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Assembly elections: Farm distress, jobs could unseat the BJP in Rajasthan

Unfulfilled promise of generating 1.5 million jobs, anger among castes that formed the traditional BJP vote base and rural distress will be major issues when Rajasthan goes to polls.

rajasthan elections 2018 Updated: Aug 01, 2018 08:19 IST
Rakesh Goswami and Urvashi Dev Rawal
Rakesh Goswami and Urvashi Dev Rawal
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rajasthan assembly elections,Rajasthan,BJP
Rajasthan chief minister Vasundhara Raje and BJP leader Madanlal Saini attends a working committee meeting in Jaipur.(PTI File Photo)

When chief minister Vasundhara Raje undertook her jan samwad (public dialogues) initiative across Rajasthan in January 2018, the idea was for her to step out of Jaipur to meet and talk to people across the state and dispel the impression that she was inaccessible. Some said that she had left it too late and had remained confined to her bastion for too long, cut off from party workers and even legislators.

Even her ministers and BJP MLAs come across as arrogant, said Hari Shankar Goyal, a political analyst based in Alwar. The Alwar BJP MLA Banwari Lal Singhal once told a group of locals who had gone to him with a demand for drinking water supply that he didn’t need their votes. “I won with 62,000 votes,” according to Goyal.

“I do remember that a corporator had come to my house and was accusing me of lying. There was a heated exchange but I don’t remember having said anything like that,” Banwari Lal Singhal said.

But Raje’s inaccessibility is just one of the government’s problems. The unfulfilled promise of generating 1.5 million jobs, anger among the castes that formed the traditional vote base of the Bharatiya Janata Party ( BJP), rural distress leading to suicides by farmers, hitherto unheard of in Rajasthan, and the exclusion of people from social security schemes will be major issues when the state goes to the polls later this year.

Unemployment

In 2013, in the run-up to the assembly elections, Raje, then leader of Opposition, pledged good governance if voted to power. The Ashok Gehlot government of the Congress party was facing protests by young people seeking jobs in government schools. On July 3, 2013, more than 250 young people took out Gehlot’s symbolic death procession (as a mark of unique protest) from Nehru Garden to outside the assembly in Jaipur, leading to police beating them with lathis and arresting three of them.

Read | Rajasthan assembly election: A do or die for CM Vasundhara Raje

Raje was in the Shekhawati region where this happened. “Lathi nahi, naukriya doongi” (I will give you jobs, not lathis),” she declared immediately. In all subsequent meetings during her Suraj Sankalp Yatra , she promised 1.5 million jobs as she crisscrossed the state. Leaders of the youth protests came on board and appealed to the young to vote for the party. The BJP won with an unprecedented majority (160 seats in a house of 200 MLAs) but has failed to fulfil the jobs promise in four years.

“They took the youth of the state for a ride, with a false promise that she knew she could never fulfil,” says Rajasthan Congress president Sachin Pilot.

The state BJP president Madan Lal Saini counters this. “We never promised 1.5 million jobs —we said we will offer 1.5 million job opportunities,” he says, adding that skill development training had enabled 1.3 million people to become self-reliant. Home minister Gulab Chand Kataria, in reply to a question in the Rajasthan Assembly in February, said the government had provided employment opportunities to 1.3 million people. “Under the skill training scheme, 994,520 people have been trained so far, out of which 639,000 people have got employment,” he said.

During her political yatra ahead of the 2013 elections, Raje promised to revoke the Rajasthan Teachers Eligibility Test (RTET), introduced by the Gehlot government in 2011 as a filter for recruitment of teachers, but only combined the two exams (RTET and recruitment) into one, called the Rajasthan Eligibility Examination for Teachers (REET). In 2012 and 2013, there were several protests on Jaipur streets over recruitment of teachers embroiled in courts over concessions to some categories of candidates in RTET. The court cases delayed jobs to selected candidates, leading to violent protests and arrests of youth leaders.

Upen Yadav, 30, state president of the Rajasthan Berozgar Ekikrat Mahasangh (RBEM), an umbrella organisation of young people fighting against unemployment, led those protests. He was once a member of the BJP and canvassed with Raje during 2013, soliciting the support of young people for the party. Raje’s promise to revoke RTET and generate 1.5 million jobs got the young on her side, but they felt cheated when she came to power and failed to fulfil the promises.

Yadav says that in four years of BJP rule, around 157,804 government jobs were announced in different departments, but appointments had been made to only 41,800; the remaining are either stuck in courts or the recruitment process for them has not begun yet.

“It’s a struggle for the youth from the announcement of jobs to appointment, fighting battles on the streets and in courts,” he adds, announcing a ‘BJP mukt Rajasthan’ (BJP-free Rajasthan) campaign from September 16 this year. “More than 100,000 berozgar vistarak will campaign against the BJP government from door to door,” says Yadav.

Economist VS Vyas says, “The government promised much but has failed to deliver. Labour-intensive sectors such as textiles, construction are not in a viable position.”

Rural distress

For the first time, farmers in Rajasthan committed suicide over debt and a decline in the prices of their produce. In the Hadoti region, comprising Kota, Bundi, Baran and Jhalawar districts, five farmers killed themselves this year due to a fall in garlic prices. The government added only three farmers have ended their lives in the state since 2013 and refused to buy the argument that the reason for the suicide was the farmers debt. “It is wrong to link every suicide to debt. The state government can give the report of suicides in the state in the last four years. Under Congress’ rule, 152 people committed suicide in Kota and Baran,” Saini said, and added that the BJP government has taken a number of steps to increase farm income.

The farmers have been on the war path in Rajasthan for the past year. A major agitation in Sikar last September forced the state government to announce a farm loan waiver of up to ?50,000 for small and marginal farmers, for loans taken from cooperative banks. The farmers want more; they want the government to implement the MS Swaminathan Commission’s recommendations that say the Minimum Support Price (MSP) should be 50% over, plus the cost of production (from farm to market), and that there should be a guarantee of procurement. The Centre’s recent announcement of hiking MSP, farmer leaders say, is also an eyewash because it doesn’t take into account all costs of production and includes only family labour, and cost of fertiliser and seeds.

The Swaminathan Commission’s formula recommended that the presumed cost of land also be included.

Earlier this year, farmers affiliated to All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) held demonstrations at mandis (agricultural markets) in Kota district to protest the steep fall in the price of garlic.

In February, AIKS leader Amra Ram spent four days in jail after he attempted to lead a farmers’ protest march to the Rajasthan assembly. On February 22, the Rajasthan Police arrested 179 farmers and detained around 2,000 who were marching to Jaipur to stage a sit-in outside the assembly that was in session.

Economist Vyas said, “Raising MSP is not a solution. For the long-term, reforms are needed that have not been taken. In any case, MSP benefits only 10-12% farmers who are able to sell their produce. The government does not have a proper procurement infrastructure nor proper storage facilities.”

He lists more issues: MSP is being offered for only four to five crops though the central government has announced it for many more. But if the cost of production keeps rising, then MSP is not a solution. The government should have focused on lowering the cost of production and increasing efficiency of the marketing of inputs, Vyas said. Supply of inputs such as water, fertiliser and power is inefficient, he added.

Social sector schemes

The BJP government also has faced flak for cutting back on social sector schemes. The government said it would review the list of beneficiaries and weed out phoney ones. Several civil society groups have criticised its attempts at curtailing schemes such as old-age pensions, free medicines and food security. Nikhil Dey of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan said the bulk of social sector schemes were central initiatives. The state has lagged in implementing them, he says. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme “is in crisis due to poor implementation. The number of days and wages have declined. There is no political prioritisation,” he added.

Dey said the government removed around 2.5 million families from the food security scheme, saying they didn’t deserve the benefit. Another 2.5 million are unable to access the subsidised rations due to the Point of Sale (PoS) machines not being able to read their fingerprints. The poor have suffered the ill effects of digital governance, he added. “The department of IT is now doing some good by trying to include those who have been left out. For instance, the CM had raised the pension for widows above 60 years to ?1,000. For a year, the widows didn’t get the pension but they are getting it now for which the government should be appreciated,” Dey said.

“I don’t see any anti-incumbency. The BJP government has worked for all sections of the society and we are more than hopeful that people will support us. People have joined he BJP in large numbers ... we are confident of winning the next elections,” Saini said.

First Published: Aug 01, 2018 08:09 IST