Tuesday’s meeting of the National Development Council (NDC), which is expected to unveil a revival package for the agriculture sector, comes in the background of what one political analyst sees as significant learnings from recent state elections on the link between political fortunes and a focus on agriculture.
According to Mahesh Rangarajan, a political analyst, the Congress, which lost the recent Punjab election, won all but four-five seats in the Malwa region, usually a stronghold of the Akali Dal, a rival party, because it promoted the use of high-yield Bt cotton and raised the minimum support price of cotton. Rangarajan also claims the Samajwadi Party, which lost the election in Uttar Pradesh, won most of its 97 seats in areas where farmers grew sugar cane for similar reasons.
If the government does something for agriculture, said B.G. Verghese, a senior analyst at the Centre for Policy Research, it could benefit by being seen to be doing something about the sector that provides livelihood to 60% of the country’s population, and accounts for a little less than one-fifth of India’s economy. In recent months, farmer groups have opposed the Centre’s showpiece special economic zones initiative, which requires large-scale acquisition of land.
Yoginder K. Alagh, a former member of the Planning Commission, said the sector faced two main constraints—paucity of land and water. Neither can be fixed in the next two years, he said. The UPA government has two more years in office.
Prithviraj Chavan, minister of state in the Prime Minister’s office, said any push to agriculture should not be seen in the narrow political sense. “Agriculture is in crisis. Per capita demand is growing, while availability is going down. The government has to take all possible steps (to address this),” he added.
The opposition doesn’t think so. The paradox of UPA’s policies, said Rajiv Pratap Rudy, a Bharatiya Janata Party spokesperson, was that both the food producer and the consumer were unhappy with the government. The consumer was being forced to pay more, but the producer wasn’t getting higher prices.
Shrinking area, rising output (Graphic)