Wednesday, May 27, 2009


Sudeep Chakravarthi author of Red Sun has a new blog called ChakraVIEW
The below post is from his blog

Why does Sharad Pawar still have his job?

I'll get to more of the new government later. Meanwhile, I have one question to ask of the newly elected Congress-led alliance of the United Progressive Alliance: why is Sharad Pawar being given the job of Minister for Agriculture?

Let me tell you a story which might help with the measure of the man.
Not all people, not even in Vidarbha -- India's rural suicide alley -- take their own lives as a reflection of becoming what banks call non-performing assets. Sometimes, they brutally fight back.

On 19 June 2006, still several days away from Manmohan Singh Mark One's visit to Vidarbha, a farmer, Vijay Thakre and his family with sticks and stones beat a moneylender and his associate to death in Pimpalgaon village of Akola district. For good measure, they hacked the moneylender with axes.

Thakre was quite angry, you see. The moneylender, Danode, had loaned Rs 50,000 to him after accepting in mortgage thirteen acres of land Thakre owned-a "medium" farmer. Thakre paid back Rs 300,000-six times the principal. But that wasn't enough for Danode, who took over Thakre's thirteen acres under mortgage. A local politician of the Shiv Sena, Gulabrao Gawande, led a public campaign to get Thakre back his land. But Danode, with the help of his associate Pramod Chanbhare, wouldn't have it.

Thakre wouldn't have it either. Neither would his family. So they did what they did.
Fortunately for the cause of visible peace, many other farmers of Vidarbha were simply content to wait for the prime minister, or die. They would wait, as their then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh, his deputy R.R. Patil, and even the then agriculture minister of India, Sharad Pawar -- also from Maharashtra -- had not bothered to once make even a show-visit to a hut of a farmer-family traumatized by debt and death. Indeed, the buzz in Delhi was that Minister Pawar, who then as now devoted a considerable part of his energies as president of the Board of Control for Cricket of India, was upset with suggestions offered by some officials at the Prime Minister's Office that he hadn't done enough as agriculture minister to sort out the problems of India's farmers in general, and Vidarbha's in particular. So, went the political-media scuttlebutt, Pawar wouldn't show up with the PM.

Better political sense would prevail. When the prime minister arrived on June 30, Pawar, who heads Congress' alliance partner Nationalist Congress Party as part of national government, would be seated to the left of the PM; Chief Minister Deshmukh to his right. Thus ensconced on a well-appointed dais in Amravati, golden curtains to the side, comfortably seated on designed chairs and with bottles of mineral water placed in front on shiny chrome and glass tables-with a banner at the back on plush purple backdrop that proudly proclaimed the PM's meeting with families of "Debt Stressed Farmers"-India's leaders would listen to three dozen pre-selected suicide-struck families.

The interaction would last an hour. "I am aware of your pain and sorrow," the Prime Minister would say, as several people, all in front of him, wiped their eyes. "I know the burden of your debt is like a millstone around your necks." Pawar did not bother with the blather.

He would leave with a promise of debt relief and partial solution even before he left Maharashtra from Nagpur later that day. The photo-op would be smooth-for the record, no one could say the prime minister of India didn't care about the people of India, and that, by extension, the chairperson of the UPA, Sonia Gandhi, didn't care, and so on. This connect was crucial PR.

Before he left for Delhi, Manmohan Singh announced a "crisis mitigation package" of Rs 37.5 billion for six districts of the Vidarbha region, mainly for providing credit to farmers. Both Pawar and Deshmukh took the credit for it. (Pawar would also take credit for the Rs 600 billion of loan waivers announced by then finance minister P. Chidambaram, primarily for farmers in suicide-prone and drought-prone areas; though not for the glitches of the scheme.)

It would hardly prove a salve for seven farmers, who would kill themselves within five days of the PM's departure. The announced package would come too late for them, being more than a month behind any credit they could have used for summer sowing, or kharif season.

By July, the rate of suicides would be quite dramatic: one farmer every five hours. (If it matters to you, more people die of farming-related suicides in a year in India than those that make the cut in Indian Institutes of Technology. And they are dying as you read this.)

By January 2007, Chief Minister Deshmukh would tell a major Indian newspaper, "Farmer suicides will be zero. This is my vision." Pawar made no such statements.

Perhaps both Pawar and Deshmukh should have listened closely to the Divisional Commissioner of Amravati, Sudhir Kumar Goyal, who speaks of farmers struggling for survival in a flawed system amidst adversity, without adequate help and proper guidance. He would urge policymakers to focus on low-cost farming with micro-watershed development. 'We allocate Rs 450 billion for irrigation on 15 per cent of cultivable area and only Rs 40 billion for watershed development on 85 per cent of the rain fed area. Hybrid food varieties do not yield seeds and fodder.' He would talk of the root causes of indebtedness, in a manner India's minister for agriculture and food, and the chief minister of Maharashtra, ought to have spoken: 'Wrong agricultural practices, unbridled market forces, and inadequate protection against the vagaries of nature.'

But Chief Minister Deshmukh would not talk about these issues in his interview. He would also play things down in his unabashed public relations outing, while inadvertently letting slip other disturbing data. That Maharashtra accounted for only 15 per cent of the one hundred thousand farmer suicides in India in recent years. He would play Vidarbha down further, as tender mercy. "Did you know," he would ask, "that in Mumbai 4,000 people commit suicide annually?"

The kinder, gentler, chief minister. Well, at least Deshmukh lost the position of chief minister after the terror attack on Mumbai in November 2009. Even his friend Pawar could not help him.

Meanwhile, Pawar remains directly responsible for the misery of a great many of India's farmers, and their ongoing deaths. In addition, he is directly responsible for the chaos and churn of India's food pricing and agriculture importation machinery that will affect the livelihood of millions of farmers at the cost of enriching food exporters of developed countries, and that great blight, middlemen and deal-sweetener specialists in India. Even with the pressures of coalition politics, why does this man still have his job?

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