Time to Dust Off the Chor Mi­nar for Baba Ramdev

The Economic Times - - Pure Politics -

The squat and cir­cu­lar Chor Mi­nar sits in a pretty Delhi park. It was built about 800 years ago by Alaud­din Khilji, one of In­dia’s early Mus­lim rulers. It has 225 holes to dis­play the sev­ered heads of con­demned thieves. It’s time it was handed over to Baba Ramdev.

The gu­rupreneur, whose boom­ing con­sumer goods em­pire churns out prod­ucts like soaps and dis­in­fec­tants that use cow’s urine as an in­gre­di­ent, would put the for­got­ten tower to good use. He told a lusty crowd ear­lier this week that if he had not been law-abid­ing he would have be­headed thou­sands of peo­ple who refuse to chant ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai’ or ‘Hail Mother In­dia’.

Now that he is a full-blown ty­coon, with es­ti­mated turnover of $370 mil­lion, it is time Ramdev turned his bale­ful eye to eco­nomic of­fend­ers. Not very long ago, China used to pub­licly ex­e­cute its crim­i­nals in open fields with a bul­let in the back of their heads. Now cap­i­tal pun­ish­ment is meted out ei­ther through lethal in­jec­tions or by shoot­ing. Ramdev, like the Queen of Hearts, be­lieves it should be off with the traitors’ heads.

Ear­lier this week I heard anger of a dif­fer­ent sort at a fo­rum with farm­ers who face rack and ruin as things go from bad to worse in our coun­try­side. Tens of thou­sands of des­per­ate vil­lagers are flee­ing Marath­wada in Ma­ha­rash­tra, which has been suf­fer­ing its worst drought in a cen­tury, and Bun­delk­hand in UP, for nearby cities in search of jobs and food.

If you lis­tened to Ma­ha­rash­tra’s Chief Min­is­ter, you would think the only crisis is of pa­tri­o­tism. Deven­dra Fad­navis told the state assem­bly that those who did not chant Bharat Mata Ki Jai “don’t love this coun­try (and) have no place in this coun­try.” It took the Bom­bay High Court to up­braid cricket au­thor­i­ties who blithely plan to use six mil­lion litres of wa­ter to pre­pare pitches for 20 In­dian Premier League matches that will be held in the parched state.

Our farm­ers don’t have time to de­bate pa­tri­o­tism. They are flee­ing their farms be­cause they see no hope, much like Shambu Ma­hato (Bal­raj Sahni) in Do Bigha Zamin. Agri­cul­tural econ­o­mist Ashok Gu­lati says if the gov­ern­ment wants

SHIFT FO­CUS

to en­cour­age ur­ban­i­sa­tion and re­duce In­dia’s de­pen­dence on agri­cul­ture, then it has to cre­ate more jobs. “Mi­gra­tion to cities ought to be a pull fac­tor, not a push fac­tor caused by dis­tress.”

Min­is­ter of State for Fi­nance Jayant Sinha urged the farm­ers at the con­fer­ence to re­mem­ber steps his gov­ern­ment had taken to help them. The Prad­han Mantri Kr­ishi Sin­chai Yo­jana aims to ex­pand ir­ri­ga­tion from an un­sus­tain­able low of 46 per cent. The Fasal Bima Yo­jana aims to in­sure crops against both drought and floods. The Gram Sadak Yo­jana aims to build roads to and in ev­ery vil­lage. And the soil health card scheme will try to help farm­ers de­cide on the best crops to grow.

How bad are things down at the farm? Let’s look at a few facts: The agri­cul­ture sec­tor shrank by one per cent in the Sept-Dec 2015 quar­ter af­ter very weak growth of 1.6 and 2 per cent in the pre­vi­ous two quar­ters. Agri­cul­ture needs to grow by a real 12 per cent an­nu­ally if farm­ers’ in­comes are to dou­ble by 2022, which is Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s goal. In­dia’s farm pro­duc­tiv­ity is among the low­est in the world. Its rice yields per hectare are 46 per cent be­low China’s, and its wheat yields 39 per cent lower than China’s. Rice out­put per hectare is even be­low Bangladesh. In­dia is the world’s big­gest con- sumer of pulses but again, yields are lower than all other pro­ducer coun­tries. De­spite all the talk about higher Min­i­mum Sup­port Prices (they were raised on av­er­age by a pal­try 50 ru­pees per 100 kg) wheat and rice pro­cure­ment is hap­pen­ing only in five states. There has been no cot­ton pro­cure­ment. Even in Modi’s con­stituency Varanasi farm­ers have been forced to sell rice at 20 per cent be­low MSP. By ban­ning ex­ports of ev­ery­thing from rice and wheat to onions and po­ta­toes, Modi is ef­fec­tively tax­ing the farm­ers who do not have free ac­cess to mar­kets inside or out­side In­dia. Cow slaugh­ter and beef ex­port bans in most states have hit farm­ers very hard – they can­not feed their an­i­mals nor get rid of them in times of se­vere drought. The Pub­lic Dis­tri­bu­tion Sys­tem is cor­rupt and leaks about 46%. Food and fer­tiliser sub­si­dies – and un­paid bills from last fis­cal year – will add up to over $58 bil­lion this year; the gov­ern­ment ought to rapidlly ex­pand Di­rect Ben­e­fit Trans­fers to farm­ers rather than throw­ing more and more into the maws of the cor­rupt mid­dle­men. More than a thou­sand farm­ers are quit­ting farm­ing ev­ery day. Do farm­ers count? Ru­ral dis­tress trig­gers mi­gra­tion, farm­ers’ sui­cides, and crip­pling in­debt­ed­ness. An­gry farm­ers are bound to pun­ish Modi where it hurts him most – at the bal­lot box. If agri­cul­ture does not look up soon, the BJP will have a tough time win­ning the make-or­break state of UP next year.

Modi has ad­dressed five farm­ers’ ral­lies in the past few months, but ev­ery politi­cian is pre­oc­cu­pied now with elec­tions in the states of As­sam, West Ben­gal, Tamil Nadu, Ker­ala and the union ter­ri­tory of Puducherry which kicked off on Mon­day. The only date that mat­ters is May 19, when the votes will be counted. The state re­sults will be out a week be­fore Modi cel­e­brates two years in power. The state elec­tions will not al­ter the arith­metic in the Ra­jya Sabha, the up­per house of par­lia­ment, where the BJP still lacks a ma­jor­ity.

At the sem­i­nar I at­tended, af­ter pro­claim­ing the gov­ern­ment’s pro­farmer bias, Sinha de­fended the tepid crop sup­port price in­creases by say­ing they needed to be bal­anced against food price in­fla­tion “khas kar chu­nav ke samay (es­pe­cially at a time of elec­tions).”

In all this talk of vil­lagers and votes we risk for­get­ting Baba Ramdev’s rage. The good yogi would do well to study a few role mod­els in the fine art of ex­ter­mi­na­tion since we seem to be mov­ing in­ex­orably to­wards our own ver­sion of the Holy Of­fice for the Prop­a­ga­tion of the Faith, last seen dur­ing the Span­ish In­qui­si­tion in 1478. They in­clude To­mas de Torque­mada, the de­fender of Ro­man Catholi­cism and the Grand In­quisi­tor of Spain; or Max­im­i­lien Robe­spierre, who or­dered the despatch of many foes of the French Rev­o­lu­tion to the guil­lotines. Closer by in his­tory, Com­rade Duch, who was Pol Pot’s chief ex­e­cu­tioner at the Tuol Sleng tor­ture camp in Phnom Penh, did his grisly duty un­til 1979 when the Kh­mer Rouge fell. The same year saw Iran’s Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion and the blos­som­ing of Ho­ja­toleslam Sadegh Khalkhali, the chief judge of Ay­a­tol­lah Khome­ini’s Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Courts, who sent thou­sands of en­e­mies of Is­lam to their deaths. Is it Hin­duism’s turn now at the tum­brils?

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