Why Farmers Will Vote For Modi

Is there any good reason why the 833 million farmers who live in India should vote for Modi?

ByAnand Ranganathan
Why Farmers Will Vote For Modi
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I am a farmer, one of 833 million who live in this country. The general elections are here. My vote will decide who will be our next Prime Minister.

I know: 377 million of you are urban. You occupy the ministries and newspapers and news channels and all the rest of the things that you think run the world. Go ahead, occupy – we have no interest in all that. We occupy the earth.

We are poor and we are tired and we have been duped for long. Not anymore. My vote, and the vote of my 833 million brothers and sisters, will go to the person who has shown us results, not promises. My future is in my hand. Your future is in my hand. Thirty years from now, when your population breaches ours, perhaps then you will get to decide the fate of this country. But not yet, not now.

Have I made up my mind? No, not until I have pored over hard facts. People say to me: “Vote for Modi, vote for Modi, there’s a wave, there’s a wave!” But why should I listen to what people say? A wave is best suited to the seas. I intend to make my own mind, and only after I have seen facts – and not just any facts. I refuse to believe Modi. I will, instead, believe the people who hate him. That way no one can point a finger at me and say that I have been done in by tall claims. And if, in the end, I find that Modi has done nothing for people like us, then why would I vote for him? You can go ahead – be impressed by the way he dresses or the way he speaks, but that is of no interest to me. My vote is not for you – in your interest. My vote is in my interest. Get that.

The first thing I want is to find out is what Modi has done for farmers, and compare it with a similar population of a state that is not governed by Modi. Does that seem reasonable enough? I think so. Let us, then, compare Gujarat with Odisha. And, as promised, we will only use the data provided by the ruling UPA.

Gujarat has a rural population of 34,670,817, almost similar to Odisha’s 34,951,234. Their land area is also comparable: Gujarat – 196,024 sq km, Odisha – 155,707 sq km; as is their total population density: Gujarat – 308 per sq km, Odisha – 269. The number of people gainfully employed in agriculture in the two states is similar, too: Gujarat – 12.1 million, Odisha – 10.1 million. Finally, according to the latest Agricultural Census of India report, Gujarat has 4,738 operational holdings, i.e. farmlands, while the figure for Odisha is a close 4,667. We will not look at the GDP figures of these states, although Gujarat’s is higher. The gross produce of a state includes so much else apart from agriculture and I am interested only in agriculture, nothing else.

The share of agriculture in our economy is 14%. Yes, astonishing, isn’t it – 833 million people contribute only around a tenth of our total economic output. The agricultural growth rate is slated to be 3.6% for this coming year. Pitiful. But then we are able to irrigate only 35% of the total arable land. Sixty six years after independence, 833 million of us live on Indra’s mercy. That’s how much you city slickers have cared for us.

Gujarat, however, seems to be bucking the trend. While for India the 2005-12 average GDP growth rate in Agriculture Sector at constant 2004-05 prices is 4.12%, it is almost double, or 7.53% for Gujarat. Only Mizoram (10.85%), Arunachal Pradesh (9.55%), and Chhattisgarh (8.69%) boast of higher GDP growth rates. The figure for Odisha is 3.51%.

For sustainable irrigation we need electricity, not rainfall. Odisha’s Aggregate Technical and Commercial Losses of State Power Utilities (within State) AT&C losses for 2011 are 44.35%, Gujarat’s: 18.25%. The share of electricity consumption for agriculture for Gujarat is 25.74%. For Odisha it is a paltry 1.22%.

Rural connectivity is as important as rural productivity. Health, education, transport, justice – everything depends on it. Gujarat, with 80% rural road connectivity compared to Odisha’s 50% has 8127 unconnected habitations to Odisha’s 28,299. The Planning Commission says: Crucial role being played by Gujarat State Road Development Corporation in upgrading SRs using Central Government’s Viability Gap funding). PPP (Annuity) model adopted by Gujarat since strengthening/widening of SRs does generate a commercially viable return despite 40 per cent upfront subsidy and also an adoption of a plan scheme for land acquisition.

When you consider the average daily wage rate for five operations: ploughing, sowing, weeding, transplanting and harvesting, my brothers in Odisha (Rs. 123.96) are better off by almost 30 rupees as compared to those in Gujarat (Rs. 91.36). Now you might laugh at this figure of Rs 30, but intelligent planning commissioners stress this is more than the poverty line figure devised by them. There is a possibility that Gujarat employs more farm labour than Odisha – something that economists will tell you results in lower wages – but I don’t care for economists and their theories. I only look at what comes in my hand at the end of a long back-breaking day and if I am tilling Gujarati fields I get Rs 30 less.

Hygiene is important where we live although you people may not think so. Open fields, nice crisp air, sun acting as a disinfectant – no, this doesn’t wash. We need money to make toilets and the money can come either from the government or from our savings through increasing prosperity. The percentage of rural households with no latrine facilities is 67% in Gujarat, 85.9% in Odisha. These figures are shocking and there is little comfort in saying that Odisha is worse off than Gujarat. Millions of us shit in the open. This is something that we are ashamed of and so should you be.

Gujarat used 1733.06 thousand tonnes of fertiliser in 2011-12, or 155.60 kg/hectare. For Odisha the figures were 514.69 thousand tonnes and 56.52 kg/hectare. But agriculture is evolving constantly. We aren’t eating what our forefathers did; we aren’t cultivating the same crops either. It is a fact: Technology improves our lives. We need to grow crops that can’t be ravaged by pests. Right now Bt. cotton is the only genetically modified crop being cultivated in India. This has cut down insecticide usage by 50% and the productivity has increased by 30-60% over the past decade. We exported a record 129 lac bales of cotton worth Rs 21,000 crore last year with Gujarat contributing a major chunk. We need a leader who is not shy of using science for the benefit of agriculture. Either that or pay us for the insecticide that we use, and hospitalisation costs for the incurable diseases we suffer as a result. Even better, compensate us for our yearly crop losses. The United Progressive Alliance government report says: “The e-Krishi Kiran Programme implemented by the Government of Gujarat is an online program of technology transfer with an individual farm condition in focus. It helps making transfer of technology more scientific, precise, easy, and need based. The Soil Health Card System is a web based information system designed to run on internet and intranet (Gujarat State Wide Area Network). This is a repository of agricultural information for the benefit of farmers, agricultural scientists and decision makers. The Soil Health Card System is a unique information initiative of its kind for the benefit of farmers at the grass-root level”.

Gujarat has 4 agricultural universities (Junagarh, Sardarkrushinagar-Dantiwada, Anand, Navsari), Odisha only 1 (OUAT).

Around 35% of total land in Gujarat is arid or semi-arid, this in addition to 2,222,000 hectares being severely salinity-affected. For Odisha, the figure is less than one-tenth or 147,138 hectares. Despite this, Gujarat reported the second-highest yield of oilseed crops in 2011-12 (1608 kg/ha), having checked salinity ingress in its coastal areas and reclaimed almost 70,000 ha of land. It now grows 10% of our fruits, 6.4% of our vegetables, and 15% of our spices. Comparatively, Odisha produced 661 kg/ha of oilseeds.

Milk is a major produce of Gujarat, with 10,675 Milk Cooperative Societies having 2.2 million farmers, producing 6.1 million litres of milk every day compared to Odisha’s 0.26 million farmers and 0.42 million litres of milk.

The number of Kisan Credit Cards issued up to March 2012 for Gujarat were 3,563,064; for Odisha – 6,630,018. This is not to say that Odisha has provided almost twice as much credit to its farmers than Gujarat. But it cannot be denied that more credit cards do translate into more dole, and correspondingly more debt for the state exchequer. The Central Fund Release under Important Flagship Schemes as a percentage of total is 2.92% for Gujarat, 5.50% for Odisha while the FTNCA or Financial Transfers under Normal Central Assistance (Plan) is 3.601% for Gujarat, 5.287% for Odisha.

Irrigation is a critical issue for us. But before one cites the progress or lack thereof made by Gujarat on irrigation and water management, it is important to state one UPA government figure. Despite our best efforts, the all India figures for Conveyance Efficiency, On Farm Application Efficiency, and Overall Project Water Use Efficiency are 69%, 52%, and 38% respectively. What this means is that, howsoever big the dam, howsoever extensive the canal or irrigation system of any state, the water-use efficiency remains a pitiful 38%. There can be no worse indictment of the way we as a nation have managed this most precious of resources.

Gujarat has miles to go before it puts into place the canal network that can fetch Narmada water to its most drought-prone areas. While the total planned length of the canal network is 74,626 km, only 22,284.80 km canal construction has been completed in the last four decades. What has caught the attention of the world, though, is the solar panel topped canal project, initiated and completed on a small stretch of canal length. But small stretches of success might fill you urbanites with pride, they don’t irrigate our fields.

So what is Gujarat’s excuse? First, it blames the Central government for not raising the height of the Narmada dam adequately, and second, thorny land acquisition issues make canal construction arduous. Land acquisition is a national problem and as yet there are no clear-cut strategies. Compounding this is the fact that 76% of all displaced people in Gujarat are tribals. Odisha, on the other hand, has a defined re-settlement policy in place but the recent Posco debacle makes it clear that there are gaping holes that need to be addressed.

Meanwhile, Gujarat has done something spectacular. In the knowledge that it is much easier to acquire land for laying pipelines than for constructing canals, Gujarat has put in place a 700 km long water pipeline grid system. Or has it? Startlingly, there is no mention of this achievement in the national media. There is, of course, a Gujarati newspaper and a Gujarat government-sponsored video that describes how all this was made possible. But as I said, no figures and statistics shall be quoted from Modi’s Gujarat for this article. Well, unfortunately, there is hardly anything else to go by. There is one confirmation of the project, from a PR Newswire communiqué: “Mr. Freddy Svane, Ambassador of Denmark to India said that Gujarat was chosen due to the successful creation of unparalleled State Wide Water Grid that is the biggest of its kind in the world”. Then there is this Indian Express report quoting a Gujarat official as saying his state is now a water surplus state because of the grid. The best citation for the water grid completion that I could find was an indirect one: the court proceedings of a case where Gujarat admitted under oath the laying down of grid pipelines. It would be perjury if they are lying and so one must – for want of any other media report – believe this court document. In any case, as a farmer I must ask the question: why hasn’t our media covered this water grid that is so vital for us? The Danes have, but not us. The world’s biggest water grid remains unreported in mainstream Indian media. Meanwhile, Modi himself is lying. He says Gujarat irrigated 53 lac hectares of land last year while according to the Central Government, Gujarat irrigated not 53 but 56.18 lac hectares of land.

Technology, electricity, cooperatives, irrigation, bumper produce – all very good and commendable, but there is one crucial aspect where, much to our surprise, Narendra Modi has ditched us. FDI in retail and farming.

I fail to understand why a chief minister who believes in free-market enterprise would side with faux-socialists, quasi-anarchists, and neo-communists on this issue. Many say this is just political posturing, that Modi will listen to reason once he comes to power. To that I say: not good enough. It may very well be that the kirana-storewaala will put forth his view in I, Small Businessman, but this here is my space, space for 833 million farmers, and we are of one voice: FDI in retail and farming must be allowed. We can no longer take rampant corruption and gut-wrenching destruction of our produce at the hands of middlemen. Does Modi know that half of our total marketable farm produce goes under distress sale? There is only 1 market per 115 sq km, no farm infrastructure to talk of, no proper storage facilities – fact is we are being looted mercilessly while you urbanites wait and watch. We are backed by the Consortium of Indian Farmers Association, Bharat Krishak Samaj, and every other farmer body you can think of, and yet no one listens to us. Authoritative studies have reinforced the view that FDI in farming would only help us but it seems the nation is run not for those who make it run but for those who watch it run, aground.

Well, the time is right and the time is now. I have laid the facts before you, facts given by those who hate Modi, not by those who love him. Now it is up to my farmer brothers and sisters to read my words and press the button on the fateful day. Jai Kisan!

Author’s note: Next in the series: I, Doctor.

The author can be contacted at anand.icgeb@gmail.com and on Twitter @ARangarajan1972

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