Gujarat election: Patidar anger not just over quota, farmers worried about income

Cotton and groundnut could have a bearing on political fortunes in Gujarat as farmers complain about rising costs of inputs and falling income in the semi-arid region.

assembly elections Updated: Dec 06, 2017 23:09 IST
Kumar Uttam
Kumar Uttam
Hindustan Times, Junagadh / Somnath
Gujarat election,Gujarat poll,Patidar agitation
Famrers work in a field in Gujarat.(Kalpak Pathak/HT Photo)

The Patidar anger against the BJP in poll-bound Gujarat is not just limited to the denial of quota to the community.

In the Patel-stronghold of Saurashtra, shrinking farm income has the influential land-holding community angry, which has warned the ruling BJP of a political fallout.

The Patidars engage in business in urban pockets and agriculture in rural areas. Non-Patidar farmers are disappointed, too, but hesitate to link it to their electoral preferences.

Cotton and groundnut, the two mainstays of Saurashtra, could have a bearing on political fortunes, as farmers complain about rising costs of inputs and falling income in the semi-arid region.

Saurashtra spans 11 districts in southwestern Gujarat and sends 48 MLAs to the 182-member assembly, voting for which will be held on December 9 and 14. The election coincides with the harvesting and procurement of the two cash crops.

The government is paying Rs 900 for every 20kg of cotton. Groundnut growers have been promised the same but private dealers are paying Rs 500-600 for 20kg.

“I applied on October 28 with government agencies to sell my produce. My turn has not come yet,” said Dinesh Patel, who grows groundnut in Junagadh’s Agatray village. The payment, he said, would take between 20 and 50 days.

A cotton grower saves around Rs 400-500 on every 20kg of the produce. The harvest is good but farmers are not sure if it would translate into good money.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, they complain, promised Rs 1,500 as the minimum support price (MSP) for cotton. MSP is a minimum price set by the government for various farm commodities.

Around 57% of Gujarat’s 60 million people live in villages and agriculture is their main source of income. Some 4.8 million of the state’s 20 million workers are cultivators and another 4.5 million farmhands, whose wages depend on the land owner’s profits.

The last three years have been bad for cotton farmers.

In 2015, scanty rainfall lowered the yield. The next year brought pink bollworms that chewed through the cotton ball and this year, the support price is low.

Gujarat expects a record groundnut harvest but growers are not celebrating.

“How do we pay good wages to labourers when our profit has declined,” says Mansukh Gadodara in Junagadh’s Maktupur village. “It is a chain. We earn less, we pay less.”

Aware of the discontent, the government in October announced a bonus of Rs 500 per quintal on cotton, which raised the MSP to Rs 900 and burdened the exchequer with Rs 1,250 crore. Another Rs 500 crore was set aside to procure groundnut at Rs 900 for every 20kg.

The Congress is looking to make the most of the farmer anger. Vice-president Rahul Gandhi has promised that MSP would be announced in advance and a policy put in place to waive off farm loans within 10 days of the Congress coming to power.

Saurashtra votes on December 9 and a good performance in the region will reap a good poll harvest in the state.

First Published: Dec 06, 2017 23:09 IST