" India, that is Bharat, shall be a union of states...." First Article of the Constitution in India
Bharat, that is India
“For us to think we can somehow deal with some of these global challenges in the absence of major powers like China, India and Brazil seems to be wrongheaded.” This was the US President Barack Obama speaking. World leaders signalled the demise of the Group of Eight wealthy nations club saying only a forum that included the major developing economies could legitimately take important global decisions. A new world order seems to have emerged at the G20 summit in Pittsburgh last week.
In a parallel development, India’s spaceship Chandrayaan found evidence of lunar water. ISRO Chief G. Madhavan Nair was ecstatic when he told reporters that "India should be proud that Chandrayaan discovered water on the moon. It is acknowledged the world over that this is a real discovery and a path-breaking event for the Indian space agency."
The Sensex almost touched 17,000.There were persistent, inspired rumours that the index will scale 20,000 soon. Meanwhile, economists who rarely concur seem to be in agreement that India’s GDP will be grow between 6% and 7% this fiscal year.
We have seen Indian companies acquire iconic British brands and companies. This time it has been the turn of our yoga guru Baba Ramdev. With the help of his devotees, he has reportedly acquired an entire Scottish isle to set up a wellness retreat. The island comprising 684 acres of rugged cliffs, hidden coves, a Castle Keep, a Victorian residence and lighthouses is a location straight out of fairy tales.Our presence at the geo-political head table is conspicuous. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has been visible in the international electronic media with the global leaders in the G20 summit. An Indian newspaper has concluded in a screaming headline : “Singh is king at the G20 summit.” Since India is on the roll, is it time to uncork the champagne?
I would suggest that it is time to pause and ponder. Despite all the exciting developments, there are some dark clouds looming in the horizon. Our farm sector is expected to record a sluggish growth due to an erratic and inadequate monsoon this year . It is even possible that the farm sector may actually shrink.
Some say that it does not really matter if the farm sector does not grow. It contributes less than 20% of our GDP. It has been a “slow coach” for many years. But consider this: about 60% of our fellow citizens depend on farming for their livelihood. Mahatma Gandhi reminded us that “the soul of India lives in its villages”. That insightful observation rings just as true today. If a sector that supports 60% of Indians sinks into a crisis – it will cause untold misery and suffering to a large segment of our population who are already among the most disadvantaged.
There is a second argument which looks smart at first sight but is just as puerile. It is being suggested that when we do horse trading at WTO and other platforms –we should open our farm sector to competition from imported agricultural produce in exchange for concessions to our services and manufacturing sectors. Our services sector has been clamouring for free mobility of our professionals and our manufacturing sector for greater access to Western markets. If we were to lower tariffs and open up the farm sector, downward pressure would be applied on the domestic price of food in India because the farm produce of other countries is often heavily subsidized. A friend of mine framed the argument thus: “Would it not be fun to buy cheap food from North America and Europe subsidized by their tax-payers?”
The proponents of this argument also assure our political leaders that the strategy of importing food to lower domestic food prices would earn them more votes because those who buy food in aggregate outnumber the people who produce them (never mind the double counting of people who both produce and consume!). What will our farmers do? Write code or populate call centers? Manufacture cars or white goods? Run yoga schools?
The ruin of the farm sector would mean a catastrophe for a large number of Indians – many of whom live well below the poverty line. Farmers are dying of starvation. Farmers are committing suicides even in states that are considered to be leaders in economic development. The Maoist movement has found a breeding ground in the anger and frustration of the dispossessed who have benefited little from our economic development.
As we celebrate India’s emergence on the world stage, it is time to re-devote our attention to Bharat. Our farmers need irrigation, better seeds, affordable fertilizers and improved techniques of farming to enhance yield and productivity. Our farm economy requires cold chains across the country to stem waste. We need many more agro-based industries. Our development strategies must include a sharp focus on the well being of the farmer. As we convert farmland into industrial zones and knowledge parks, we ought to direct our energies and investments to educate, skill and empower the children of our farmers. They have to be empowered to take advantage of the employment opportunities that these initiatives create. If we neglect the farmers and the farm sector, we shall be putting in serious peril the stability and sustainability of our economic development.
(Roopen Roy is the Managing Director of Deloitte Consulting, India. The views expressed in this article are his own)