Gujarat polls: BJP wooing farmers to raise tally
In the run-up to next month's assembly elections in Gujarat, the BJP has intensified its campaign to ensure that farmers get the full benefits of state and central schemes for the agricultural sector. It is being done to ensure that the party does not lose out on support from the farming community like it did in the previous election. Agrarian distress, especially in the Saurashtra region, among other factors, had led to a drop in the BJP seat tally from 115 in 2012 to a double-digit figure of 99 in 2017.
Once bitten, twice shy. The ruling BJP is focusing more on issues relating to farmers in poll-bound Gujarat this time round. Agrarian distress, especially in the Saurashtra region, among other factors, had led to a drop in the BJP seat tally from 115 in 2012 to a double-digit figure of 99 in the 2017 state assembly elections. There are 182 seats in the Gujarat Assembly.
In the run-up to next month's assembly elections in Gujarat, the BJP has intensified its campaign to ensure that farmers get the full benefits of state and central schemes for the agricultural sector. It is being done to ensure that the party does not lose out on support from the farming community like it did in the previous election.
The BJP is relying on initiatives such as the Namo Kisan Panchayat launched by party president JP Nadda last month to create awareness about schemes for farmers, besides incentives and financial aid to adopt technology such as drones to meet challenges of labour shortages.
In 2017, when the party’s tally dropped to 99 from 115 in 2012, the loss was attributed to several factors. The Patidar agitation and the anger against the implementation of Goods and Services Tax (GST) were cited as some of the reasons. But farm distress, particularly in the Saurashtra region, was the most significant.
The condition of farmers in the region had worsened by the rainfall deficit and drought that the state faced in 2016 and 2017. There was also some anger against the government for not being able to implement minimum support price (MSP) for cotton and groundnut produce that time.
Though those issues have now been resolved, problems like water and power shortages still persist in certain areas, coupled with low returns from certain items, such as salt, which have the potential to upset the ruling party’s apple cart.
The widespread losses to the dairy sector due to the lumpy skin disease (LSD) have also added to the party’s worries as the state has lost an estimated 5,800 cattle.
Earlier this year, farmers in the state protested against inadequate power supply, rallied against low remuneration for certain products and demanded a minimum support price for salt.
The BJP has constituted teams to criss-cross the state with audio-visual screens that apprise farmers of the details of schemes such as the Pradhanmantri Fasal Bima Yojna (PMFBY), the soil health cards and annual deposits made under the PM Kisan Nidhi Yojna (PM-KISAN).
The party is hopeful that the scheme of providing free food grains under the PM Garib Kalyan Anna Yojana (PMGKAY) will help secure the support of the masses.
Speaking at the launch of the Namo Panchayat, Nadda had credited Prime Minister Narendra Modi for giving Rs 6,000 annually to more than 11 crore farmers under the PM-KISAN. The budget for farmers has been increased six times, he had said.
The party’s concerns are exacerbated by the poll promises made by Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party. The AAP has promised free electricity for up to 300 units a month, while the Congress has promised to waive farm loans up to Rs 3 lakh.
While kicking off his party's campaign in Gujarat, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi promised free electricity to farmers, the creation of 10 lakh new jobs and LPG cylinders at Rs 500 if his party is voted to power in the state.
Announcing a series of freebies, he promised to supply up to 300 units of free power to general consumers, build 3,000 English-medium schools and provide free education for girls.
Gandhi's poll promises came days after Prime Minister Modi said 'Revadi' culture (freebies) is dangerous for the country and cited Arvind Kejriwal's Aam Aadmi Party promise of Rs 1,000 per month to women and round-the-clock power supply ahead of Gujarat elections.
Addressing the Congress's booth-level workers at the 'Parivartan Sankalp Rally' at the Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad, Gandhi promised a subsidy of Rs 5 per litre to milk producers.
He accused the BJP government in Gujarat of insulting the legacy of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who he said was the voice of farmers in the country.
Gandhi said that Congress would grant a loan waiver to farmers as it had done in Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab and Karnataka.
(Subhashis Mittra is a New Delhi-based senior journalist, freelance writer, political commentator and public policy analyst.)