Baghpat farmer says 'ready for suicide'

I am ready to commit suicide, says 75-year-old Baljor Singh Arya even as district administration drag him away from what they see is a mediaperson talking to a protesting farmer. Arya, a sugarcane farmer from Malakhpur village of Baghpat district in western Uttar Pradesh, says successive governments have done well by bringing in new technology to up yields. But, he asks, why have they allowed the payment system of sugar mills to remain old-fashioned? In his words, how sugarcane farmers are being double-crushed by loans and dues from mills.

Sugarcane is the lifeline of farmers in this region. And when you hold back our payments—understand it this way—our lives remain on a ventilator; we live in suspension, neither dead nor living. Since generations we have seen and learnt only one means of livelihood—sugarcane farming. There is no other option. Payment ho toh bachchon ki fees bharegi, betiyon ki shaadi hogi, makaan banega... (If we get paid from the mills for the sugarcane, out children will go to schools, out daughters will be married, our houses will be built… ). Otherwise either you wait for the governments to act or protest on the road and brave police brutality. This is life for us in short. Governments come and go. Mayawati, Mulayam, Akhilesh, Adityanath… nothing changes for us. They are all one. Your payment is due, overdue, so you take a loan. The burden rises every year. Go to any village in sugarcane belt. There is not one village where farmers are not burdened with loans. Do you believe a farmer ends his life because of some suicidal tendency? He does it because he sees no hope. Things have only got worse with the advent of new farm technologies. The yield has increased manifold but the payment cycle has remained the same. They have time and money to bring in new technologies (from other countries) but they would not replicate the payment system of developed countries. Because on paper, it shows them in good light and the fat cats of sugar mills donate to their parties. When Yogi came to power, he promised that our loans will be waived in a fortnight and payments will not be held beyond one year. Our holy books tell us a `Yogi’ always speaks the truth. He (Yogi) should at least live up to his title. Even Modiji hasn’t kept his word. He assured us that GST will make tax rates and the prices of electricity, fertilizers, urea, etc uniform across the country. However, you just cross over to Haryana (a few kms away) and you will be surprised to see the difference (in the prices of these basic things needed by the farmers) enjoyed by the farmers there. Recently, one of our friend, Udayvir Singh (65), who was sitting with us here on a dharna, died. Because he died just a day before the Prime Minister’s visit here, the administration acted with great speed. The officials quickly handed over a cheque of ₹12 lakh to his family. Can you imagine? In one day, he got the compensation, although we had demanded ₹50 lakh as compensation. On such occasions, you wonder if only a death in the family make government sit up and act! Will we get money only after we die protesting or commit suicide? I am ready to commit suicide at this age, as it will not only benefit my family but also my fellow farmers. These thoughts are always on my mind these days…
(It was at this point that district administration officials surrounded Arya and took him away by force, warning him against talking to the media)  
Also Read at Lokmarg

Sugarcane: Farmer in Distress, Industry Helpless

‘Nothing Has Been Done Ever For Farmers’

—With editorial assistance from Lokmarg]]>

What politics is doing to our journalism

By Deepak Pant Soon after the Tony Blair government set up the Hutton Inquiry in the aftermath of the Iraq war in 2003, a book by journalist John Lloyd made news. It was provocatively titled ‘What the Media Do To Our Politics’; its thesis was that the news media had become a powerful and largely unaccountable force in British public life, dedicated to theatrical distrust of politicians instead of functioning as a check on the excesses of the political establishment. It was a significant intervention in the relationship between the news media and the government from the perspective of a journalist, even if it evoked mixed reactions within the profession. A similar treatise may be waiting to be written in the Indian context, but with a proposition in reverse: What politics under the Narendra Modi government has done to Indian journalism. From the launch of the first print journal in colonial Calcutta in 1780, to contributing to the freedom struggle, to aiding the development agenda in the first decades after independence in 1947 – Indian journalism has a long and chequered history. Government-news media relations have never been cosy, which is as it should be. Nehru said in 1950, “I would rather have a completely free press with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of that freedom than a suppressed or a regulated press.” The press also played the role of an advance warning system in the 1950s and 1960s, which prevent large-scale deaths due to famine, unlike in China, where millions perished at the time. There has never been a golden era in journalism, but after independence, government-news media relations were on a steady keel, until the Emergency when, asked to bend, journalists famously crawled. There have been investigations and exposes over the decades, which influenced elections and politics of the day, but the onset of what can only be called ‘Murdochization’ of Indian journalism, coinciding with the further liberalization of the economy since the early 1990s, may have reached an extreme point today. Edward S Herman and Noam Chomsky’s model of manufacturing consent, or the propaganda model of communication, is clearly evident. Their critique was based on conditions in the United States, but find resonance in India: that the media “are effective and powerful ideological institutions that carry out a system-supportive propaganda function, by reliance on market forces, internalized assumptions, and self-censorship, and without overt coercion”. Every party in government leaves an impact on journalism. After the post-independence honeymoon with the Nehru government, proprietors’ biases and collusion, corruption, threats and worse to journalists were not unknown during the long years of Congress rule. But aspects of the Modi government’s media policy since 2014 mark a new low in the government-news media relationship. Its contribution to journalism has many firsts, such as: leading figures deriding journalists as ‘presstitutes’ and ‘news traders’; the prime minister not exposing himself to a press conference; bearing down on owners to deal with inconvenient editors and journalists; giving selective access to preferred journalists; instructing officials and ministers to refrain from interacting with journalists. The result is the obliteration of any impulses of investigative reporting in the mainstream news media and an atmosphere of self-censorship in newsrooms, even as the prime minister insists he is open to criticism since we are told criticism is the essence of democracy. Online journalism has opened spaces in recent years for alternative viewpoints, but the anodyne and largely one-sided nature of content in the still influential mainstream news media means that the public is deprived of the range of information needed to act as responsible citizens (not consumers). Recent revelations in a sting operation have been much commented upon, but they reinforce a reality of Indian journalism since the early 1990s: the fast-dwindling agency of journalists to the point that their exertions are at best considered secondary in news organisations. Perspectives of ‘marketing’ rather than the ‘editorial’ have dominated, as the drive to mop up profits lead to ways that would make Murdoch seem the high priest of journalism; the phenomenon of ‘paid news’ is but one example. If the Modi government’s contribution has been to push hard against long-held values, conventions and practices of journalism to ensure the domination of its politics and versions of reality, it must be delighted to find obeisance, lack of resistance and willingness to collude on the other side. Poor editorial standards, training and employment terms, a lack of mentoring and the near-absence of role models for the younger generation of journalists have adversely affected journalism long before 2014. And lost in the equation is the basic role of journalism in a democracy: to speak truth to power and hold it to account on behalf of the people. Ironically, public distrust in journalism has grown when the technology of journalism has never been better. The blanket spread of print, television, radio and now the internet across India has not necessarily led to better journalism and a better check on power, barring rare exceptions. Not only have journalism and journalists lost esteem, some commentators already view the situation as a threat to India’s famed democracy and compare it to North Korea. Indian journalism does not exist in a vacuum, but it neither needs patronizing sympathy from leading lights of the Congress now in opposition, nor the sniggering, threats and worse from those in power. It should be allowed to go back to the basics at a time when India faces major challenges in education, health, economy, environment and security.]]>


Surat: Prime Minister Narendra Modi (Photo: IANS)[/caption] Those promises haven’t been kept. India’s job data is terribly inadequate—partly because as much as 90% of all employment takes place in the informal, unorganised sector but also because little attempt has been made to conduct robust employment surveys. Yet, estimates based on the government data show that in 2016-17, only 0.41 million jobs were created, while more than 7 million new job seekers joined the workforce. If growth during the UPA regime was “jobless”, the scenario under the NDA has been no different. Moreover, as the recent massive protest by farmers in Maharashtra showed, agricultural distress has only worsened in the past four years. In the first three years of the Modi government, the average growth rate of agricultural GDP was 1.8%; during the 10-year UPA regime, it was double that at 3.7%. The tardiness in job creation could well become the BJP’s nemesis during the next parliamentary elections. In his aggressive election campaign, Mr. Modi had frequently referred to India’s “demographic dividend”, its large population of youth. An estimated 50% of 1.3 billion Indians are under 25. And calculations based on birth and mortality rates show that by 2025 (which is only seven years away), India’s population could grow to 1.43 billion of which 48%, or nearly 700 million, would be people who are below 25. Obviously, within this the bulge, the number of people who are between 18-25 would be bigger than the total population of many countries. That could be a ticking time bomb. More than seven out of 10 of India’s young people live in rural India, primarily depending on unproductive farms with little skill or education to be of use in anything other than manual labour. Urban youth are only slightly better off with their overall quality of education making them inadequate for meaningful employment. In 2015, Mr. Modi’s government launched, with much fanfare, a massive programme called Skill India with an ambitious target of training 400 million Indian in different disciplines to make them job-ready. That target is a pie in the sky because since its inception,  only 13 lakh people have been trained, 9 lakh certified, and a little over half of that have found employment. Likewise, another of Mr. Modi’s pet programmes, Make In India, aimed at attracting foreign investment in the manufacturing sector, has under-performed. The proportion of foreign direct investment to manufacturing has actually fallen over the past three years. One of the biggest promises made during Mr. Modi’s electioneering in 2014 and in the BJP’s manifesto was that if elected it would root out corruption and eradicate tax avoidance and black money. Last year, he hastily demonetized large currency notes with the aim of cornering people who hoard unaccounted cash. The ploy was ill-advised and boomeranged—those who suffered most were small businesses and traders and those (read: the majority) of people who worked in the informal sector. His campaign time promises of bringing back money that India’s unscrupulous tax avoiders had salted away in foreign banks have also come a cropper. Mr. Modi’s avowed intentions of stemming corruption, which he has often said was a hallmark of the Congress-led UPA regime, have been as impotent. While corruption at lower levels has probably declined, India still ranks a low 81 out of 180 countries in terms of a corruption perception index. In fact, as a series of recent episodes have shown, major, headline-grabbing cases of corruption and swindling still abound. Indian business tycoons—liquor baron Vijay Mallya, and upscale jewellers, Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi—have gamed the banking system to siphon out huge sums of money and, what’s more, have escaped prosecution by fleeing the country. [caption id="attachment_17754" align="alignleft" width="427"] New Delhi: BJP chief Amit Shah  (Photo: Bidesh Manna/IANS)[/caption] It’s difficult to find promises made in the BJP’s manifesto that have been delivered upon in the past four years. In infrastructure, another purported thrust area, it has not been able to build roads at the pace it had targeted; in foreign affairs, despite the bright optics of Mr. Modi’s visits abroad and those of foreign heads of states to India, and the promise of reviving Brand India, India’s strategy towards neighbours such as China or even in relationships with global biggies such as the US and Russia have been fuzzy and indeterminate. There is one section of the manifesto, however, where remarkable alacrity has often been displayed by the BJP and its leaders. Sadly, one of those has to do with their resolve to build a Ram Mandir at the disputed site in UP where an old mosque was demolished in 1992; and the other is about protecting the cow and its progeny under the guise of which its supporters have frequently unleashed violence that includes lynching and murder of anyone they suspect of slaughtering cows. [caption id="attachment_15887" align="alignnone" width="833"] Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (File Photo: IANS)[/caption] Come election time and India’s voters are often accused of having short memories—something that political parties of all stripes try to take advantage of. But when a party tantalisingly promises big and then fails to deliver on all of them, forgetfulness of the electorate is probably not something it can count on.      ]]>


Amritsar: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his visit to the Golden Temple in Amritsar on Feb 21, 2018. (Photo: IANS)[/caption] So where did the trip go wrong if it did at all. Possibly the Sikh ministers went a little overboard in overpopulating the Trudeau team with Sikhs, Sikhs and more Sikhs, families, children and friends. Indian paranoias only heightened at seeing an army of Sikhs descending with levers of power in their hands.  In some pictures it seems that Canada is run by Sikhs with a white Canadian as mascot.That the Sikh ministers did not foresee pitfall this is not only naivety on their part, but perhaps a little mischievous.  Trudeau must have depended on their advice and their advice was not sound.  That is something he needs to look into. Heads might roll. Secondly, the refusal of ETA clearance to myself as interlocuter between India and ‘Khalistanis’ has given the impression that Canada or some powerful politicians in Canada do not want this issue to go away. India, for all the mud thrown at it, is extending an olive branch to Sikhs to find solutions. The PM made this obvious in London in 2015. Why Canada refused me ETA clearance is a matter of speculation that does not help India-Canada relations. But then Trudeau hasn’t quite conducted the India trip well posthumously. PM Modi showed great maturity and experience in disarming Trudeau’s apprehensions with the hug, making him and his family relax and not mention Atwal or the media reports once. Trudeau took his family as India is a family culture. It was a good move. However it is after the trip that Trudeau seems to have got it all wrong. By saying in Parliament that he supports his NSA who made a farfetched statement better suited to 9/11 conspiracy mongers, has possibly irked the Indians more than all the other fiascos. By supporting the statement by Daniel Jean that Indian agencies were involved in getting Atwal into the parties in order to make Trudeau uncomfortable is both silly and ‘’Trumpish’. Either Indian agencies are so extraordinarily competent that they can engineer invitations from the Canadian High Commissioner in India, or  Jean does not want to admit that he is running a scatty brain outfit. This statement by Trudeau has probably confirmed assessments that the Indians were way above his league and Trudeau and his team were out of their depth in an extremely sophisticated country that has more clout in the UN than Russia or USA. He could have dismissed media hounds by saying India is a country that has accommodated all sorts through history and he found his visits to iconic places evidence of that. After all India attracts because of these out of ordinary life experiences that tourists encounter. He could have publicly thanked the Indian government and consolidated the warmth Modi showed him (either as pity or as genuine). But he chose to think linearly like most of western media and took media criticism to heart seeking to blame Indians for the lapses of his security team. That is one thing India may not forget. An eccentric somewhat insensitive itinerary, India  could accommodate and laugh at. Indians are used to boisterous Sikhs too. But accusing India for his  own team’s mistakes is another matter. He has done more damage to Canada-India relations when on Canadian soil than during his visit. For a time it seemd he understood India, But clearly not. ]]>