BJP MP pens book on India’s rural society and economy, criticises river-linking project.
New Delhi: At a time when the farmers are up in arms and marching to Delhi from across the country, BJP MP Varun Gandhi will be releasing his book A Rural Manifesto: Realising India’s future through her villages.
On the issue of impact of rural distress on elections, Mr Gandhi said that “rural distress actually is a big electorate issue and strong rural performance has actually led to pro-incumbency in some cases.”
At the same time, he claimed that “farmers do not vote in a block. Personal identity is not a monolith, but a complex dissemination of various factors and thus remains subject to caste and religious considerations.”
Mr Gandhi linked farmers’ suicide to rural distress. “This is primarily because of rural distress. With the average land holding size decreasing and average input prices rising, the cost of cultivation has increased and with it, margins associated with farming have reduced.” He felt that the “situation is getting increasingly desperate with most farmers wishing that heir sons do not take up farming.”
Mr Gandhi claimed that “about 30.5 million peasants quit farming between 2004-05 and 2010-11 and the size of agricultural workforce is expected to shrink to ~200 million by 2020.” For him; “average growth in minimum support prices of kharif crops has been 4%, compared to the ~13-15% growth seen between 2010 and 2013.”
He argued that the rural indebtedness could be countered not merely by loan waivers but also by offering “greater subsidies on the purchase of agricultural equipment, fertilisers and pesticides.” He further argued that the “scope of MNREGA could be increased, allowing marginal farmers to be paid for tilling their own fields could reduce their input costs.”
Mr Gandhi also claimed that the “institutional will to execute reforms enabling better food delivery nationally has been mostly missing and India’s lopsided food policy has made cereals more widely available over other foods. “ He also said that “the low social status of women has kept them mostly ill-nourished, with open defecation and bad sanitation taking its toll.” Mr Gandhi said that “our budget needs to bolster a long term rural credit policy, offering flexibility for droughts and flooding events. Crop insurance, as proposed by the government, would be a welcome move to institutionalise the habit of insuring against market and weather volatility.”
He was also critical of river linking project. “The project would have large environmental costs, destroying a significant chunk of limited remaining high density forests, while leaving millions in need of rehabilitation.” According to him this project could “potentially strain our relationships with our riparian neighbours — Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan” — and cause untold social unrest due to forced resettlement of people.”
Asked many people in his constituency, Sultanpur might not even read his book, what was the purpose of writing it Mr Gandhi said: “If we don’t invest our time and energy in exploring, learning about issues that form the national fulcrum, how can we improve the lives of our countrymen when we get the opportunity.” Mr Gandhi then felt that “the nation still needs building and rebuilding as ever before.” Speaking to this newspaper, Mr Gandhi also spoke of political policies leading to long term damage by increasing in efficiency in usage of natural resources. Citing examples he argued: “our tubewell subsidy culture, entrenched through political patronage, has contributed to unsustainable extraction and misuse of our groundwater resources.” He further pointed out that “free or cheap electricity and state agricultural produce procurement policies have incentivised farming of water-intensive crops in regions with limited groundwater availability and facing risk of aridity.”
On increasing employment in rural India, Mr Gandhi spoke of promoting handicrafts and “to focus on leather and textiles — two sectors with high employment potential.” For him, “Tax rationalisation (already introduced through GST) and labour law reform can further add to job creation potential...”