Farmers vs Government: The Benefits and Limits of Democratic Redistribution

In its period of rapid economic growth, Indian democracy was successful in redistributing gains from urban centered, globalization led growth to the rural agrarian economy. The redistribution of available economic and administrative resources among competing groups is a primary concern of democratic politics. The situation is very different in non-democratic polities. In the figure below, we see that during globalization led growth, the ratio of per worker agrarian income to overall per capita GDP drops to less than a half in China and Vietnam, while it remained above or close to one in India and Indonesia. In other words, agrarian workers in one-party China and Vietnam became relatively poorer while their country became richer, agrarian workers in India and Indonesia did not incur a relative disadvantage.

Ratio of agricultural income per worker to overall GDP per capita for four Asian countries. In democratic, farmer majority India, the rural populace could always command a major share of the state’s redistributive efforts. After an initial decline from 1.4 to 1.0, the ratio in India stabilizes. In one-party China and Vietnam, the emphasis is on efficient agricultural production, not producers, and resources are invested heavily in urban areas.

In India the vast rural population with more than a century long experience in political mobilization, has pushed governments to spend money in rural areas. Redistribution has occurred via irrigation projects, rural roads, NREGA, subsidies, loan waivers and recently, direct income transfers. Any negative externality arising from agrarian activity has been borne by urban residents (eg: Delhi smog) but farmers were not penalized. Aside from rural-urban dynamics, democratic redistribution has led to a spatial equalization of agricultural productivity across the country.

Left image is district wise agricultural productivity in 2005. Since then, as the right image shows, agricultural growth has been concentrated in the most backward areas (dark red on left). The primary drivers have been irrigation projects and rural roads.

Though the condition of Indian cities is depressing, the upshot of a democracy dominated by the rural majority is comfortable food security. In fact, even though India’s use of pesticide is quite low by global standards, and its agricultural yields, cold-chain infrastructure sub-par, it has become a major net agricultural exporter. This is in huge contrast to China which has become a massive net importer of food. This is an important strategic advantage for India.

Net agricultural trade balance for India and China since 1961. China reverts to a net import situation as soon as its economy starts booming in the 1990s. in contrast India’s exports zoom in its period of economic growth.

There are signs, though, that India’s redistribution toolkit might be reaching the limits of its efficiency. Concurrently, a more reformist Indian government, awash with surplus grain, wants to re-orient farmers towards higher return crops or even an exit from farming. An urbanising electorate may also not be as willing to redistribute their hard earned tax monies towards their rural co-citizens.

The reorientation of the Punjab-Haryana farmer away from rice and wheat will require tact and persuasion, not ordinance fiat. The set patterns are very comfortable from the economic (MSP + diaspora remittances + armed forces recruitment) and psychological (we feed and secure the nation) perspective. The simple promise of higher incomes might not convince historically agrarian communities who havent fully embraced the money economy.

The Prime Minister has proven to be a masterful communicator. We have not yet seen the same skill in his dealings with the farmers. The approach there has oscillated between genuflection and disregard. The potential is there for the 200000 sq. km tract of well irrigated, fertile land in India’s north west to become the new California Central Valley (47,000 sq km). India can then become the land that greatly increases global access to premium agro-products like fresh, dry fruits and vegetarian protein. The latter (beef-mukt world) will also resonate with many urban supporters of the government and even the farmers themselves.

56 thoughts on “Farmers vs Government: The Benefits and Limits of Democratic Redistribution”

  1. Well put. The pan Jat tribal agitation seeks to protect rent seeking benefits and disproportionate access to Indian welfare. Long term economic and ecologic ruin will be the consequences. Khalistanis seek to exploit this crisis and are pumping money and pushing out op-eds in not only far left but center left Western pubs. The Canadian government is outright friendly to these forces and the American is just short of openly sympathetic, even though both these entities have pushed for these types of reforms at the WTO…

    Modi underestimated the degree of tribalism of this community and even stronger degree of hatred and organization of Western radical separaist Sikh organizations. Global leftist entities have taken note and are now openly funding a tribal revolt that seeks to use extortion to overcome the will of the majority, a will that seeks to push forth legislation that seeks to increase liberty, remove excess government intervention and favouritism for a particular tribal group, and thus lead to both more liberity and prosperity.

    The US would have used more force by now to evacuate rioters that have done as much economic and human harm,including on hundreds of police, as these “protesters,” many of whom are unfortunately misled people. You have to pay a penalty in many villages and risk social excommunication for not joining this tribal revolt. Just sad.

    1. thewarlock, your statements are all correct. But I think you are letting the government off the hook too easily. I also think you are over sensitive to diaspora Sikh attitudes.

      Coming back to the government, there is a degree of suspicion of anyone not completely affiliated to the ruling party that is corrosive to the underlying contract between the rulers and the ruled in a democracy.

      To be fair, this is just how Indians basically are, I doubt the Congress would be too different with a full majority. But the point remains that India has certainly not become more democratic in the last 7 years.

  2. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.thequint.com/amp/story/voices/opinion/sompal-shastri-on-jatland-politics-farmers-protest-delhi-borders-west-uttar-pradesh-history-jat-leaders-impact

    “History tells us that be it the Arab invaders in Sindh, Timur on the way to Meerut-Haridwar, the Mughals in Delhi, or the British in the 1857 war — and successive governments of independent India — all faced their biggest challenge from the Jat community.”

    From Mars…

    1. Keeping aside all the bluster, it is admirable that Jats are successfully resisting modernity. They’re a bulwark against the unintended disasters that progress can unleash. Unfortunately, this is at a great ecological cost.

      My concern is only that once the land has been sucked dry, they’ll use their relatively large numbers, proximity to Delhi, and group cohesion, to make the rest of the country pay for them in some way.

  3. The Prime Minister has proven to be a masterful communicator.

    There’s a difference between communication and emotional manipulation. Modi has always had a pulse on our typical prejudices, so policies like demonetization (let alone the Article 370 or the CAA or the Babri Masjid issues) never had to be explained; he just had to take “bold” action and the public would be swept up in the “bad guys are getting punished, any sacrifice we have to make is going to be worth it” frenzy. Economic benefits emanating from market-oriented policy reform (however diluted) don’t fall in that category. They are not intuitive to understand, and may even require a degree of education and critical thinking that most of us don’t possess. (Heck, even in a much better-educated society like the US, politicians find it hard to convince the public of such reforms.)

    1. Numinous, I dont think cynicism helps a lot in objective political analysis. BJP supporters will counter emotional manipulation claims with Manmohan’s somnolence and Rahul Gandhi’s gullibility.

      Modi is an excellent communicator, I have heard a lot of his speeches. There is one speech he gave to a young Indian’s parliament, replete with Bose’s thought and life (much beyond the usual platitudes from right or left), that is one of the best I have ever heard. He also gave a memorable one when a Kerala priest became a cardinal.

      But he also has a deep, seemingly visceral dislike of the media, especially English language. I think he would have an easier time making his point about the benefits of more economic freedom if he actually had an adversarial interview on the topic.

      Also, I dont share your cynicism about the Indian public and critical thinking. This is a country with some of the highest circulation newspapers in the world, and even pre-independence India’s ‘information order’ has been referred to scholars.

      1. Also, I dont share your cynicism about the Indian public and critical thinking.

        Fair enough. We may have to agree to disagree on this. It’s possible our differences come down to our experiences. You are an expat who still lives abroad. I’m a former expat who moved back to India and have lived here almost a decade now. When I used to be an NRI (in the US), I remember having quite different views and opinions. 10 years ago there may have been no daylight between your views and mine. But moving to India and having had the experience of living here on my own has disillusioned me about a lot of beliefs I held earlier (and made me more cynical, I agree.)

        On Modi too, I’ll grant I have a bias against the guy. He’s always rubbed me the wrong way from the first time I heard of him in 2002 (then, for obvious reasons). I’m quite partial to a limited government, light touch, laissez faire leadership model, and viscerally dislike strongmen leaders who encourage cults of devotion around them (as he has assiduously done since his nadir in the aftermath of the 2002 riots). So, though I was no fan of Manmohan Singh’s somnolence, I prefer that to the Modi style. And back in 2013-14, I was quite scared of what I was hearing from a lot of people; there seemed to be a hankering for a benevolent dictatorship around the country, especially in the middle class circles I’m familiar with. Modi was the natural candidate for such people. Everything that’s happened since has only confirmed what I felt then.

        1. Modi can be as laissez faire as he wants, but for some, no reform MMS is still preferred by libertarian . Its a lost cause trying to win them, and i see Modi reform gamble to backfire on him. He is betting on the wrong people.

          1. Modi may be marginally more laissez faire on economics than MMS but is autocratic on most other dimensions. It’s like in the States one could be a Democrat-supporting libertarian during the reigns of Bush (when warmongering and “support the troops” was in vogue among the right) and Trump (xenophobia and populism dominating the right-of-center). On pure economic concerns, both Bush and Trump are superior to any Democrat in libertarian eyes (just like generic BJP pol is better than any other party in India), but economics ain’t the only thing that matters.

          2. It’s laughable to think that Modi was even trying to cater to the handful of libertarians in India. We probably have more open cannibals (or pick your weirdo group) than libertarians here.

            Given the way in which the farm bills were passed, it may be that he’s seen the numbers and the projections and has genuine concerns about the fiscal health of the country should we stick to archaic rules (if only for his own political future). Otherwise it’s a mystery to me too why he bothered at this time. He doesn’t seem to have too many firm convictions in this space.

          3. Why should he worry about the fiscal health of the country? Pretty sure the Congress and MMS didn’t . Don’t u find it strange that folks opposed to Modi have even greater demands on reforms from Modi then supporters of the the regime. I didn’t see libertarian or economists making the same demands from reformer-in-chief MMS for fiscal prudence, when he was giving away country wide farm loan waivers.

          4. https://www.bloomberg.com/opinion/articles/2021-02-10/india-s-farm-protests-have-parallels-in-18th-century-england-for-better-or-worse

            I mean look at this fking joker.

            “A year before his death in 1964, Nehru was getting tired of relying on food aid from America that was given without much grace, and received without much gratitude. “If we fail in agriculture,” he said, “it does not matter what else we achieve — how many plants we put up — our economic development will not be complete.” That’s true even today. Although the two leaders couldn’t be more dissimilar, if Modi can manage the crisis honestly, modern India may finally grasp the industrializing vision of Nehru.”

            Even when Modi attempts reforms , its actually credit to Nehru;s vision. While Nehru’s own party is doing jack shit of fulling their great leader’s vision.

          5. @Saurav:
            Thanks for linking to the Bloomberg article. I thought it was pretty good and hit the right points. Not sure why it got your goat; the comparison between Nehru and Modi is extremely vague, and the former is only being quoted. (The only thing I’d nitpick there is that it may not be accurate about why India got poor while Britian got rich in roughly the same period; I’m not sure Britain imposed tariffs on Indian textiles as early as the writers say, but I could be wrong.) The article calls the protestors Luddites without using the term, which they are. And it states that the present farm policies are creating a looming fiscal disaster, and that’s what I suggested Modi was trying to thwart with these reforms.

  4. This is a good reading of the situation. Especially the points about India being food surplus Vs China. We should not end up like them. In this situation, China is net calorific deficit like sub-Saharan Africa. Only imports keep the show running.

    At the same time, grain export = export of water. In this regard, Jat India (especially Punjab + Haryana) will desertify in a couple of decades. This is THE negative externality.

    This is the first attempt to remove some incentives that are harmful in the long run. It’s a good one. The 1991 liberalisation was the third attempt to succeed – IG and RG tried to move in that direction but too many headwinds. So a drawn out farm reforms process is not surprising.

    These farm reforms have been 15 years in the making. All farmer unions have been consulted and on board. That’s why every party had APMC reforms on their manifesto. This was a done deal.

    I would say it is Modi’s popularity that created the blowback. If a less popular leader was at the helm, it would have sailed through. Prepare for some backroom dealing.

    1. Thanks Ugra. Nice to hear some kind words from you.

      I guess I had much higher expectations from some one with the political experience and capital that Modi possessed. Like it or not, the optics of the reform were very pushy, with the law appearing to be rushed or even forced through. Contrast with the much more significant GST reform.

    2. Ugra

      Especially the points about India being food surplus Vs China. We should not end up like them. In this situation, China is net calorific deficit like sub-Saharan Africa. Only imports keep the show running

      More Undernourished in India (14%) cf China (8.6%)
      China imports the high protein good stuff, butter, cheese, pork, beef.

      India exports its high protein stuff including beef.

      According to the FAO, China’s undernourished population rate fell from 16.2 percent in 2000 to 8.6 percent in 2017. This decline has taken place alongside a rise in annual per capita income from just $330 to $9,460 over the same period, and enabled China to reach United Nations targets aimed at cutting world hunger rates in half by 2015. China was one of just 29 countries that met its respective goals, and it accounted for two-thirds of the total reduction in undernourished people among Asian countries from 2010 to 2017.

      https://chinapower.csis.org/china-food-security/
      =====
      The number of undernourished people in India *declined from 249.4 million (21.7 per cent) in 2004-06 to 189.2 million (14 per cent) in 2017-19*

      https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/news/variety/india-sees-decline-in-undernourishment-rate-and-increase-in-obesity-un-report/article32087383.ece

      1. Malnourishment is a function of disposable income and food inflation. It is very much possible that malnourishment exists side by side with excess. That’s a measure for poverty not agricultural surplus. Don’t confuse both of them.

        Check the stats for Agri surplus (Exports minus Imports) for China and India.

    3. @Ugra
      “Especially the points about India being food surplus Vs China. We should not end up like them. In this situation, China is net calorific deficit like sub-Saharan Africa. Only imports keep the show running.”

      It seems odd that US is so alarmed about China when it can easily starve them. From the graph it looks like Chinese agriculture had started recovering in 2010s but at the end of the decade it went back down, maybe because of trump’s trade deal?

      1. @Narasingha Deva

        You are onto something. Remember the Soviet Union – they started having shortages in 1982. By 1989, there was a famine, only imports from Europe kept them alive. In 1991, they imploded.

        Birds of the same feather…..

        It is fascinating how communists of all shades suck at understanding the food cycle and agrarian dynamics. Closer home, do you know how TN put an end to the Mullaperiyar agitation in Kerala. They stopped the farmstock and livestock carrying trucks to Kerala from TN. Everyday thousands of vehicles cross from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu into Kerala carrying food supply (vegetables, fruits, meat). These trucks are Kerala’s lifeline.

        I saw Prats comments below. We should not force the agrarian sector into making some switch. There is some deep civilisational wisdom in being inefficient at farming. It’s ok to have more hands dependent on agriculture. This might be a trait that does not make conventional sense. Look around and see all the big-brain countries that fucked up.

        India is an agricultural superpower, much bigger than China. Even the farm reforms should be seen in the context of unsustainable practices, not in terms of helping the rural economy industrialise.

        1. Ugra,

          India is an agricultural superpower, much bigger than China.

          You keep spewing fake stats, which sound plausible because your language skills

          China ranks first in total annual rice production (about 184 million tons in 2006) and produced 29% of the world’s rice in 2006 (Fig. 1A, B). Among all food grain crops in China, rice occupies 35% of the planting area but accounts for 41% of total grain production according to data of 2006

          Crop Area under Cultivation Total Production
          and Country (million hectare) (million tonne)
          1. China 29.88 196.68
          2. India 41.85 133.70

          https://www.indiaspend.com/how-china-beats-india-in-agriculture-productivity
          https://www.google.com/search?q=rice+production+china

          1. @sbarrkum

            I will break it down real nicely for you since you seem to struggle with the big picture.

            China imported agricultural products (includes grains, fruits, meat, oils) in excess of 100B USD last year. India’s equivalent number was around 20B USD.

            China is deemed to have a food security problem by its own national security advisor. It also has a calorific deficit problem. It is growing a lot but it’s population wishes to eat contemporary diets (more meat) that is not supported by its farming pattern.

            India has a problem in growing pulses, lentils and oilseeds. But it is minor. Vegetarianism plays a big role in the muted import demand. Overall India has a better profile in food security.

            Overall surpluses are the mark of a trading power, not production metrics.

        2. Ugra


          Malnourishment is a function of disposable income and food inflation. It is very much possible that malnourishment exists side by side with excess. That’s a measure for poverty not agricultural surplus. Don’t confuse both of them.

          But it is minor. Vegetarianism plays a big role in the muted import demand. Overall India has a better profile in food security.

          You are making virtue out being in poverty, half starved and malnourished and call that food security


          Check the stats for Agri surplus (Exports minus Imports) for China and India.

          China imported agricultural products (includes grains, fruits, meat, oils) in excess of 100B USD last year. India’s equivalent number was around 20B USD.

          Why dont you please give a link reference to your claims.

          You said China was malnourished like Africa. Its common knowledge India is closer to Africa, in terms of poverty malnourished and starvation.
          I took a little effort and proved it by data.

          1. @sbarrkum

            This post was about food security not malnourishment. Both are different things. You are confusing both of them.

            India can feed ALL of it’s population with the grain output farmed within its borders. There is no problem. Malnourishment is a question of economics. Different subject.

            China CANNOT feed a major portion of its population with the output farmed within its borders. It has to import. This is a much more dangerous situation than malnourishment. Proles have money but no food to buy locally.

            I am not going to feed you with stats – you aren’t a judge. Make your own time and research. Instead I am giving you a news article from Jan 2021 from SCMP. This is a Chinese state backed newspaper.

            https://amp.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3117279/chinas-food-security-again-beijings-agenda-nations-bitter

            The situation is quite dire! If you want to know more, just google “China food shortage” and filter by last 3 months.

          2. Ugra

            I am not going to feed you with stats – you aren’t a judge. Make your own time and research.

            Confirmed, quoting numbers etc without the stats or reference to back it up.

            That SCMP post is behind a paywall.

            Anyway here is a update on India’s food “security”

            Millions of Indians could be on the brink of starvation, warn food policy experts. Independent researchers estimate that there have been at least 11 cases of people who died of hunger in the month since the lockdown. And these are only the deaths that have been reported.

            https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/south-asia/millions-in-india-on-the-brink-of-starvation-despite-overflowing-granaries

            The latest Global Hunger Index 2020 study does not make for cheery reading for India. The study has placed India 94th out of 107 countries in terms of hunger, locating it in the ‘severe’ hunger category.

            As per the study, roughly 14 per cent of the country’s population remains undernourished. To put this into perspective, China and Brazil, perhaps the only two countries with populations comparable to India’s, had under-nourishment rates under 2.5 per cent.

            India has improved its rank by 8 positions from last year but still sits behind the majority of its South Asian neighbours – Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Only Afghanistan, ranked 99th, is worse off than India.

            According to ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’ report compiled by the FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, India was home to 189.2 million (28 per cent) of the 673 million undernourished people in the world as of 2017-2019. It also accounted for 28 per cent of the world’s stunted (low height-for-age) children under the age of five, and 43 per cent of the world’s wasted children (Low weight-for-height).

            https://www.timesnownews.com/mirror-now/in-focus/article/india-facing-severe-starvation-challenge-says-report-what-s-behind-its-dire-ranking-in-hunger-index/674013

  5. “In the figure below, we see that during globalization led growth, the ratio of agrarian income to overall per capita GDP drops to less than a half in China and Vietnam, while it remained above or close to one in India and Indonesia. In other words, agrarian workers in one-party China and Vietnam became relatively poorer while their country became richer, agrarian workers in India and Indonesia did not incur a relative disadvantage.”

    1. Percentage of population involved in agriculture:
    a. China – 25
    b. India > 50

    2. The average income of a Chinese agricultural worker would still have increased at a faster rate than an Indian agricultural worker inspite of lower relative growth

    IMO India’s failing has been to prioritize redistribution at the cost of absolute growth. The latter is the harder thing to do.

    Also, India’s income redistribution hasn’t been very effectual in improving human capital. Indian performance in PISA-like tests has continued to be disappointing. Health indicators like average height have also stalled.

    1. Prats, the Chinese farmer is selling his goods in a market with more dollars, so they are going to earn more in dollar terms. But the fact that they are making half the national average in income is going to devastate their ability to afford good services. Even certain industrial goods, like tractors, have more penetration in the Indian market than the Chinese one.

      See: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/AG.AGR.TRAC.NO?locations=IN-CN

      I wouldnt give too much credence to statistics like PISA results, Communist states are masters at gaming such tests. The big takeaway here is that Chinese rural areas are getting depopulated and their government is trying to take over agricultural land in other countries.

  6. “It is fascinating how communists of all shades suck at understanding the food cycle and agrarian dynamics.”

    This struck me while reading Gaidar’s book on the collapse of the Soviet Union as well as Vogel’s book on Deng Xiaoping’s life. There is an absolute disregard for farmer’s as human beings, and agriculture is seen as something that purely provides raw materials rather than a basis for a way of life. There is a complete absence of people with a farming background in the top decision making bodies of such technocratic states, which value qualifications over experience.

  7. “The set patterns are very comfortable from the economic (MSP + diaspora remittances + armed forces recruitment) and psychological (we feed and secure the nation) perspective. The simple promise of higher incomes might not convince historically agrarian communities who havent fully embraced the money economy.”

    This is on the money. These communities place agriculture at the heart of their identity and its more than just a question of livelihood. I must admit that my initial reading of the situation was that this was a middleman led political agitation guided by vested interests but the determination of so many farmers to protest in harsh winter conditons has forced me to rethink my stand. The visceral distrust that these folk have of corporates outweighs a promised income increase – a bird in hand is worth two in the bush after all, and in a low trust country you will fight to retain whatever slice of the pie you’ve fought so hard to retain. These people are also sensing the winds – that India is increasingly going down the path of market-led corpo economic growth that is characterised by (what they see as) the arch-vilanous Guju dominated ruling dispensation. The days of the exalted sons-of-the-soil jawans and kisans are numbered, and this is their last stand.

    Its interesting that almost no one in my (TB) family circle is even remotely sympathetic to the protestors, or even cares for it anymore. It could be the fact that its all N Indian and hence out of their radar, but I think its because my community is one of few in India that is almost fully urban and white collar, and hence has no common ground with these folks.

    And finally while there’s no denying that the PM is a masterful communicator, he has proven on more than occasion that he’s way off when it comes to reading the pulse of the nation. DeMo was a disaster that wrecked the lives of many, and so was the hastily organised lockdown that smacked of wilful neglect of poor rural migrants. While he may be right on this issue (I’m pro-reform) he’s again completely misread the resolve of the protestors and hasn’t once made an effort to go to the protest site himself or send a senior leader. Far from the infallible icon that still too many people in India see him as.

    1. “a low trust country you will fight to retain whatever slice of the pie you’ve fought so hard to retain.”

      Absolutely. Even in general, humans are much more sensitive to any potential losses than possible (larger) gains. And even more so in a low trust society like India is.

      Modi has good ideas, but his execution style is quite brazen. I dont think he has faith in most people around him. This will hurt the BJP in the long run.

    2. he has proven on more than occasion that he’s way off when it comes to reading the pulse of the nation. DeMo was a disaster that wrecked the lives of many, and so was the hastily organised lockdown that smacked of wilful neglect of poor rural migrants.

      Siddharth, you’re confusing prudent policy with popularity. Modi’s policies that you mentioned were not sound, but they were wildly popular, especially DeMo. He successfully portrayed its opponents as covering for the wealthy and corrupt, tapping into resentment and populism.

      His lockdown was failed and haphazard, but given recent polls (by e.g. India Today among others), the BJP remains as popular as ever.

      Both of these facts are testament to Modi’s immense political skill. But they do not change the fact that many of his policies were substandard. Two different concepts.

  8. A well-argued piece by Vikram. though I have a few minor quibbles.
    First, being a net food importer is not something to be necessarily avoided. China also has less fertile land than India does, in addition to the fact that there are far fewer vegetarians. A heavy meat-oriented diet (especially beef) is very taxing on the environment. China being richer also means that consumption of everything, including food, will be higher.

    As India grows richer, becoming a net food importer does not need to be a major problem. Given ample ways to import, it isn’t a major national security issue it was in previous centuries. A bigger factor would be oil. People can go without food for days or even weeks. A country without oil for a few weeks will grind to a complete halt. At any rate, nothing prevents countries from buildin up food reserves either (as China has done).

    More fundamentally, India’s main problem has been lack of job growth for unskilled and low-skilled workers. Arvind Subramanian wrote a very good paper on it recently where he showed that not only services is highly biased towards the high end (IT, pharma etc) as we all know, but even manufacturing as well. India has for unclear, sociological reasons overly focused on sectors that are typical of a highly developed country (labour-scarce, highly skill-dependent and capital intensive). This has left a very large share of Indian workers out in the cold.

    The farming crisis is a reflection of this fact and must be seen together, rather than a seperate part. Simply put, you cannot solve the farm crisis without solving the greater economic structure of India’s misallocated human capital resources. Farmers simply have to be moved off the farm and farming has to be stopped being romanticised. It’s low productive, poorly paid and inefficient.

    The government has taken some tentative steps in this direction, by planning to set up 7 “megaparks” for textile exports. This is exactly what India needs and it needs more of it. The bizarre bias towards high-skill sectors (both in services and manufacturing) has misaligned India’s comparative advantages (it has plenty of unskilled labour) and the farm sector has often been a place of “last resort” for these masses with poor employment prospects. Fix that, and the farming crisis will dissipate in congruence.

    1. Thanks principia, agreed that our labor force has to move into more productive sectors. However, we should not narrow our vision to a single template of urban industrialization. Ultimately, most consumption and jobs are in services.

      There is no reason why clusters of Indian villages can become a kind of suburbia for bigger cities, with a decent chunk of workers still working in high value farming. Most jobs will still be in services. We do not need to depopulate our villages where there are a good number of built-up assets (housings, schools, public buildings) to become a rich country.

      Regarding meat consumption, cultural reasons have implied that India’s meat consumption has dropped even as its economy has boomed. There are complex reasons for this. Even among Muslims, the butcher caste are considered the lowest. The societal injunctions against killing animals are extremely strong.
      https://tinyurl.com/255zbaff

  9. I notice that there is a conflation of malnourishment and food security. Possibly this is the nature of message board driven debates to make rhetorical talking points. But this point needs to be clarified.

    Famines happen when countries/regions run out of food stocks (production failure), there is political mismanagement and natural causes. Malnourishment happens when there is a failure of an access mechanism (inadequate buying power, distribution inefficiency etc).

    India today has chronic malnourishment in regions. China today has an acute risk of a famine.

    China’s food security has been deteriorating steadily since the 2010s. In 2017, China imported 105B USD and exported merely 60B USD of agri products. So that deficit of 45B USD in 2017 has grown much further today.

    https://chinapower.csis.org/china-food-security/

    India, in 2020, exported 43B USD and imported 27B USD of agri products. In other words, India is a net calorific exporter.

    This is also just a repeat of history. The last great famine of India was in Bengal under British rule. The last great famine in China was under CCP rule (1961).

    The Indian agricultural sector has been much better managed by Indian political leaders than the Chinese experience. This is a thread that is even valid today.

    1. Ugra,

      There are two words

      Famine: Caused by crop failure

      Starvation: There is food in the country but it is not going to some segments of the population.

      Bengal, Madras Presidency and Ireland were starvation.

      Based on the data for India, it looks like undernourishment and starvation in India. Food is exported and does not get to the under privileged. Heck India is the biggest exporter of Beef, which might be better used to increase protein intake.

      Anyway here is a update on India’s food “security”

      Millions of Indians could be on the brink of starvation, warn food policy experts. Independent researchers estimate that there have been at least 11 cases of people who died of hunger in the month since the lockdown. And these are only the deaths that have been reported.

      https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/south-asia/millions-in-india-on-the-brink-of-starvation-despite-overflowing-granaries

      The latest Global Hunger Index 2020 study does not make for cheery reading for India. The study has placed India 94th out of 107 countries in terms of hunger, locating it in the ‘severe’ hunger category.

      As per the study, roughly 14 per cent of the country’s population remains undernourished. To put this into perspective, China and Brazil, perhaps the only two countries with populations comparable to India’s, had under-nourishment rates under 2.5 per cent.

      India has improved its rank by 8 positions from last year but still sits behind the majority of its South Asian neighbours – Pakistan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Myanmar. Only Afghanistan, ranked 99th, is worse off than India.

      According to ‘The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World’ report compiled by the FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO, India was home to 189.2 million (28 per cent) of the 673 million undernourished people in the world as of 2017-2019. It also accounted for 28 per cent of the world’s stunted (low height-for-age) children under the age of five, and 43 per cent of the world’s wasted children (Low weight-for-height).

      https://www.timesnownews.com/mirror-now/in-focus/article/india-facing-severe-starvation-challenge-says-report-what-s-behind-its-dire-ranking-in-hunger-index/674013

      1. @sbarrkum

        I already conceded the point on malnutrition. So you just displayed your google skills flogging a dead horse. And your poverty porn finder works really well.

        Ever wonder why the Great Chinese Famine killed 10 – 40 million people in the 1960s? And there was no such thing in India??

        This is a post about sustainability and the socio-political limits to democratic intervention. India has circuit breakers to limit damage from unsound political decisions. So we have chronic malnutrition but we are not going to end up in a gargantuan mess like China.

        BTW your top floor DID get my memo about China’s deficit in agriculture. No rejoinders on that? 🙂

        1. Ugra,

          Do you know what malnutrition does, it kills infant.

          India Infant mortality 37/1,000 (2015)
          China Infant mortality 9/1,000 (2015)

          That means India has 28/1,000 more infant deaths more than China (37-9)

          Which in turn means India has 19,000,000 more infant deaths than China.

          May even be Indian Govt policy to keep population growth down.

          If I were you, instead of writing feel good posts about India’s “food security”, would write about
          a) Exporting food while depriving the poor resulting in undernourishment
          b) The hypocrisy of India being the top exporter of beef
          while allowing the poor to be malnourished because of protein deficiency.

          1. @sbarrkum
            You display the finest class of substandard intelligence that uncontrolled access to Internet can produce.

            The leading causes of infant mortality in India are neonatal infections, prematurity and lack of a proper midwifery setup. Even birth asphyxia is a major cause. Every infant mortality is preventable in the first 28 days according to UNICEF by vaccination, proper midwifery and post natal care. It has nothing to do with malnutrition, idiot.

            https://www.unicef.org/india/what-we-do/newborn-and-child-health

            And the fact that 85% of Indians (GHI Index 2020) are not malnourished despite sharing the same dietary preferences as the malnourished should tell you something. You are just pushing your own deracinated peeves, aren’t you? You are exactly like a inquisition padre out of Goa. Using distress to push your own agenda.

          2. @sbarrkum

            Which in turn means India has 19,000,000 more infant deaths than China.

            I just noticed that you pulled a number out of your backside. You think India had 19 million more infant deaths than China?? You really suck at math, logic and data interpretation.

            The total number of infant deaths in India in 2018 was 700K. This is from the WHO pivot tables for worldwide data.

            https://www.who.int/data/gho/data/indicators/indicator-details/GHO/number-of-infant-deaths-(thousands)

          3. Ugra
            Agreed, made a mistake in using infant mortality.
            I used the Infant mortality stat (37/1000) with total population.
            The 37/1000 is mortality for live births. Units, Units as they say.

            China 2015 160,601
            India 2015 851,000

            Anyway, India has 690,399 more infant deaths compared to China.
            Thats approx a 3/4 of a million.
            Over 10 years India probably had over 10 million more infant deaths than China

            Here is the data (I am using 2015) from your link.
            https://imgur.com/gallery/s3CDvJ3

            Here is a little tip for you since you found a error in my calculations, (and Thank you for that).

            Life expectancy in India is low because of Infant Mortality.
            The correct term is average life expectancy. High Infant mortality brings the average down. Most who manage to survive, live a reasonably long life
            Many countries, post WW2 with advent of vaccines etc, brought Infant mortality down and hence average life expectancy went up.

            Seem obvious when explained, to me a few months back

  10. Just saw the latest report on the farmers’ protests on Australia’s SBS news. At this point, the protests seem to have joined the list of causes (like BLM and democracy in Myanmar) that are automatically regarded as virtuous. I suspect this foreshadows a new international status for India under the BJP.

  11. Only tangentially connected to the topic at hand, what has stopped successive governments from acceding to the Anandpur Sahib resolution, at least partially? It will go a long way to defang the Sikh separatist sentiments everywhere and will build a bridge between the ruling govt and the Sikhs. At cursory reading, the demands seem quite harmless, granted there are some that might be contentious such as handing Chandigarh to Punjab, maintaining a quota for Sikhs in the armed forces and asking for greater control over river waters. But surely these can be negotiated.

    1. Anandpur Sahib resolution is a stupid document.

      Firstly there is no one version of it. Different factions of Sikh radicals have different versions. So which would you implement?

      Secondly its not as benign as you make it out to be. Its has very pernicious separatist and ethno-religious supremacist and revanchist parts. It heavily favors the Jatt agricultural economy over any potential industrialization. It basically asks the Central govt. to had over Indian Punjab with all its resources to Jatt Sikhs. If a downstream state wants water from any river passing through Punjab they should pay Punjab for it. What stops Himachal to demand the same from Punjab then?

      Thirdly this document was never meant to be taken seriously by Sikhs themselves. It was created to increase pressure over Indira Gandhi by a hardline faction of Akali Dal. Akalis were having a tough time winning elections in Punjab. Moving further and further to the right was their way to capture the Sikh vote and win the state elections.

      Mark Tully’s book gives a decent account of those events and also has details about the Anandpur Sahib resolution.

      Akali Dal has been in power for a long time in Punjab. If they wanted this Anandpur Sahib resolution implemented they should have negotiated when they were in power. They never did confirming that this was just a way for them to raise stakes during Indira’s time.

    2. No one religious/ethnic group deserves special treatment and disproportionate access to jobs and government tax money. Bribing people to stay in a union is idiotic and just breeds long term resentment, extortion, and supremacist complexes. Integration is key. Open borders and free trade within a nation. Protect individual rights. These group based demands and comprimises are only short term fixes and only seed division long term.

      1. India does have a federal structure but it also has a very powerful centre. This basic arrangement comes from the constitution itself.

        People who clamor for state rights in India are generally 2 kinds of opportunistic individuals or entities
        1) They don’t like the party currently in power at the center. It could be a Congress man or a “liberal” if the BJP is in power or it could be a BJP guy if Congress is.
        2) They are ethno-religious nuts who realize that their erstwhile power or privileges would be checked in a large democratic setup. eg Jatt Sikh supremacists in Punjab.

  12. Dont have any special sympathy for Sikhs, but Siddharth has a point. Forget Anandpur Sahib resolution, by the 80s, the Akalis had watered down their demands (from the center) so much that it was laughable that they were even demands considering what goes as ‘demands ‘ today

    They were
    (1) Start of Golden temple Express train
    (2) Banning of sales of certain stuff in the Golden temple neighborhood
    (3) Gurbani should be relayed on AIR

    This would have gone on some distance to assuage sikh emotions. But then one would want to resolve the issue to fix the issue ,No?

    “They are ethno-religious nuts who realize that their erstwhile power or privileges would be checked in a large democratic setup. eg Jatt Sikh supremacists in Punjab.”

    There are ethno nuts in every corner of India. Jats in UP, Dravidians in TamilLand, Marathas , Patidars ,Kapus etc. I dont see the Indian state ‘checking’ their power in democratic setup.

    1. Are you serious? I seriously think you are trolling.

      In the 1980s there was a serious Sikh insurgency going with an explicit demand for Khalistan. The demands were not just limited to the symbolic stuff you mention. The above demands were always inconsequential to the real powerful people behind the Sikh insurgency. They wanted a whole lot more.

      Also, the Indian state checks the power of every one of the groups you mention.

      Without the Indian state you might have had complete Dravidian, Maratha hegemony in their respective areas with other groups for instance Dalits, cut out from power.

  13. https://www.thehindubusinessline.com/blink/cover/latur-shows-the-way-for-marathwada-farmers/article33868708.ece?homepage=true

    There are stories like these coming from virtually every part of India. Farmers all over the country seem to understand that they need to be flexible in what they grow and can only press the government to provide inputs and infrastructure.

    There seems to be no escaping the conclusion that this agitation is about caste entitlement (Jat Sikh or Hindu Jat) and high uncertainty avoidance tendencies. Note that while newly prosperous peasant castes in Gujarat and Andhra moved up the value chain by investing in businesses, movies etc, the same groups in NW India failed to do so. Harish Damodaran says this is because of the strong presence of Agarwal and Khatri business groups in the region, but I am skeptical.

    1. Vanias are super strong in Gujarat. Aka Adani Advanit types. So no, the bania prescense in N india is bad excuse, as you intuitively surmised.

      The Bania blame is like the blame out on Jews in the West. It is just frankly paranoia

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