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CPM supporters at Danta Ramgarh in Rajasthan’s Sikar district. Photo: Suman Sarkar/Mint
CPM supporters at Danta Ramgarh in Rajasthan’s Sikar district. Photo: Suman Sarkar/Mint

CPM hopes to ride on farmers’ stir to revive fortunes in poll-bound Rajasthan

Backed by CPM, the farmers' 13-day protest last year forced the state govt to give in to their demand for a loan waiver

Sikar (Rajasthan): A mass movement of farmers in September 2017, which forced the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Rajasthan under chief minister Vasundhara Raje to announce a loan waiver of 50,000 each, has come as a ray of hope for the Communist Party of India (Marxist) or CPM as it tries to revive its voter base in the state this election season.

The success of the 13-day protest backed by the Left Front has prompted the Left Democratic Front led by the CPM to contest 100 seats in the 200-member assembly.

Farm distress is the key issue in Rajasthan, where approximately two-thirds of the 200 constituencies are in rural areas. This could play a decisive role against the ruling government and could prove to be the opposition’s answer to the popularity of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“For a change, there is a party that has raised issues of the farmers. We will support them in this election. Till a few years ago, there used to be proper farming here. Now we struggle to grow anything. There is a shortage of water and there has been no development," said 60-year-old Tulsa Ram, a farmer from Mae Rajanpura village in Danta Ramgarh constituency.

Danta Ramgarh had become the epicentre of the farmers’ protest in September last year. It took Left Front just 13 days, from 1-13 September last year, to make the agrarian crisis in Rajasthan an issue for the BJP leadership in New Delhi to notice.

Two former members of the legislative assembly (MLAs), Amra Ram of the CPM and state Kisan Sabha president Pema Ram, became the voice of the Left Front in Rajasthan. Amra Ram is contesting from Danta Ramgarh in Sikar district, which he also represented in 2008. Pema Ram is contesting from Dhod, a reserved constituency in the same district.

The CPM, which is the largest party of the Left Front, is desperately making attempts to connect with masses again in the state. The move is significant as it comes at a time when they are faced with a shrinking electoral footprint nationally. Apart from Kerala, the Left Front is not in power in any state and the alliance, which had been ruling Tripura for 25 years, recently lost the elections in Tripura.

The protest by local leaders for fair prices of agriculture produce and loan waiver that started from Sikar district quickly resonated with farmers of the neighbouring districts of Jhunjhunu and Churu in the semi-arid Shekhawati region of Rajasthan. The region is also important for the BJP as a large section of farmers belong to the dominant Jat population that accounts for 10% of voters.

“I assure you all that I will always take forward the causes that you support me for. It is because of the public getting together that we have been able to make the government bend down to our demands," Amra Ram said at a public meeting in his constituency.

Interestingly, the CPM did not have a single member in the assembly as it drew a blank in the 2013 assembly elections. The party’s best performance was in 2008, when they had three members in the House.

The farm protests which started from Rajasthan last year has also been instrumental in the Left parties taking up farm issues across the country. After the protests in Rajasthan, similar protests were held in Maharashtra and a recent protest was also organized in New Delhi to demand a special session of Parliament to discuss agrarian distress.

“The BJP and Congress do not take up issues that are related to farmers and laborers. It is parties like ours that raise such issues and are connected with the ground. There is a sizable rural voter base in Rajasthan. This will help us this election," a senior national-level CPM leader, who did not wish to be named said.

However, some voters say that the Left has limited representation.

“What is the point of electing the CPM? Even if they win a few seats in Sikar they will not be able to have a larger say in the assembly. The party has good leaders who are from the ground at take up issues that affect the farmers and laborers but at the end of the day their presence is limited to a few seats," Nandlal, a Rajasthan Roadways employee in Karampura village in Dhod constituency said.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi reached out to farmers and announced that the party will waive farm loans in 10 days if it comes to power. The BJP has also promised in their election manifesto that it will ensure minimum support price and also give concessions in electricity and water for irrigation.

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