Loss of control over state governments in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chattisgarh has sent alarm bells ringing within the leadership of BJP. The Modi Government is desperately looking for some way to pacify the peasants before the 2019 Lok Sabha elections.
On 27th December, 2018, a three-hour-long meeting is reported to have taken place, attended by Prime Minister Modi, Finance Minister Jaitley, BJP President Amit Shah and Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh. They reportedly reviewed various kinds of so-called relief packages for farmers. They discussed ways to counter the propaganda of the Congress Party, which has announced farm loan waivers in all the three states where it has recently formed new governments
One of the proposals being considered by the BJP is a “Basic Income Transfer” scheme, targeted at those who own cultivable land. Such a scheme has been operating in Telengana for some time, with Rs. 4000 per acre per year being transferred by cheque to all those who own cultivable land.
Before one can come to a correct assessment of these alternative sops being offered by the rival parties running the central and state governments, it is necessary to understand why crores of peasants in our country are in such great distress. Why are they sinking deeper and deeper into debt, and being driven to suicide?
Apart from weather shocks and lack of adequate public investment in irrigation, peasants are suffering due to a rapid rise in input costs and falling prices offered for their produce. Even when they produce a bumper crop, their incomes have fallen because of drastic fall in the prices they receive. The demand for stable and remunerative procurement prices has become the most widespread common demand being raised by peasant organisations from all parts of the country.
The vast majority of peasants have neither storage facilities nor the staying power to wait until they get a fair price. They sell their produce soon after harvest, accepting whatever price they can get. That is precisely the time when the market is flooded with products. Private traders, headed by Indian and foreign capitalist companies, take advantage of this situation, so as to procure agricultural products at the lowest possible price.
For some of the crops, there are officially announced “Minimum Support Prices”. However, the announcement of an MSP is of no help to the peasants when the government does not organise procurement at those prices. Peasants are faced with prices way below the MSP most of the time. They receive prices which do not even cover the costs they have incurred in the production process.
In the past, the Government of India had a policy of public procurement of wheat and rice, from selected regions in the country. State governments did not spend any significant amounts of their budgets on crop procurement. Over the years, agricultural production has diversified, with the expansion of numerous cash crops, for Indian and foreign markets. Instead of expanding the coverage of public procurement, government policy has been in the opposite direction over the past 25 years or so. Governments at the centre and in the states have been implementing the program of trade liberalisation, which is a program to wreck even the limited extent of public procurement that has existed so far.
The agenda of trade liberalisation is aimed at expanding the space for private capitalist companies to directly purchase from the peasants, at any price they please. They offer legal contracts, knowing well that peasants do not have the capacity to wage long legal battles with capitalist companies.
Both the BJP and the Congress Party, when in charge of government, claim that there is no alternative to market orientation of the economy. What this means is that the State must not intervene in the market. It must not get in the way of the capitalists who want to reap maximum profits from trade in agricultural products.
Being committed to serve the monopoly capitalists, neither the BJP nor the Congress Party have any intention or the capacity to guaranteed secure livelihood to those who cultivate the land and feed the nation. They are trying to pacify the peasants and deceive them with one kind of sop or another.
The idea of an income transfer scheme is a gross insult to the peasants of our country. Our peasants are hardworking people who are demanding that their efforts be rewarded at a reasonable price. They are not begging for favours or handouts from the government.