| Q. Your adversaries feel you are a disaster as agriculture minister-suicides, wheat imports. |
A. I am happy that you started with the issue of wheat import. One should try to understand the facts. Agriculture's contribution has touched 3.9 per cent. Rice, wheat, cane, pulses, cotton-our production is much more than last year.
Q. Why are you importing? You are subsidising the private sector.
A. No. We are only subsidising the consumer. Earlier, we had a system where farmers could sell only to mandis under the Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act.
Q. It was a licence raj for farmers.
A. Exactly. Today farmers in 14 states can sell where they want, when they want and at the price they want. This is the first year after this liberalisation when farmers in Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana did not have to bring wheat to the market and did not sell to the government.
Q. That is because you were paying less than the private sector.
A. No. We have raised the minimum support price. Till last year the farmer was compelled to sell to the government and now he has the liberty to sell to whoever he wants to.
Q. But the farmers feel cheated because you offered them Rs 700 and imported at Rs 900.
A. As agriculture minister I am happy the farmers got a better price.
Q. There is something fishy.
A. Not at all. Earlier the farmers couldn't sell their stock to anyone. Now they can. But as food minister I have to worry about public distribution system (PDS), procurement...
Q. If you are worried about procurement, why don't you pay the farmer what you pay for imports?
A. We didn't pay more for imports. I have to provide wheat and rice at an affordable price. If I procure in Haryana and supply to Hyderabad or Chennai, it costs me Rs 11,150 per tonne. If I import it to Chennai for south India it costs me Rs 9,500 per tonne as I save on transport, storage and interest costs.
Q. Why do farmers feel cheated?
A. On the contrary, farmers are happy. No farmer has protested. It is only politicians who are protesting.
Q. So is it a political campaign against you?
A. No. People don't understand complex issues. If prices drop we have to protect farmers from distress; if prices rise we should be ready to pay market rates.
Q. But we are stuck on subsidies, prices and imports. Agriculture needs major reforms.
A. Yes. We are suggesting crop diversion, under the horticultural mission states. We are also looking at expanding fisheries and providing the latest scientific inputs to farmers. This year every sector of our production has improved. Our procurement and supply of grains under PDS has improved by 300 per cent.
Q. But why are farmers still victims of moneylenders even after 58 years of Independence?
A. Things are improving. In two years, we have doubled the total credit to agriculture. The interest rate has been lowered from 12 to 7 per cent. We have done a lot for farmers.
Q. Why not make farmers competitive by slashing subsidies?
A. Farmers are not getting subsidy except in electricity and irrigation. They have been sacrificing and paying for the food security of the country.
Q. Why are rich farmers like Sharad Pawar not being taxed?
A. Sharad Pawar is paying tax. But agriculture is no longer viable and I don't want pressure on farmers.
Q. Your alliance with the Shiv Sena-BJP to support Rahul Bajaj suggests trouble for it in Mumbai.
A. Let me tell you frankly that certain decisions taken between the NCP and the Congress were not implemented. In one election for the legislative council we supported their candidates but the Congress put a rebel candidate against a sitting MLC.
Q. Congress or Narayan Rane?
A. A rebel candidate whose advertisement carried pictures of the Congress president was propped up by the Congress. Our candidate lost. When there was a vacancy in the Rajya Sabha we said we will support you and you support us in the Vidhan Parishad. The Congress leadership thought it was a reasonable idea but...
Q. So who is the villain?
A. I don't know. We decided to support Rahul Bajaj and are happy that others have supported him.
Q. Lalu Prasad Yadav says you are helping the BJP.
A. How can he say that? See what happened in his own state where he contested against Ram Vilas Paswan.
Q. So the UPA coalition is just a convenience.
A. No. The government under Manmohan Singh is treating all political partners in a dignified manner.
Q. You suggest everything is hunky dory but all have their own agenda-Arjun Singh, Meira Kumar, the Left...
A. What has Arjun Singh said? It was a decision taken unanimously by Parliament. As for the oil prices, we had to take a decision. Basically every political party has every right to react.
Q. What about Meira Kumar? Isn't she making unilateral statements?
A. The committee which was chaired by me, where Meira Kumar was a member, informed the Cabinet that reservations were not possible without amending the Constitution.
Q. So isn't Meira Kumar playing to the gallery?
A. I don't know. There is a demand, there is pressure, and she is the minister of social justice.
Q. Do you approve of this kind of reservations dividing society?
A. We are supporting the weaker sections. They need help. There are no two opinions.
Q. Are you for reservations on religious grounds?
A. I am for reservations but not on religious grounds.
Q. What about cricket? Isn't there a quota there?
A. No. There is no quota. Mumbai used to dominate cricket earlier but now there are four players from Uttar Pradesh.
Q. Are you happy with the coach's performance?
A. The coach and our boys did well in the Tests. Ups and downs happen.
Q. In Mumbai they say you are keeping wickets for your daughter Supriya to join politics.
A. She has to work and has to take her own decisions. I am happy she is taking a lot of interest in education.
Q. You have always been a prime minister-in-waiting.
A. How can I have such aspirations when I have hardly 13 or 14 MPs?
Q. If a third front comes together, is Sharad Pawar a candidate?
A. No I am not a candidate because I don't have the strength.
Q. Inder Gujral had none.
A. I feel that to become prime minister one should have the support of a substantial number of MPs.
Q. In the 1970s, J.R.D. Tata said you would become prime minister.
A. He said I am prime minister material. I am grateful for that. Lot of people say good things, but it doesn't always happen.