the sole reason that all of Punjab and Haryana is out on the streets?

No, I think that this is an immediate provocation but there’s a hell of a lot more. They’re worried about the APMCs and the assured price. Now here, Mitali, you’re looking at the Shanta Kumar commission but after the Shanta Kumar commission, there is something called the Swaminathan Commission, which is a far more representative body. Because it was not Mr Swaminathan’s commission, it was the National Commission of Farmers chaired by the distinguished agro-scientist Dr M.S. Swaminathan.

And here, just let’s look at the prime minister’s credentials on the subject. Have a quick recap of the last six years on MSP. I don’t know how many times I have repeated myself on this, you see the thing is that, also, the government and the establishment – because it’s not just the government – they are calculating on the ignorance and vested interests of the media and, unfortunately, it’s a sound calculation.

What did they actually do? You have to judge someone by what they actually did. 2014, before the election, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the NDA promised, within 12 months, some of the speeches said within 1 month, we will implement the major recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission including, and especially, COP2+50%. The Swaminathan Commission had a very specific measure of the cost of production, which was ‘comprehensive cost of production’. They said we will implement this Swaminathan Commission recommendation on the cost of production and MSP within 12 months.

What did they do within those 12 months? They filed an affidavit in the courts saying this is not feasible, we cannot do it because it would lead to distortion of market prices. The very people who’ve come to power on that promise, who got millions on farmers’ votes on that promise, filed an affidavit in the courts saying, ‘Hey, we can’t do this.’ Distorting farmers’ lives that’s immaterial, how can they distort market prices? Can’t distort the market prices. That’s 2015.

In 2016, Radha Mohan Singh, then agriculture minister – by the way, who takes these decisions, makes them? Most of the ministers in your cabinet are faceless, find me how many editors can name the current agriculture minister. The other day, on a big TV channel, the BJP spokesperson could not name the agriculture minister. He could only name Radha Mohan Singh, the ex-agriculture minister. He could not name [Narendra Singh] Tomar, okay? These are such non-descript, non-entities, almost non-existent in political realms.

Union agricultural minister Narendra Singh Tomar. Photo: Twitter/@nstomar

So, 2014, “In twelve months we will implement Swaminathan’s recommendation.” 2015, “We can’t do it it’ll distort market prices,” affidavit in court. 2016, Radha Mohan Singh says, “We never made any such promise.” 2017, Radha Mohan Singh says, “Forget about this damn Swaminathan Commission stuff, please look at Madhya Pradesh, Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s model is way ahead of Swaminathan.” We know that the result for the Madhya Pradesh election after that, I won’t go into that. And, by the way, around the time they made all these pronouncements about Madhya Pradesh and held a function at the IIC to inaugurate someone’s book, one of those leading intellectuals who praised the Madhya Pradesh model among other things, that was the week five farmers were shot dead in Mandausar.

2018-19 budget speeches, please read Arun Jaitley’s budget speech, especially the last one he gave – the Finance Bill speech, paragraphs 13 and 14, I’m saving you the time. Now, ’14 you said implement in twelve months, ’15 you said can’t, ’16 you said irrelevant, never made a promise, ’17 you said, they’re ahead in Madhya Pradesh; ’18-19, the budget speech tells you, we have, in fact, already implemented the Swaminathan Commission, Jaitley’s last speech [paragraph] 13-14. “We have already implemented it in the rabi crop and are preparing to do so for the Kharif crop.”

Now, in 2020, on the floor of the parliament, your current nameless agriculture minister, Tomar, whose name no editors and anchors seem to know – and quite legitimately so – because he’s so unimportant. He said, when all the melee is on, he says, “We are the only party that implemented the Swaminathan Commission report, we are the only people who stood by that recommendation, we are the people who gave MSP.”

The trick here, as it was from 2017, was in the definition of ‘cost of production’. There are different forms of analysing the cost of production. A2, is just the import cost, nothing else; just what it costs for you to buy your pesticides, your seeds, your fertiliser. Another form, marginally better, A2+FL – A2 plus farm labour. The Swaminathan Commission never, ever advised these two; it spoke about COP2+50% comprehensive cost of production – it included farm labour, it included all the other non-recurring and, rentals on land, all those other factors.

Now between A2 and COP2+50%, you can get a difference of Rs 800 per quintal! Rs 500 more than A2+FL, which the government did half-heartedly implement and which was the basis for Jaitley’s claims in the budget speech.

So, I’m saying that all the nonsense about – and, of course, yes a very tiny per cent of farmers are able to access the MSP. That’s why, I’ve always said please check the record, not only as a journalist but as someone who participates in the Nation for Farmers forum, that there are several demands, several issues to be sorted out but you don’t take away what exists. You know, what we’re saying about the APMC or MSP is, “The man is sick, kill him.” Whereas, make that available to us. Now, what do the farmers want? The farmers are seeking assured price and stability, right? What are you imposing on them? Mad fluctuations, like the price of milk – from Rs 30 to rs 17 in thirteen days, so where is all this stuff about the APMC going?

Now, what do I think will happen? See, what they have is a very clear pro-corporate intent. It may not actually materialise that way as they think. It may just materialise in devastating chaos in which middle-men will wring an even harder grip, because many more farmers will be deprived of that access which they have. The number of farmers stuck to private transactions without any intervention will be greater. You know, the thing is, if the Vashi example is anything to go by, nobody’s going to come rushing in unless they are given everything on a platter.

Farmers protest against the passage of new farm Bills in Bengaluru, September 22, 2020. Photo: PTI

And in the past as well, Sainath, I think it’s been amply clear that the government has always chosen the consumer over the farmer. In a sense, I suppose, the MSP is actually an embodiment of the distrust that exists between the two parties. But, as you pointed out, it’s not the first time the farmers have come out in protest – we saw them walking the streets of Mumbai, we saw the milk protests, and now we’re seeing them in Punjab and Haryana in greater numbers and spreading to the south as well.

But, candidly speaking, what do you think will come of this? At this point it looks like by sheer bulk of majority, it’s going to go through – perhaps the third Bill as well – do you expect the government retrace on this? There was a suggestion of, you know, inserting that one line saying that MSP will continue, as mandated by law for any treaty. Do you think they will insert that one line, or does it look unlikely?

You know, since this government is so capable of forcefully ramming things straight, it is entirely capable of putting up two Bills, already existing as private member Bills, one on guaranteeing the minimum [support] price and the other on abolition of farm indebtedness. It could do both these, if it wanted to.

Mitali, I differ on one formulation that the government has always favoured the consumer. No, that’s not correct. It has favoured the corporate world. The consumer – please, please don’t forget that 140 million Indian farmers, out of whom 95 million full-time farmers in the 2011 census, the main cultivators – they are also consumers. Over 70% of Indian farmers, Mitali, are net purchasers of food grain on the market.

So, high food prices are not going to benefit them as these guys say, high food prices are going to really hurt the farmer; Also, I think you also have to place this in the context of COVID-19 and the pandemic and what it shows you about the society we are, the kind of cruelty, the kind of inequality, the glorification of inequality, and, you know, a celebration of inequality that is part of our social setup.

When on March 26, as Nirmala Sitharaman spoke, I wrote a piece in The Wire – which we also carried on PARI – where I said, I’m appealing that now that every Indian farmer, in this season, for the coming Kharif season, should shift to food crops. Because I was terrified, and still am, at the implications for food security of that 70% of farmers, many of whom in the last 25-30 years have been bullied, coerced, coaxed, into shifting to much riskier, much more expensive cash crops.

Now, they’ve produced a bumper harvest in rabi in the cash crop sector, many of them; we had a huge cotton output, a huge sugarcane output. Now, Mitali, across the world, incomes have collapsed, consumption has collapsed. Who’s going to buy? The ILO tells us that workers across the world have suffered a 60% fall in income. In Asia, Africa, Latin America, higher; in rural areas, I can assure you it is much higher.

And then the rabi crop itself, you see how growth numbers don’t reflect wellbeing, this is another simple fundamental philosophical point that free marketeers will never, ever bring themselves to accept, they can’t, their edifice collapses with that. So, what you’re now having in Maharashtra by the end of July, early August: 30 lakh quintals of unsold cotton, unsold lakhs of tonnes of sugarcane, and in the Kharif crop, many farmers, egged on by the state, have repeated that crop. So, now at the end of October, November, you’re going to be drowning in cotton and sugarcane. Where are you going to sell it? Who’s going to buy it?

Another wonderful feature of the farm Bills – a man can sell anywhere he wants. Wow! Again, free market as slavery – that’s what happened to tens of millions of labourers whom we today recognise as migrant labourers; they could sell their labour anywhere, who was taking their labour? Thirty years ago, people used to come to Mumbai and go to the mills, to the industrial sector. Today, they come to Mumbai and become your domestic servant and mine, right? So, same with the farmer. He’s going to be liberated, she’s going to be liberated! To go where, do what? Oh yeah, they can sell anywhere where they get a better price – can’t you just see that farmer in Kanyakumari hopping onto his bullock cart and dashing off into the sunset towards Madhya Pradesh, where he hears there’s a better price for paddy? You know who’s going to benefit from that.

I do want to address the migrant labour issue, Sainath, but before that, you have a much better finger on the pulse of what’s happening with rural activity and often the narrative is, it’s, sort of, shaped by elite media, where there’s a lot of talk about a huge revival in the rural economy, looking at the two-wheeler numbers, looking at the cement sales, the fact that rural is bucking the trend.

What is the situation on the ground, actually, for rural farmers? Because one also takes note of the fact that the NREGA numbers are the highest that they’ve ever been since 2006, so people are quite obviously desperate for some kind of work and some kind of living.

You said it yourself, the NREGA numbers reflect this desperation. They reflect despair, not a boom. When more than 20 million people have gone back. By the way, the government is saying it has no number son migrants and migrant deaths; firstly, the same government has given us a figure of nearly one crore migrants on just the Shramik trains, 91 lakhs between May 1 and May 26, and there are another five days in May.

Well, now Narendra Singh Tomar says that he’s collecting the data from state on migrant deaths so that’s the latest update.

But the Railways ministry gave us that data on May 27, and you reported it in The Wire and it was reported in the media generally, anywhere else. In the first 26 days of Shramik trains, remember, from March 25 to May 1, there were no trains, no Shramik Trains. At that time people walked and then people also took buses. You’re not looking at a figure one digit under two crores, okay? And could be much higher.

Also because we recognise as migrants, very wrongly in the media, someone who’s come from a village to a big city or a metro. There are many kinds of migrants, please, you know, if these guys would only read their damn census. There are rural to rural migrants. They are very large in number, very huge in number. There are millions of peasants in, say, Jharkhand and Bihar, who go to rural Punjab for the harvest. There are many who go within the state, without crossing a state boundary. They might go from Pudukkottai in Tamil Nadu to Thanjavur in Tamil Nadu for the brick making season. All these rural to rural migrations came to a grinding halt in the lockdown. Second, there are urban to urban migrations. There’s a tiny percentage of urban to rural migrations, it exists, it’s not large. But there are many kinds of migrations and there are many kinds of migrants.

The most vulnerable migrants are those whom the census cannot record and the census commissioner – registrar general – has told you in the past, in a story which I reported in The Hindu, that the census does not capture properly, short-term and footloose migration. The most vulnerable migrants in the country are those we call ‘footloose migrants’, those who are just moving without any clear destination or final destination. They will come from Kalahandi – you know, if you ask them on the train, “Where you’re going?” they’ll say Mumbai – they will come maybe to Sandhiv, they will work there 90 days on a bridge project. Then the guy will tell his brother-in-law might offer them another 45 days on a building project in Mumbai. They are moving constantly, constantly. There is a life of permanent insecurity and movement. High insecurity, low income, no facilities, no stature. Your recorded migrants under the Inter-state Migrants Act is a grand total of 85,000. Okay? In the country, that’s what the data shows. So we’re right in one level in saying that there’s no data but the census shows us that the movement of Indians between 2001 and 2011 is the highest in human history.

So, in the media, Mitali, we all ask these question, “Oh, why are they going back to their villages? You know, we’re all such lovely people here how could they possibly think of leaving us?” The question the media should have asked: Why did they leave their villages in the first place to come here? And that was something called the agrarian crisis, which the media chooses to underplay, ignore, until it cannot.

Now, you were asking me about the larger picture in the rural area, what is rural distress? Rural distress is not just about agriculture. How many journalists, how many anchors, editors even know which is the biggest sector of employment after agriculture? It isn’t IT, it isn’t hi-tech, it is handicrafts and handlooms. The handlooms plus handicrafts sector is the biggest employer in your country [after agriculture]. You can check the handloom census and you can also look at what has come out of the Craft Council over the last 20-30 years. They are the biggest employer of Indians after agriculture.

Now, these are what also are known: the weavers, potters, crafts makers, craftspeople. These are allied occupations of agriculture. When agriculture tanks, they are dead. You know, if you look at the farm suicides, you’ll find, in many parts of this country, farmer suicides were preceded by weaver suicides. In Pochampalli, for instance. In the old Andhra Pradesh, Pochampalli, you had weavers dying by suicide. Why? When the farmers went bankrupt, the weavers lost their market. Their first market was lost. These are allied professions.

Mostly, the media does not even appreciate the difference between the agriculture economy and agrarian economy. Agrarian economy is much larger, it includes your allied occupation. Your carpenters, weavers, potters, honey-hunters, fisherman – all those people are in your agrarian economy. The agrarian society is that larger section which is dependent on agriculture. So, if the economy of agriculture tanks, they are finished.

For 30 years, by design, we went after and smashed that economy. What was the idea then, Mitali? We have to liberate people from agriculture, from the drudgery of agriculture and they could go and freely choose jobs wherever they wanted. They could go and enter CISCO or Infosys. Yeah, actually some of them did enter Infosys. You’ll find them in the canteen. Farmers from Mandya who are handing out chai or whatever, you’ll find them in the canteens of some of these hi-tech institutions.

So, the vision 2020 plan of, say Chandrababu Naidu, on the first two pages, envisaged getting 40% of people out of agriculture, right? So, we got many people out of agriculture. Between 1991 census and 2011 census, the number of full-time farmers in this country fell by 15 million. That’s, on an average, 2000 per day quitting agriculture as full-time farmers.

When the pandemic came and the lockdown came, people were making their way back to the villages, looking for those livelihoods which India had spent the last 25 years killing.

Migrants head to board buses to catch a Shramik Special train to Bilaspur in Chhattisgarh from Gurugram, June 14, 2020. Photo: PTI

One final question to you, Sainath, because we sort of lived through this in the demonetisation period as well and you mentioned, you know, in our conversation that this MSP issue is almost like an immediate catalyst because of which farmers are now on the roads protesting. What do you feel might be the political consequences of this, these three Bills which are now seeing nation-wide protests, not just within the northern belt, what do you think might be the political consequences that these go through?

I think the immediate consequences and the medium-term consequences are chaos. You will be breaking something. A vacuum is created, into which the structures that you expect to come may not come. Secondly, let me clarify, the MSP may be a trigger for discontent, but it is an important thing in itself. There is a huge surge for stability in the farming community. They’ve been subjected to such fluctuations. See, the farmer is one person who never gets to set the price on his or her commodity, somebody else does that. And they are subjected to murderous fluctuations of prices.

Vanilla once sold in 2003, 2002 for Rs 4,000 per kg in Kerala, one-and-a-half years, two seasons, later, it was selling at Rs 68 a kilogram. You read every year, you cover it in The Wire every year, the devastating fluctuations of onion prices in Lasalgaon. That insecurity we have condemned them to, we have now tried to institutionalise it, removing the few institutional supports. Now, saying that those will be there, they will be there as lame duck institutions. They will be there, and they will reach and serve fewer people.

So, what are the political consequences? I think the fact is that the most major force after the BJP is opposing an action without differentiating themself from the basic philosophy of that action. The UPA also did this. You know, have they learned a lesson from the pandemic? What did COVID-19 do for you? It did a complete and thorough 100% autopsy on the society you are, on neoliberalism, on capitalist development under neoliberal capitalism; every nerve, sinew, bone, artery, vein is on display where it’s very ugly, including the maggots.

Now, you still have the Congress MP supporting the privatisation of the Thiruvananthapuram airport when every single political party in Kerala that matters in the state has opposed it. So you want me to oppose one action but not oppose the philosophy that those policies came from? That’s why I’ve said often, the UPA was the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. The NDA is the gang that can’t stop shooting. Every direction, everywhere, anything it can hit.

One thing, Mitali, I think I should have done better justice for one point, which is, what could be the outcomes politically? It’s astonishing me that despite the pandemic, that despite the fears of infection, despite that, lakhs of farmers have been coming on the streets on one issue or the other, not just MSP. The price of milk was one issue, MSP is another, farm debt is going to be another. I think you’re going to see very, very major discontent explored in the farming community.

First published by The Wire on 23 Sep. 2020

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Story Tags: dairy farming, farmer, farm, farming, unemployment, livelihoods, politics, political, secure livelihoods, exploitation, agriculture, economic security, craft, rural, rural economy, policy, milk, lockdown, women empowerment, youth, gender

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