New Delhi: Widespread distress among farmers due to falling crop prices and rising debt levels, coupled with anti-incumbency, played a significant role in the Congress unseating the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in Chhattisgarh, and Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh.
The Congress’ gains were likely due to its populist poll promises targeting farmers—loan waivers within 10 days of being voted to power and a new crop insurance in Madhya Pradesh; the promise to procure paddy in Chhattisgarh at ₹ 2,500 per quintal (compared to the federal support price of ₹ 1,750 per quintal), and reduced electricity charges.
In Telangana, caretaker chief minister K. Chandrashekar Rao-led Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) swept the state, winning 88 of the 119 seats, also promising a loan waiver of ₹ 1 lakh, besides raising direct annual financial assistance from ₹ 8,000 per acre to ₹ 10,000 per acre.
Unlike the Congress and the TRS, the BJP did not promise doles, despite searing anger on the ground following the failure of central schemes such as PM-AASHA, which had promised remunerative prices and 50% returns to farmers over production cost, during the kharif harvest season in October. Farmers in Madhya Pradesh, too, were angry that the Bhavantar price support scheme launched by the state government led to wholesale prices crashing for pulses and oilseeds.
“There is no doubt that agrarian distress is real, but the results show that it is inadequately expressed in electoral outcomes...the swing away from the BJP would have been stronger if the Congress was less inept and complacent in states like Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan," said Yogendra Yadav, founding member, Jai Kisan Andolan, a farmer’s body.
He added that going into the 2019 general elections, farm distress and lack of jobs among the youth will be pressing electoral issues.
However, the results had their share of surprises. The BJP took the lead in Mandsaur, where the death of five protesting farmers in police firing in June 2017 created a national furore triggering farmer movements across India. Till late evening, the party had won three out of four assembly seats in the district.