India was definitely on the world stage for the past few years though only a miniscule part of it was shining. Time and again, the democratically elected rulers of India have neglected the real India i.e. Bharat and paid the price for it. Like a true father, Gandhiji had realized this and he had repeatedly reminded the elected rulers that real India resides in her four lakh odd villages. But as it always happens, the power centers lie in the cities and once elected, most of our leaders forget their roots. The glamour and shine of cities make our leaders blind to the real problems of 75% of our population who make a livelihood on agriculture. We always tend to forget the simple fact that we can make no progress if a majority of us remain unaffected by our grandiose developmental efforts.
If India is to stay on course in its vision as a developed nation by 2020, the one and only option in front of it is to spend at least 50% of its budget every year on two vital sectors ie. Agriculture and Co-operatives. Spending in agriculture does not necessarily mean expending money directly on growing grains and crops. What is required is a clear and strong intervention in the lives of those who are really engaged in agriculture for a living. Families of small and medium Farmers make up half the population of India. Unless these families are involved in the development process the country cannot make any substantial progress, even if Chandrayaanis successful. Development in any society involves the social and economical aspect of its citizens. The poor families must not only have more income but their social status as Farmers must also go up. Ever since our liberation from the British, the social statuses of those who are involved in agriculture have declined drastically. This is more so in the case of small & medium Farmers who are involved in conventional cultivation of common products like rice, wheat, coconut, jute or sugar cane.
Agriculturalists and Farmers
The more upward mobile among Indian Farmers have already migrated to cash crops like rubber, spices, orchids etc., and they are the ones who are really enjoying the benefits meant for the Farmers. In fact most of them are no more Farmers but are running the show in a larger scale. They have designated themselves as Agriculturists (Farmer is a bit derogatory for them) and have hijacked most of the platforms meant for the poor Farmers. Subsidies and grants meant for the Farmers are being usurped by these Agriculturalists. The classical Indian Farmer remains as impoverished and helpless as he was fifty years ago. Perhaps his value has come down because of the adverse impact of globalization and liberalization. The consumers are no more dependent on him for any produce because of easy availability of packaged products in the nearby supermarket.
It is the small (and medium) Farmer and his family that should be the real target of any intervention by the state. Grants and subsidies, if any, are to be of benefit to such people for their economic and social uplift. There should be mechanisms to ensure a minimum income for each household so that education, food and healthcare of such families remain unaffected, even if the crop or its market fails. Giving loans from banks for agriculture purposes must be made easier and given priority. State must ensure irrigation and easy availability of fertilizers & pesticides at all the required places. A clear message about the importance of being a Farmer must be given out by the powers that be. In this context, the slogan of 'Jai Jawan Jai Kisan' by Lal Bahadur Shastri - our Prime Minister in mid sixties - was a highly imaginative one.
Success or failure of any subsidy (or Minimum Income Guarantee) program depends mainly on the entry and exit policy adopted for its target group. Any such program that is brought in to help the Farmers must have the following entry criteria:
' Only for those who are permanently resident in a village
' Only for those who cultivate a maximum of 5 acres of land
' Only for those who personally take part in farming activities
Given our highly established Panchayati Raj system of local governance, it would not be difficult at all to identify the appropriate recipients for any such subsidy program. The exit policy should also be equally applicable and those who breach any of the above criteria must be out of the scheme automatically. Under no circumstances should the so-called Agriculturalists be allowed to corner the benefits meant for the poor Farmers. If that can be ensured, a big chunk of our population will start shining in a matter of few years.
Farmers and Co-operatives
The best bet for success of any developmental efforts in the agricultural sector is to complement them with equally imaginative efforts in the co-operative sector. Development of co-operative sector has many benefits. For a secular country like India, there is no better option for involvement of all sections of the society in our developmental efforts. Co-operative sector of Indian economy had a spiritual content too when people like Vinobha were at its helm. Imagine a situation when all our schools, colleges and hospitals are working under the co-operative sector instead of the various community (or communal) organizations. Co-operative sector has inbuilt democracy and only those who can demonstrate their commitment & efficiency can survive in the co-operative elections. That is why we find that some of our better political leaders have come from the co-operative sector.
There is no better way to illustrate the potential efficacy of the co-operative sector in our social life than citing how a co-operative bank, instead of a regular commercial bank, could have prevented the recent suicide of a bright but poor Engineering student for want of tuition fees. It is true that there are guidelines in force in regular commercial banks regarding advancing of educational loans to all on personal guarantee. But the same commercial banks have also directed their managers to ensure the repayment capacity of those who opt for such loans. Then how is it possible for any manager to extend a loan to someone with no property of their own? Instead, if the co-operative bank in the area was entrusted with the task of providing the educational loans, the story would have been totally different. There is a distinct personal touch involved in the co-operative sector and the unfortunate girl could have easily managed the loan.
Nowadays most of the financial institutions in the co-operative sector are also run on purely commercial basis. It is here that the State intervention can make the difference. The grants, subsidies and aid meant for the poor Farmers must be channeled through the co-operative sector. Once there are enough resources in the sector in terms of money, there will be increased participation by the talented offspring of the poor Farmers and that will result in an all round development of the village. Panchayat Raj institutions and co-operative sector can bring about lot of positive changes in our rural areas. Human touch so inherent in these institutions can draw the poor farming community out of its reluctance to experiment if income guarantee schemes are properly in place.
Win Win Formula
Concentrating on the agricultural and co-operative sectors is a sure 'win and win again' formula for any ruling government in India. It is also a sure strategy to get over the anti-incumbency factor which has become so vital in Indian election scene nowadays. More the efforts spent on revamping these two sectors more will be the beneficiaries who will forever remain obliged to the ruling party that brought development to their own doorsteps. The first coalition that realize this simple fact will rule India for a long time to come.