Monday. 25/1/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Lyndee Prickitt

Spat of the land

For nearly 60 days, tens of thousands of Indian farmers have occupied roads leading to New Delhi, setting up camps with trucks, tractors, horses and cows, and massive makeshift kitchens. Most say that they have no intention of leaving until the government repeals three new laws purporting to give farmers more market freedom but which farmers fear will benefit big business. Now the farmers are vowing to enter the capital tomorrow, India’s Republic Day, for a tractor rally that could increase tension in the capital and has police on high alert.

India’s antiquated agriculture sector needs reform: many of its laws and practices were born out of an age of scarcity and state socialism, which does little to propel India into the global economy. But it’s also true that most of those who work in India’s agriculture sector, which by some estimates support more than half of its 1.4 billion people, are poorly educated and own less than two hectares of land.

The government argues that the new laws will foster private trade over state-regulated markets and open up contract farming between producers and companies. The protesting farmers, however, worry that this will give too much power to big retailers. They’re also concerned that the minimum-price support policy for rice and wheat will be dismantled. It’s an understandable worry but the system has also disincentivised farmers, mostly from India’s “wheat belt” states of Haryana and Punjab, from growing other crops. This means a perennial glut of rotting wheat and rice, never mind depleted groundwater, nutrient-low soil and polluted air from the burning of rice stubble.

So there is cause for change. But if reforms are to be embraced by the public, then Narendra Modi and his government, which many feel rushed the process without any coalition-building and then took a heavy-handed response to the protests, will have to find a compromise. That should involve applying a human touch to reforms that are currently seen as heartless by those most affected.

Prickitt is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to Monocle based in New Delhi.

Society / USA

Unity of purpose

You might have heard a collective sigh of relief last week as Joe Biden’s inauguration went off without a hitch. But it could have been the sound of the president rifling through his unenviable in-tray. Biden certainly has his work cut out if he’s to uphold his pledges of healing and unity. Luckily for him, there’s a framework in place for bringing together the historical divisions in his country, as Oliver Ramsbotham, emeritus professor of conflict resolution at the University of Bradford told Monocle 24’s The Globalist. “The aim of it is not to eliminate conflict, because you can’t,” says Ramsbotham, whose field extends far beyond simple mediation. “It’s to transform potentially violent conflict into change.” Biden’s statesman-like reputation will no doubt serve him well when it comes to reaching across the aisle – but for meaningful and lasting peace, Americans will have to work together on a vision for the future.

Tune in to ‘The Globalist’ throughout this week for a series of reports on conflict resolution and the role of the Biden administration.

Politics / Vietnam

Party man

Vietnam’s Communist Party congress begins today to determine the party’s – and, by extension, the country’s – leadership and direction for the next five years. The key point of discussion is the future of 76-year-old general secretary Nguyen Phu Trong (pictured), a hardline communist in political terms who has nevertheless backed an opening up of Vietnam’s economy over the past decade. Though party regulations mean that he is technically too old to stay in office, Trong has been wrangling for an exception (something he also received five years ago).

“The Communist Party is very good at keeping things behind closed doors,” Bill Hayton, associate fellow at the Asia-Pacific programme at Chatham House, told The Globalist. “They’ve been fighting like cats in a sack for the past year. Yet when they all appear on stage they’ll pretend that it’s all been agreed and that it’s been painless and everybody loves each other.” Trong appears likely to remain in the lead role.

Business / UK

Saddled with paperwork

Brooks England is the world’s largest manufacturer of leather bicycle saddles; their products have been handmade in the West Midlands since 1866. But for the moment its UK customers are unable to buy any on the company’s website, a reality that Brooks was forced to clarify in a statement on Friday. On the brink of bankruptcy in the early 2000s, Brooks was taken over by the Selle Royal Group, based in Pozzoleone, Italy. Its saddles have long been distributed globally via Europe in a prime example of how EU integration works. But since 1 January, Brooks and other UK companies have been left by the government to sort out the additional paperwork and added layers of bureaucracy – and apologise to their customers, who might turn elsewhere. Although Brexit took years to accomplish before the UK government celebrated a last-minute trade deal, the reality in 2021 is that many businesses are left pedalling along on a lonely and uncertain path.

Culture / Switzerland

Light relief

Coinciding with Switzerland’s lockdown, the city of Dietikon is bringing art to the people with a new nighttime exhibition taking over the city’s streets and shops. To see the projects, you have to wait until the sun sets but as soon as darkness falls a series of remarkable artworks will appear. Some installations are outside, while other artists use vacated shops as their canvas. Equipped with a map, visitors can embark on a journey: from a lighthouse where your wishes will be sent by a light bolt into space to a 200 metre-long painted rope that looks like a laser beam to the naked eye. The light installation can be seen every night until the end of February. Just don’t forget to bring the map, along with some good company, warm clothes and a Thermos flask of Glühwein.

M24 / Eureka

The Natural Wine Company

Alfredo Lopez is founder of The Natural Wine Company, a Barcelona-based business launched by Lopez and the team behind the cult interiors magazine Apartamento.

Monocle Films / Global

The happiness formula

Our latest issue of ‘The Forecast’ celebrates the elements of urban life that surpass the ordinary: from leaping headlong into a lake, getting a little competitive or bunking off work early, here are a few simple gratifying steps to keep you smiling. Enjoy.

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