Demand, Policy, Empty Promises: Why We Must Compare Congress and BJP’s Agri Manifestos

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Demand, Policy, Empty Promises: Why We Must Compare Congress and BJP’s Agri Manifestos

the Congress party, after many years, has a sound agriculture manifesto. The Modi manifesto does not also divulge any details on how the transformation will happen.

It is necessary to evaluate the manifestos of the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, to see what they hold for farmers and the larger agrarian sector.

The ongoing farmers movement – 2.0 – and the previous movement of 2020-21, both show the urgent need to address problems of rural India which include issues of minimum support price, falling incomes, food sovereignty, etc. Other issues of food inflation and supply management also loom over the policy makers. So it is important to see how two of the biggest parties plan to tackle the agrarian question.

Let us begin with incumbent, Bharatiya Janata Party. Overall, their agriculture manifesto is an extension of already-running government schemes like PM KISAN, PM Fasal Bima Yojana, PM Krishi Sinchai Yojana, and other flagship schemes. The push is for development of agri-infrastructure through the agriculture infrastructure mission which aims to take the lead in the planning and implementation of agri-infra projects like storage facilities, grading-storing units, cold storages, and so on. Digitalisation of Indian agriculture seems to be a priority of the Modi government, as the manifesto talks about launching a ‘krishi satellite’ and the promise to build a “Digital Public Infrastructure to remove information asymmetry in agriculture.”

To reduce inputs costs, the BJP plans to double custom hiring centres focusing on agriculture machinery and equipment, upgrading the Krishi Vigyan Kendras. It claims that it will also establish PM Kisan Samriddhi Kendras to provide one-stop shops for farmers.

It also talks of an ambitious storage infrastructure plan and new production clusters for vegetables. The offbeat ideas in the manifesto are “positioning Bharat as the agri hub of the world”, making millets into a super food and strengthening natural farming. There is also a push for expansion of dairy cooperatives.

The Congress agriculture manifesto is premised on the the fact the BJP have been “callous and brutal” with farmers. Further it says, “Farmers do not get fair and remunerative prices for their produce; nor do the producers have adequate avenues to market their produce. Export controls have debilitated farmers. The plight of farm labourers is worse; the work available is irregular and the wages have stagnated for nearly four years.”

To ameliorate the problem, the Congress leads with a pragmatic manifesto – one that comes after many years. It focuses on minimum support price and ensuring that all farmers get MSP as a legal right. It also describes other secondary policy decisions that are required to make MSP a legal right for all farmers. It begins with making the Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices a statutory body, increasing the cover of Agricultural Produce Market Committees (APMC), regulating markets for export of Indian agricultural produce, setting up of a Permanent Commission on Agricultural Finance, and so on.

There is a huge emphasis laid on bolstering the marketing system for farmers. To this end, the Congress wants to create farmers’ retail markets in large villages and small towns. Alongside farmers markets, the Congress hopes to establish an “E-market that will be operated by an autonomous body with representation of farmers’ organizations, Farmer-Producer Organizations (FPOs) and individual progressive farmers.” It also wants to give “freedom to the farmer to sell agricultural produce at the farm-gate or at any other place of choice with an option to upload the sale-and-purchase agreement on a digital ledger.”

The party also proposes to “double the value of the output in dairying and poultry in five years”. Its offbeat proposals are setting up of “one agricultural college and one veterinary college is established in every district of the country,” and increasing the much needed funding in research and development in agriculture.

Decoding the agri manifesto

After comparing both the manifestos it is quite clear that the Congress has internalised the principal demand of the farmers’ movement and agreed to give MSP a legal standing. It aims to implement the Swaminathan Report to decide on the MSP. Congress has also provided a sneak peek into the potential secondary steps required to implement the MSP through a sound and farmer-friendly mechanism of procurement and supply chain management.

On the other hand, the BJP has made the simple promise of only increasing the MSP, without mentioning any practical steps.

The BJP’s core agricultural manifesto is built on investments in agri-infrastructure that appear to be bent more towards larger agri-processors and corporate style agriculture. The manifesto does stress on storage plan and investment in rural India, but how it will be done remains a mystery because we cannot be sure if big corporations will once again get the lion’s share of the storage facilities all across India. By being prudish on MSP commitments, the BJP does declare that the party wants to see India shift gears towards agri-dollar farming.

The Modi manifesto does not also divulge any details on how the transformation will happen, but hints at vast potential of digital and agricultural technology to improve yields and agri-value. The good points in the manifesto hint towards strengthening of natural farming, which is missing from the Congress manifesto.

Overall speaking, the Congress party, after many years, has a sound agriculture manifesto that addresses the core problems of Indian agriculture. Meanwhile, the Modi manifesto aims to swerve Indian agriculture closer to the logic of the repealed farm laws and farming for agri-dollars. The question now is – which side will the farmers go?

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