Will farmers decide the outcome of polls?
Falling crop prices, rising farm debt have taken centre stage in state polls
Hyderabad/Indore: The spectre of falling crop prices and rising debt among farmers has taken centre stage in the ongoing state elections, prompting political parties to promise to better the farmers’ lot in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Chhattisgarh and Telangana.
In Chhattisgarh which went to polls in November, farm distress dominated much of the electoral narrative and the better part of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Congress party’s manifestos focused on agriculture.
J.B. Das, a farmer with 50 acres of land in Durg district, said on manifesto alone the Congress scored over the BJP. “The Congress manifesto came first and promised farm loan waiver as well as ₹2,500 per quintal minimum support price (MSP) for paddy. The BJP could have done better in its manifesto but it came out with it just ahead of the elections and, worse, it did not make any mention of the paddy MSP or loan waiver,” Das said, adding that the BJP’s “overconfidence” in assuming that the farm crisis in Chhattisgarh was not a genuine problem could cost it its 15-year-old government.
Uttam Chandrakar, a farmer and activist from Malud village in the same district, said the BJP government in Chhattisgarh as well as at the centre had betrayed farmers. “The sense of betrayal became more intense when (Prime Minister Narendra) Modiji cut down the quantity of per acre paddy a farmer could sell at MSP from 20 to 15 quintals.”
In Madhya Pradesh’s Indore, a large farmer who is also involved in agro-processing, said demonetization was not only an “ad hoc” measure that meant short-term pain for farmers but it had also convinced the farmers by the time the elections in Madhya Pradesh arrived that not much good had come of it. “Worse, Modiji talked about it in Madhya Pradesh rallies as a measure to take out ill-gotten cash from the rich and corrupt when it was ordinary farmers and people who suffered the most,” he said, explaining why the sentiment turned against the BJP despite Madhya Pradesh attaining high standards of farm productivity during chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s tenure.
As in Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, anger among farmers is a major issue in Telangana. It has caused enough unrest to put Telangana Rashtra Samithi supremo K. Chandrashekar Rao and the Congress-led opposition (comprising the Telugu Desam Party, Communist Party of India and the Telangana Jana Samithi) in a close contest in the polls, said Hyderabad-based political analyst Palwai Raghavendra Reddy.
The discontent is despite the Rythu Bandhu investment support scheme announced by the Telangana government —expected to be a game-changer that could help KCR win a second term. The first-of-its-kind scheme provides land-owning agriculturists ₹4,000 per acre for each of the rabi and kharif seasons.
However, despite the pro-farmer steps by Rao, which includes a new accidental death insurance scheme for farmers, discontent is rife. “We got the cheques under the Rythu Bandhu but what help is that for people like me who have only a few acres of land?” questioned Ananth Rao, a farmer from Togarpally village in Telangana’s Sangareddy district. Rao, as part of his party’s manifesto for the forthcoming 2018 state polls, has promised another ₹1 lakh loan waiver and also to increase the “Rythu Bandhu” investment scheme amount to ₹5,000 per acre per season. The Congress has stated that it will waive loans of up to ₹2 lakh if it comes to power.
In Rajasthan which goes to polls on 7 December alongside Telangana, Congress president Rahul Gandhi has promised to waive farm loans in 10 days of being voted to power, while the BJP has promised to ensure better crop prices and reduced charges for electricity and water. “While (retail) prices have continued to rise in the last few years, farmers are waiting to get a fair price,” said Feroz Khan, a 34-year-old from Ramgarh constituency in Alwar district.
Pretika Khanna from New Delhi contributed to this story.
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