Madhya Pradesh election 2018: What angry Mandsaur farmers could mean for the BJP in MP
Farmers in Madhya Pradesh’s Mandsaur district, which was the epicentre of agrarian protests last year, are an angry lot.
Staring despairingly at his 10-bigha farm with a standing onion crop, farmer Sukhlal Patidar says that he is finding it increasingly difficult to even recover his costs from the produce. “The prices of all crops are at an all time low. I invested Rs. 2.5 lakhs in this onion crop. And so far have been able to earn back just a fifth of that.” He adds “at this rate farmers in the area will be driven to suicide as they run out of options.”
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“The prices of crops are falling continuously. The government has given Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojna, but it’s of no value to us. Soyabean, which was once being sold at Rs 5000 is now at Rs 3500 and only Rs 500 compensation is being given on that,” says Dinesh Carpenter, another farmer in the neighbouring field.
He adds that soybean, a major oilseed grown in these parts, sells at a price lower than what it fetched in 2014. “The input costs that we farmers incur, on the other hand, has shot up drastically due to GST and higher taxes.”
Both Sukhlal Patidar and Dinesh Carpenter are residents of the Barkhera Panth village in Mandsaur district of the Malwa-Nimar region, where falling prices of crops like soyabean, onion, garlic, maize, etc in the local mandis has created mayhem in the lives of many small farmers. They claim massive losses and blame the Shivraj Singh Chouhan government for not ensuring farmer-friendly policies.
Incidentally, Mandsaur was also the flashpoint of farmers’ protest last year which resulted in the deaths of six farmers in police action. And while the death of the six, including four from the dominant Patidar community in the area, remains a sore point, the falling prices of crops have only added to farmer woes.
Following the Mandsaur clashes, the state government moved fast to calm the anger of farmers. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chauhan launched the Bhavanter Bhugtan Yojna, which promised to pay farmers the difference between the average sale price and the government mandated minimum support price (MSP).
However, farmers here say that the scheme has only benefitted the big farmers with bargaining power. “How will the small farmer who has just five bigha land and working in his fields the whole day go and stand in lines to get the government dole. The big farmers in the area have benefitted. We don’t want bhavanter (the price difference). We just want bhav (the right price) for our crops,” says Dinesh Carpenter.
Another failure of the government, according to these farmers, is the “indiscriminate import of pulses and oilseeds” which they claim, is further driving prices down.
“We are getting only 50% to 60% of crop prices even if you go by the MSP fixed by the government,” says Laxmi Narayan Carpenter, another farmer from a neighbouring field.
For the incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is battling 15-year anti-incumbency, farmer discontent has been a concern here. The Malwa-Nimar region sends 66 legislators to the 230 member state assembly. The BJP won 56 of these 66 seats in the 2013 elections. Congress managed just 9 seats. This time around, farm distress has given a shot in the arm to the Congress campaign. The party has been wooing farmers in the region with the promise of Rs 2 lakh loan waiver, among others schemes.
Click here for vote share of parties in the 2013 Madhya Pradesh assembly elections
As a result, some farmers here who have traditionally voted for the BJP suggest they are reviewing their options. “If Congress is offering a waiver of Rs 2 lakhs why will farmers not opt for the party? Then if Congress does not deliver we will vote for change again,” explains Dinesh Carpenter.
“It’s very tough for the BJP. Farmers are distressed and labour is angry. Even if we press the NOTA button on voting day, it will be a loss for the BJP,” point out Laxmi Narayan.
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