Independent India has seen many Prime Ministers but among them, Narendra Modi is unique. Before going onto win the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, he had been Chief Minister of a state for over thirteen years.
As Chief Minister, Modi was known to be someone who immersed himself deeply in the intricacies of policy matters and the way they work on the ground.
Transforming Lives of Farmers in Gujarat
Among the biggest policy triumphs of his tenure as Chief Minister of Gujarat was the way he transformed the lives of farmers of a semi-arid state and made them self-reliant and prosperous. Modi’s working style when it came to farmer welfare was bottom up – his policy was driven by his deep understanding of farmers’ problems and in finding innovative win-win solutions for them.
As Chief Minister, Narendra Modi was sensitive to even the smallest needs of the farmers and made the whole administrative machinery farmer-friendly.
Vibrant Gujarat, Gujarat government’s flagship investor summit used to make big headlines. However, it was just a two-day event held only once in two years. In contrast, Modi used to hold Krishi Mahotsav for one month every year where every level of the government was mobilised to work with farmers.
A unique innovation pioneered by Modi during this Mahotsav was the ‘Krishi Rath’, which would visit every tehsil of Gujarat. This was a mobile team of experts, scientists and government officials from every agriculture-related department who would visit each area and educate the farmers about latest farming techniques, technology adoption, and offer assistance to farmers.
Narendra Modi was also a pioneer when it came to bringing the benefits of science to farmers through soil health cards. About this, Dr M.S. Swaminathan, often known as ‘Father of Green Revolution’, said in 2007:
“At the National Commission on Farmers, we again re-emphasised the importance of strengthening soil testing laboratories, mobile soil testing vans, issue of soil health card to every farmer but nothing has been done. Some states like Gujarat have done good work, so the agricultural growth rate in Gujarat is over 9%.”
Clearly, the recommendations of Dr Swaminathan for improving agriculture were being implemented in Gujarat by CM Modi even as the then government at the Centre was turning a deaf ear.
As a result, production and yields of agricultural crops rose impressively in Gujarat. For example, the total cereal production rose from 39.92 lakh tonnes to 65.38 lakh tonnes between 1999-2000 and 2016-17, even as the area in which these crops were sowed reduced from 32 lakh hectares to 28.36 lakh hectares. With these developments, farmer incomes too grew, contributing to a virtuous cycle of better income, better inputs, better technology adoption and even better results. This virtuous cycle wasn’t incidental but was driven by a Chief Minister who understood farming very closely and worked consciously to empower farmers.
Gujarat’s Agrarian Transformation Puts Modi on National Stage
The massive growth in agriculture and allied ecosystems that was seen in Gujarat in Modi’s tenure has been called an agrarian miracle by domain experts.
Agricultural economist Ashok Gulati summed up the Gujarat Model when he wrote in April 2014 that:
“True pro-people policies augment income earning capacity of the largest number of people. And Gujarat has done that through its agrarian miracle. Several factors have contributed to its success: from technological success of Bt cotton to check dams recharging groundwater, to Narmada waters, to Jyotigram giving regular and reliable power supply in rural areas, Krishi Mahotsav which transformed the agri-extension landscape, ever-flourishing dairy sector and well connected, good quality roads in rural areas.”
Even as Narendra Modi was unleashing a miracle in Gujarat, at the Centre, there was a stark contrast.
They used to declare Minimum Support Price (MSP) but they never bought large quantities of produce from farmers.
They declared loan waivers but those waivers never reached majority of the small and marginal farmers.
They announced big schemes but these schemes almost always ended up being damp squibs.
They promised subsidized fertilizers but it used to get routed to black markets rather than reaching farmers.
Convinced that only Narendra Modi can ensure a turnaround in India’s agriculture sector, farmers too voted overwhelmingly for him, making him the Prime Minister in 2014.
New Era of Farmer Welfare in India
Bolstered by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s personal record of working with farmers, his government has taken various decisions for farmer welfare from day one. For the first time, there was now a government led by a leader who publicly set ambitious targets – doubling farmers’ income – and inspired the whole nation. As a way of recognizing role models, some farmers were even honoured with Padma Awards.
In the past seven years, the Modi government has gone about reforming the agriculture domain step-by-step. At every step of the agricultural cycle, the needs of the farmers have been kept in mind.
Not only were MSPs hiked multiple times but procurement at MSP also increased many times more than earlier governments did. In 2013-14, the MSP for Tur dal was Rs 4,300/quintal whereas in 2020-21, the MSP for Tur dal has been substantially increased to Rs 6,000/quintal.
If the MSP declared for Tur dal is 55% higher, the procurement of pulses too has gone up almost exponentially. During 2009-14, the UPA government procured only 1.52 LMT of pulses, whereas during 2014- 19, the Modi government procured 112.28 LMT of pulses at MSP, a 74-fold rise!
An MSP hike was announced as recently as September 2020, immediately after the pro-farmer reform bills were passed, clearly showing the intentions of the government to strengthen the MSP system even more.
Irrigation and insurance have both seen huge improvement. Direct income support was ensured for farmers through the historic PMKISAN scheme, through which money now directly reaches the bank accounts of the farmers.
Cold chains, mega food parks and such agro-processing infrastructure shave been set up on a big scale. Allied activities have witnessed never-before-seen focus as an avenue of income generation for farmers.
Aatmanirbhar Farmer for Aatmanirbhar Bharat
The latest wave of pro-farmer reforms, advocated by many experts for decades, fulfil the demands of many farmers and farmer unions. These reforms give farmers the freedom to sell anywhere and to anyone. Farmers can sell in APMC Mandis as well as outside them. Further, these reforms also strengthen farmers with a protective legal framework when dealing with buyers, ensuring they get an assured income for their produce.
These reforms have seen decades of consultations with stakeholders, multiple committees and clear cross-party consensus about the way forward.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s track record and his government’s actions give confidence that the life of the Indian farmer is transforming for the better, with an elaborate safety net being created for farmers while also increasing their avenues of income generation.
As the nation responds to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call of ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’, Aatmanirbhar farmers will lead the way.