For most of the 4,000-odd farmers who have converged on Gandhinagar for the Vibrant Gujarat Global Agricultural Summit, the swank and sprawling complex of the Mahatma Mandir is a different world. All plugs have been pulled out to make this initiative, an obvious exercise by the Gujarat Chief Minister and prime minister hopeful Narendra Modi, to connect with this huge rural constituency, a success.
The farmers hailing from remote corners of India and 542 districts — a figure surprisingly close to the number of Lok Sabha seats — are being virtually treated as VIPs. While the total cost of the travel and accommodation of the large number of awardees — each getting a cash award of Rs 51,000 for their exemplary farming practices — has been borne by the organisers, all that the remaining farmers have had to dish out is the cost of their train ticket.
“For us from Tamil Nadu, this meant only an expenditure of Rs 1,250 for the return ticket on Navjeevan Express from Chennai,” says an excited Prabhakaran, a paddy farmer from Thiruvannamalai in Tamil Nadu. A delegation of 140 farmers is attending this meet from Tamil Nadu. “We were met at the Ahmedababd station and have been put up in a very comfortable place.”
Adds fellow farmer Uma Lenin from Vellore, “The food is super, and each group of 40 has been given a bus with our own driver, so we’ve not had to spend a penny after landing here.”
The 200-strong delegation from Punjab is even more privileged. Accompanied by few officials from the Punjab Agricultural Department, even their travel cost (“including our meals in the train,” says Bhatinder Singh Sarkari, a Punjab farmer) has been borne by their Government, and “we’ve been given AC rooms in a hotel which would cost Rs 4,000 or more a night…. We are three to a room, and are delighted with the VIP treatment we’re receiving here,” he beams.
The farmers have been invited here to not only honour the high performers from across the country, but also to give them an opportunity to learn about the best practices in agriculture not only from researchers and technical experts but also by sharing their experiences. The accent is on increased productivity, higher yield and diversified, high value farming. The endeavour is also to connect them with the best technology and modern agri equipment and implements available to increase their yield and reduce their dependence on labour at a time when labour for farm operations is becoming prohibitively expensive.
Over 200 companies from 15 nations are showcasing their farm implements and machinery at the accompanying exhibition. A large contingent of the national media has been invited and the importance of this meet to Modi can be seen from his presence on the first day not only through the entire inaugural session lasting over three hours but also at the subsequent Kisan Panchayat post lunch. About 10,000 farmers participated in this Panchayat. And then he dashed back after addressing the Jaipur BJP rally on Tuesday to address the valedictory session of the farmers’ summit.
Most of the Gujarat ministers were found attending the different sessions and senior bureaucrats too had been directed to give this meet their undiluted attention. Ample arrangements were made at different parts of the huge complex for lunch and there was no dearth of water bottles, Amul buttermilk cartons, ice cream and other refreshments, all on the house of course.
More than one farmer I spoke to had only one sentiment to express: Finally somebody has recognised the worth and value of the Indian farmer.