Resource centre on India's rural distress

Beyond just persuasion -Ameya Pratap Singh

-The Hindu

The protesting farmers need sincerity and accountability from the Centre, not edification

In light of protests against the new farm laws, the Centre has attempted to educate farmers — a form of instrumental reasoning based on exchange of superior information and data — to convince them of the merits of its reform agenda. Since it is presumed that complex matters of economic policy are beyond the intellectual capacities of agrarians, policy implementation often becomes a teacher-pupil dialogue, where persuasion is akin to enlightening ‘lesser intellectuals’ to the merits of technocratic governance. If people (in this case farmers) ‘know better’, they would support the government.

However, persuasion is a qualitatively distinct psychological process from mere information-gathering and ‘rational’ decision-making. Most notably, in circumstances that involve vulnerability, it always includes an element of trust. But, do the farmers of India trust their government? This situation is vexed by the precarity of the agricultural sector. In 2019, as many as 10,281 farmer suicides were reported. Small and marginal farmers own only 47% of the total crop area. Farmers’ incomes are expected to rise “by about 9% to 16,017.96 rupees ($214) this year”, but there is still a high degree of financial precarity in the sector. Considering this, one can sympathise with the anxieties about disruptions in the Mandi system. Farmers recognise the exploitative nature of the existing supply-chains. But, how will they be persuaded that the alternative is better? Certainly not by signalling from the government, that mistakes information as a panacea for trust deficits.

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