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Byari Sahu, a farmer from Durg district, says both Congress and BJP have let their community down. Photo: Abhiram Ghadyalpatil/Mint
Byari Sahu, a farmer from Durg district, says both Congress and BJP have let their community down. Photo: Abhiram Ghadyalpatil/Mint

Discontent farmers may upset chawal wale baba’s applecart

Paddy farmers unhappy with CM Raman Singh for failing to keep the 2013 promise of 2,100 per quintal MSP

Durg (Chhattisgarh): Modi ke kaaran Raman Singh doob raha hai (It is because of Modi that Raman Singh is sinking)," declares Rajkumar Gupta, convener of Chhattisgarh Pragatisheel Kisan Sangh, a farmers’ organization that has also floated a political party called the Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch.

Talking about the assembly elections, Gupta said paddy farmers in India’s “rice bowl state" are bearing the brunt of the “misdeeds" of both the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and the Raman Singh government in Chhattisgarh.

“This will benefit the Congress because farmers tell us that they will not let the anti-BJP votes split and rather vote strategically to punish the BJP in this election." The Chhattisgarh Swabhiman Manch has fielded 15 candidates in this election, but it wants the farmers to vote for the Congress. “We cannot take on these national parties right now and so we want the farmers to vote strategically this time. But we will be a force in 2023," Gupta added.

If Gupta’s prophecy, backed by many paddy farmers Mint spoke to in Chhattisgarh, turns true, it would be an irony of sorts for Raman Singh who is fondly called the chawal wale baba (the rice god) for his scheme of distributing heavily subsidized rice among the poor. It is the paddy-growing farmer who seems to have turned against Singh for failing to keep his 2013 electoral promise of paying 2,100 per quintal minimum support price (MSP) for paddy.

“Apart from the other assurance that each grain of rice that the farmer produced would be purchased by the state, none of the promises has been kept. Worse, Modiji came in 2014 and reduced the maximum quality of paddy per acre that a farmer could sell at MSP from 20 quintals to 15," said Gupta.

No wonder that the Congress manifesto for Chhattisgarh is packed with farm-oriented sops such as 2,500 MSP for paddy, farm loan waivers within 10 days of coming to power, and payment of paddy bonus arrears in instalments. Farmer Babulal Sahu from Malud village, who is a member of another farm organization, Kisan Manch, in Durg district, said the Congress manifesto has more for farmers than the BJP’s.

“Various farm organizations came together and drafted a ten-point farm agenda. We gave this agenda to all political parties and asked them to incorporate it in their manifestoes. The Congress has taken 7-8 points but the BJP has not taken a single point. Either the BJP feels we are not a priority or it is a victim of wrong feedback that farmers are very happy in its rule."

But a farmer from Bhedsar village, Prem Prakash Dilliwar, who holds 30 acres and carries a crop loan of 7 lakh taken in January 2018 from Bank of India, is sceptical about the Congress promises. “Congress has promised loan waiver, but its manifesto is short on specifics. It has not specified the upper limit of farm loans that will be waived, whether loans taken in 2018 only will be waived or entire farm debt will be written off. Also, Congress has also put the maximum purchase per acre per farmer limit of 15 quintals in its manifesto. There is not much of a difference between the BJP and Congress."

Dillwar reminded the BJP of its 2014 promise of fixing MSP for all farm produce as per the C2 formula plus 50% cost of production as profit (a formula used by the Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices to determine the MSP). “If farm loans are to be waived, the cut-off date should be 30 September 2018," he said referring to the Congress promise.

Rajkumar Gupta said paddy farmers are also angry with the Modi-Raman Singh governments for not purchasing the full quantity of paddy produced in the state.

“In a normal kharif season, Chhattisgarh produces about 8.5 million tonnes of paddy. Despite its manifesto promise of purchasing every single grain of paddy, the highest this government has purchased through state-owned procurement centres was in 2014-15, which was around 6 million tonnes. This means nearly 2.5 million tonnes of paddy had to be sold by the farmers to private buyers at prices below the MSP. As per the MSP announced for this season, which is 1,750 per quintal (for common variety) and 1,770 (for Grade A) plus the bonus of 300 per quintal, which the Raman Singh government started paying in 2017, 2.5 million tonnes of paddy was sold by farmers in private markets at a minimum loss of 300 per quintal because the government did not buy the full quantity," said Gupta.

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