BJP, Congress in Madhya Pradesh vying to reach out to farmers
As a counter to the BJP’s farm outreach plan, Congress launched a Kisan Swambhiman Yatra to felicitate farmers for raising their voice and pushing for a farm loan waiver
Mumbai: Wrongfooted by the sudden flare-up of farmer’s protests last month, the Madhya Pradesh (MP) government has launched what it calls the Kisan Sandesh Yatra, ordering ruling party legislators to reconnect with farmers.
All 165 legislators of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including ministers, have been deployed in their constituencies and districts, to engage with farmers. Also drafted in to prepare for assembly elections due in 2018 are party cadres and ticket aspirants in those constituencies where the BJP lost in 2013.
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A senior BJP legislator, who requested anonymity, said the party wanted to assess the mood of the farmers ahead of the monsoon session of the state assembly from 17 July.
“The chief minister has repeatedly said that the farm unrest was confined to one or two parts of the state and was not as widespread as the opposition claims. While this is true, we need to talk to farmers and find out what their demands are before the monsoon session begins. The opposition is all set to raise the demand for farm loan waiver in the session and we need to prepare our response,” said the legislator.
A state BJP office-bearer said all legislators have been asked to post details of their outreach activities on social media. “One remarkable thing about the farm protest was the social media outreach. Farm activists based in one part of Madhya Pradesh reached out to farmers in other parts in a span of few days using WhatsApp and Facebook. It is an irony that despite having a BJP prime minister who is so active on social media, most BJP legislators in MP are not even on Twitter and Facebook. They have been asked to open their accounts and start tweeting their Sandesh Yatra activities,” said the BJP functionary requesting anonymity.
As a counter to the BJP’s farm outreach plan, the opposition Congress on Saturday launched a Kisan Swambhiman Yatra to felicitate farmers for raising their voice and pushing for a farm loan waiver. While the BJP’s outreach ends on 6 July, the Congress yatra will go on till 10 July. In the 230-member MP legislative assembly, the Congress has 56 legislators. Out of power in MP since 2003, the Congress has sensed that highlighting farm issues can give it a chance of regaining power in 2018.
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Launching the Kisan Swambhiman Yatra, leader of the opposition Ajay Singh said the state had seen as many as 53 farm suicides in the last 24 days “but the BJP government was busy spending public money on making a great show of tree plantation”.
“Tree plantation in Madhya Pradesh has been a regular government activity. Why make such a grand show about it when farmers are in distress,” said Singh, who has written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanding a probe into how Madhya Pradesh won as many as five Krushi Karman awards from the Centre for farm productivity when farmers in the state were in distress.
Kedar Sirohi, founder member of the Aam Kisan Union which is at the vanguard of farm unrest in Madhya Pardesh, mocked the BJP outreach. “If only the BJP had carried out this exercise much earlier, it would have understood the intensity and gravity of farm distress. What they are doing now is only damage control. The very fact that such a yatra has been launched proves that the government has lost the connect with the farmers,” Sirohi said.
Meanwhile, chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, in an interview with Hindi daily Dainik Bhaskar published on 29 June, ruled out a farm loan waiver in Madhya Pradesh. He has said that only 28% of the state’s 8.2 million farmers had been listed as defaulters by banks. “Loan waiver is not the solution to the agrarian crisis because it would benefit only a small number of farmers. We are working on a scheme to help these 28% farmers so that they become eligible for fresh credit at zero per cent rate of interest,” Chouhan said.