When farmers vote as farmers, weavers as weavers, and agriculture labourers as agriculture labourers only, politicians will have to address them in that syntax rather than on the basis of region, religion or caste, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Varun Gandhi said in an interview. Gandhi, a member of Parliament (MP) from Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh, has come out with his new book, A Rural Manifesto: Realising India’s Future Through Her Villages recently. Edited excerpts:

What was the reason for including the word manifesto in the new book’s title, A Rural Manifesto?

The word manifesto is a demonstration of intent. It means not only do I look at these things in a purely academic manner but I intend to use this book as a platform for increasing consciousness within government and policy circles about what needs to be done. The book deals with the economic indicators that when breached leads to farmers’ suicides. We look at debt-to-asset ratio, access to water, access to energy, and crop loss patterns. When we have to help 500 million people, we must look at policy transformation.

Farmers marched to Delhi recently with demands of better crop prices and loan waivers. What do you think can be done to help them?

Our conversational tone about addressing the problem of farmer loans needs to change. India’s fiscal pundits seem to have a curious penchant for decrying the offering of fiscal sops, grants, right to food, and loan waiver to farmers while discounting those offered to industry. Let us be honest. The current non-performing assets (NPA) crisis is not because of farmers holding back payments.

When farmers vote as farmers, when weavers vote as weavers, when agriculture labourers vote as agriculture labourers only politicians have to address them in that syntax rather than as Patels, Jats, Hindus, on the basis of region, religion or caste.

The Union government has launched a crop insurance scheme, yet farmers continue to commit suicide. Why?

Today a farmer earns 2,400 per month per hectare on paddy and 2,600 per month per hectare of wheat while farm labourers who work on the same crop earn 4,500 per month. So the farmer is actually worse off than the labourer. Today 31% of the total rural household remains indebted with an average debt of 1.1 lakh. Obviously farmers suicide are happening because of indebtedness.

Between 2004 and 2011, 3 crore farmers gave up farming and in the five years before that, another 2 crore farmers gave up farming. Some statistics show that in the next 20 years, between 12 crore and 18 crore farmers will give up farming. If almost 35% of our agrarian population gives up farming, these people will not get stable jobs in tertiary sectors, which are seasonal jobs. This can make India’s food security situation very dire.

Some experts are of the view that loan waivers do not solve the problem of agrarian distress. What is your opinion?

Loan waiver is needed in terms of an emergency situation. It’s a short-term solution until we improve the credit culture, increase farmer incomes, agriculture productivity, increase in value chain. Till the time we do not look at all this, the solution cannot be viable to a very long extent. I support loan waiver as a short-term solution where there is economic desperation among farmers. I support loan waiver when there is dire need in that moment. However, when we look at the problem in a deeper manner, we need to focus on farmer incomes.