Which would you rate as among the most lacklustre ministries that New Delhi has seen? In the best traditions of laissez-faire, there would be pretty stiff competition there. But bring in agriculture, and go towards the prehistory of the present agitation—the long story from the initial hurrahs of the Green Revolution, to the deep disquiet at how that has itself become a leviathan that sucks the lifeblood out of our soil itself. Any way you look at it, the long stint that Sharad Pawar had at the helm should count as among formatively the most uninspiring, and counterproductive. The immiseration of Vidarbha—and the larger Deccan—was happening in front of him. It would have been obvious to any observer with a sense of India’s past that cooperatives were the way to go—to offer a cushion to the individual farmer, and to maximise the benefits from collective bargaining, from information flow, from having a collective wisdom to judge the (often dubious) fruits of ‘modernisation’, to be able to play the markets in a way most beneficial for the farmer.
Would the new ‘Cooperation Ministry’ headed by Amit Shah fill the gap? Judging by the immediate past of the government—and the longer past in terms of the relevant personnel—it may be a bit optimistic to see this ministry as heralding some neo-Gandhian dawn. The Centre-state tussle this may inaugurate could be only a symptom of the malaise. There are two things we need to care about. One, the farmers, whether agro or dairy—an overwhelming majority of India finds its sustenance here; take all those neoliberal theories about pushing 70% of our population out of farming with a handful of organic rock salt. Two, farming itself. It obviously has to be sustainable. And we need to get that viable, universally enriching model into dairy, sugar, fisheries or in fertiliser. We need to leave India intact for the future. It may be too early to sow hope.