New Delhi: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s will to win elections is forcing him to court farmers but end-of-term promises may not yield electoral dividends, says Yogendra Yadav, farmer leader and president of Swaraj India. Edited excerpts from an interview:
The centre recently hiked minimum support price (MSP) significantly and promised to ensure procurement of pulses and oilseeds. Do you think it will help the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politically?
It is quite clear that the Prime Minister is concerned about farmers. To put it more bluntly he is concerned about farmers’ votes. To put it even more bluntly he is scared after Gujarat and after the by-election results. He is not politically naive... he can sense it that he could be looking at a defeat or at least a substantial setback enough to put him and the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in minority in the coming (general) elections and the principal cause would be rural distress. It is quite clear that Modi is going all out now to address that.
However, I remain sceptical. Historically we know whatever the government does in the fifth year does not affect election results very much. It also all depends on actual delivery and that’s not going to be easy because announcing MSP in New Delhi is one thing, delivering it to the farmer in the mandi is quite a task. In large parts of the country the institutional mechanism for delivering MSP does not exist... to create it overnight is not going to be easy.
Do you expect farmers to vote in a block in the coming elections?
The task to bring them together as one single block is politically very difficult. The reason is the sheer diversity of Indian agriculture.
Will agrarian crisis impact polls in Madhya Pradesh (MP), Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan?
I don’t see anything dramatically different in these three states that separate them from the rest of the country but for the electoral calendar. Chhattisgarh’s only claim to fame has been its ability to deliver PDS (public distribution system) in a way which is relatively better than others. But that’s an old claim, they have already won two elections on that and you can’t win again on that one claim.
The MP government clearly faces a very serious challenge. This arises from the fact that our agriculture policy has been production oriented. So a state can keep getting Krishi Karman Awards, as MP has got repeatedly, but these awards are all about production levels. We have not so far developed a crude index of what these things do to the producer. After travelling in MP, my own sense is that it hasn’t resulted in very much. There is resentment, unhappiness. Given the firing in Mandsaur, and subsequent events, the only respite Shivraj Singh Chouhan has had is that he has benefitted from a completely incompetent opposition which is inert and reactive.
In Rajasthan I see almost nothing going in the BJP’s favour. Vasundhara Raje has been an imperious chief minister who has no understanding or a desire to address the plight of farmers.
Is farm distress a major issue in the elections?
The fact that farmer movements have been so lacklustre over the last 20 years... one of the effects of a weak movement is that people slip back into fatalism. But things are beginning to change. The farmers are now aware of the promises and hold leaders accountable.
If there was a strong political party which could hold a credible promise of addressing farm distress then it could become very, very big in the country. But I think the BJP’s best friend has been the Congress party in this respect.