Why Modi Chose Shivraj Singh Chouhan As Agriculture Minister

Nishtha Anushree

Jun 11, 2024, 01:51 PM | Updated 02:33 PM IST

Agriculture Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan with Prime Minister Narendra Modi
Agriculture Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan with Prime Minister Narendra Modi
  • Chouhan's work as CM brought Madhya Pradesh among the leading grain-producing states of the country.
  • Former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has been appointed Minister of Agriculture and Farmers' Welfare and the Minister of Rural Development in the third Narendra Modi Cabinet.

    Chouhan served MP as CM from 2005 to 2023, with a 15-month break in between when Congress formed government in the state for a small period after the 2018 Assembly elections.

    MP now ranks first in the production of Soybean, Gram, Urad, Tur, Masoor and Linseed and second in the production of Maize, Sesame, Ramtil, Moong and Wheat (after Uttar Pradesh) in the country.

    This was not the case in 2005 when Chouhan took charge as the CM. MP was considered as one of the BIMARU states. He began by focusing on each deficiency area at the input side of MP's agricultural economy.

    At the macro level, Chouhan established an 'Agriculture Cabinet', focusing especially on the financials of the sector. This governance structure fixed individual ministerial and bureaucratic responsibility for various initiatives launched by the state government over the next few years. 

    The Chouhan government then started focusing on the financing of the cultivation process. New schemes were launched to provide interest-free loans with liberal principal payment terms for farmers.

    Chouhan also extended targeted subsidies for various factors of agricultural production, like seeds, fertilisers and farm equipment. 

    The state government worked in parallel to solve the irrigation and water availability problems to risk-proof farmers from the vagaries of monsoons.

    While the Digvijaya Singh government had launched the 'paani roko' programme in 2002-03 after two successive monsoons failed, the initiative was neither scaled nor funded and as a consequence, local water bodies and traditional storage structures had been rendered unusable by 2006-07.

    Chouhan started clearing the backlog of various stalled irrigation programmes and promoting water harvesting and conservation at the micro level.

    The success of the water management programmes of the state was also acknowledged widely. Dewas model — named after the water conservation programme launched in the Dewas district of Madhya Pradesh — epitomised the success story with farmers from Maharashtra and Rajasthan travelling to Dewas to understand micro-irrigation techniques better. 

    The irrigation coverage almost doubled from 24 to 45.3 per cent of its gross cropped area in the last two decades in MP. The result is that MP’s cropping intensity is 1.9 today, almost the same as Punjab.

    In the last 10 years, when agriculture in India grew at an average of 3.7 per cent, it was more than double for MP with an average of 6.5 per cent annual growth.

    Thus, the data backs Chouhan's credibility as the Agriculture Minister. Political observers believe that it is the first time in the Modi government that a heavyweight leader has got the Agriculture portfolio.

    Earlier, Radha Mohan Singh, Narendra Singh Tomar and Arjun Munda served as Agriculture Ministers under Prime Minister Modi.

    However, no major progress could be seen in the sector. Moreover, the country witnessed prolonged farmers' protests, ultimately leading to the repealing of the three laws formed by the Parliament.

    Notably, farmers' protests had erupted in MP's Mandsaur in June 2017 and escalated when five farmers were killed in police firing. To quell the agitating farmers, Chouhan deployed a unique strategy.

    Apart from announcing measures like guaranteed Minimum Support Price (MSP), friendly acquisition of land and establishment of agriculture cooperatives, Chouhan sat for an indefinite fast for one and a half days.

    The situation was back to normal within a few days. Even in the 2018 elections, when the BJP lost power to Congress, it was able to win three of the four seats in the Mandsaur district, which witnessed farmers' protests.

    One hopes that Chouhan will be able to use his experience from MP as Union Agriculture Minister and improve the sector that faces challenges of climate change, innovation deficit, reluctance to technology adaptation and diminishing interest of the private sector.

    Nishtha Anushree is Senior Sub-editor at Swarajya. She tweets at @nishthaanushree.

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