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State must re-engage with peasantry, says Prabhat Patnaik

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Local approach: Planning Board vice-chairman Prabhat Patnaik releasing the Malayalam translation of Magsaysay Award winner P. Sainath’s book ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’ by handing over a copy to Sulochana of Akkulam, one of the fighters of the struggle for surplus land, at a function in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday. The author is second from right. —
Local approach: Planning Board vice-chairman Prabhat Patnaik releasing the Malayalam translation of Magsaysay Award winner P. Sainath’s book ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’ by handing over a copy to Sulochana of Akkulam, one of the fighters of the struggle for surplus land, at a function in Thiruvananthapuram on Friday. The author is second from right. —

Special Correspondent

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: Attributing the agrarian distress in the country to the change in the orientation of the State towards peasant agriculture over the last few decades, State Planning Board vice-chairman Prabhat Patnaik has said the need of the hour is a re-engagement of the State with the peasantry for the protection and promotion of agriculture.

Releasing the Malayalam translation of The Hindu Rural Affairs Editor P. Sainath’s book ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’ here on Friday, Prof. Patnaik said the seriousness of the agrarian crisis should be evident from the 70,000 suicides reported after the implementation of the agricultural debt waiver scheme.

“The State has turned its back on the peasants. Flow of credit from banks to the peasants has dried up. The State has become more interested in accumulation of capital as different from the early post-independence decades when the State had helped and supported the peasantry with irrigation, credit and procurement and marketing support and various other measures. This change in the nature and orientation of the State has resulted in high level of distress,” Prof. Patnaik said.

He said Mr. Sainath’s importance as a journalist was that he did not join the ‘great Indian celebration of growth rates’ because he could see that underlying the growth figures was absolute increase in hunger, poverty and immiseration, which in turn was associated with a deep-rooted agrarian crisis.

The increase in hunger was universal and something that affected the other growth achiever, China.

High growth rates on the one hand and growing distress on the other captured contemporary world reality. This was part and parcel of neo-liberal capitalism, Prof. Patnaik said.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Sainath pointed out that the worth of 53 Indian dollar billionaires listed by the Forbes magazine was about 31 per cent of the country’s GDP. Eight million peasants in the country had quit agriculture over the last few decades and nobody knew where they had gone.

There were many who doubted the gravity of the situation and felt that the persistence of high level of farmer suicides was only natural given the increase in general suicides.

However, they forgot that the general suicides have gone up on an increasing population and the farmer suicides had gone up on a falling farmer population, he said.

K. Sulochana, a beneficiary of the land struggles of the early 1970s, received the book, brought out by Matrubhumi Books, from Prof. Patnaik. N. Balakrishnan, Deputy Editor, Matrubhumi, K.A. Shaji, who has translated the book to Malayalam, and Ravi Menon, noted writer, spoke.

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