It’s All In The Mind, Silly!
Last week, the national president of the BJP, Nitin Gadkari, mentioned the need for farmers in Vidarbha to change their mindset in order to improve their condition. Speaking at a “gathering of farmers and experts” in Nagpur, he exhorted farmers not to “allow the thought of suicide overcome them…The scenario will not change unless we forsake negative thoughts” (Quoted from The Indian Express)
Among the media outlets which chose to report Gadkari’s musings, none bothered to reflect on what the BJP president was saying, much less analyse the basis of his diagnosis. But we’ll get to that, later.
Gadkari, surely, is not the first person to talk about the “mindset” problems of farmers who think of or commit suicide. He has august company in the form of the Union Minister of Science and Technology and Minister of Earth Sciences, Vilasrao Deshmukh, and spiritual guru, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.
Back in 2006, Deshmukh, the-then chief minister of Maharashtra of which Vidarbha is a part, spoke of this same mindset problem and approached Sri Sri Ravishankar’s Art of Living to conduct courses among farmers in the region. Thus was born the Art of Living’s ‘Project Vidarbha-Swavalamban Program’. The programme, running across the six districts of Amravati, Wardha, Yeotmal, Washim, Akola, Buldhana teaches farmers to “combat depression and fear” through the Sudarshan Kriya and other tools. After six years in the running, it is arguable how much difference this “positive mindset” has made since suicides continue unabated in the region – as a glance at NCRB figures will reflect.
So why would Gadkari, among the flag bearers of the Opposition’s attack on the Central Government’s policy paralysis, resurrect this gem of an idea now? Only to mount a fresh fairytale on it, it seems.
The media houses which reported on Gadkari’s comments did mention that he was addressing farmers at a programme entitled ‘Vision Israel Mission Vidarbha’, organised by his Purti Group and Agrovision, his annual forum for agricultural exhibition to share the Israel experience. The mindset argument was the baseline for Gadkari to launch into a tirade about how farmers in Vidarbha should learn from the Israeli experience and use technology to improve agriculture. “Israel is the size of three Vidarbha districts put together. But it exports more agricultural produce than whole of India. That too when most of its land is desert and it has poor rainfall of 6 inches as compared to 40 inches that we get here”, he is reported to have said.
Not one of the reporters or sub-editors bothered to check the basis of Gadkari’s analogy. Sure, Israel has made “huge” advances in R&D in agriculture. But the kind of agriculture which Gadkari was advocating – heavily mechanised, involving high-end technological knowhow, expensive irrigation systems and heavy inputs – is affordable to big farmers with access to deep pockets and huge pools of money. Not to small and marginal farmers who constitute the majority in Vidarbha.
For the record, Israel’s interest in the Indian agricultural sector is not new. A furtive search on the internet will reveal how Israel’s Foreign Ministry is involved in entering into partnerships with different states revolving on the transfer of technological knowhow in agriculture. It is in the process of establishing 28 “centres for excellence (across eight states) to transfer technological know-how and agricultural skills to Indian farmers”. The first of these centres came up in Haryana in 2011, and has been described as a “major coup” by the foreign ministry’s representative because “farmers are very traditional”.
What Israel sees in India is a largely untapped market – and therefore a huge opportunity to sell their wares. It’s the very same thing that is at the core of Gadkari’s exhortation to Vidarbha farmers. If not sell more products on behalf of Israeli business houses, the partnership with Israel – prized ally of the right wing – enhances Gadkari’s powerful position in the political landscape by a few notches.
Gadkari heads the Purti group which was the organiser of the four-day conference where the BJP President made the comments. The ‘agri-and rural-economy centred summit’ offered an opportunity to farmers to learn about “the new technologies, innovative methods to increase the farm yield…bridge the knowledge gaps, see the products or exhibit the products…”.(http://www.agrovisionindia.in/
But was the conference really about farmers’ interests? The presence of a handful of seed and irrigation companies including biotech giants like Mahyco, Syngenta, NSL Seeds and United Phosphorus among its sponsors should dispel any notions of welfare associated with the event. Surely, the counter-narrative of the devastating distress which these companies are accused of having perpetuated was not inaccessible to the journalists. Yet, among all the reports that spoke about Gadkari’s comments, not a word was mentioned about who propped him up on that dais in the first place. Incidentally, the conference was also backed by the Ministry of Earth Sciences, headed by Gadkari’s comrade-in-arms in the farmers-mindset-is-to-blame paradigm, Vilasrao Deshmukh.
One might have expected media outlets reporting on the issue to examine Gadkari’s claim of adopting Israeli methods on another front. According to the website of Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, about three quarters of the land under cultivation in the country is communally-owned and-managed. This means that the average landholding being brought under technology-intensive cultivation there is far bigger than the average landholding in India, where communal ownership/management and cooperatives are a departure from the norm. The difference in the size of average landholding makes the capital-intensive model of agriculture which Gadkari was advocating entirely unsuitable in our scenario.
If one still has any doubts on where Gadkari stands on the issue, one only needs to look at the latest offering from his Purti Group, glimpsed in a separate news story published on the same day. A solar-water pump for Rs 5 lakh. Gadkari mentioned that this pump will be available to farmers for Rs 2.5 lakh after deducting Purti Group’s subsidy of Rs 1 lakh and the government subsidy of Rs 1.5 lakh. Only Rs 2.5 lakh! (http://www.indianexpress.com/news/vidarbha-farmers-should-change-mindset-gadkari/972933/).
Can a small or marginal farmer afford that kind of money?
CLARIFICATION: The article given above is based on certain quotes attributed to Nitin Gadkari and his advice to farmers in Vidarbha.
To support this, a video link to a speech was sent to us as well as links to articles published in The Times Of India, The Indian Express and DNA. The links to all are given alongside the article, as well as below.
Newslaundry has watched the speech in toto and in this specific video link – http://www.youtube.com/watch?
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