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After poor poll show in rural Gujarat, farm distress may haunt BJP in Rajasthan

Gujarat results have sent out warning signal to the BJP ahead of bypolls to three seats and assembly poll late next year as farmers’ unions, including an RSS-affiliated one, have been staging protests and sit-ins in different parts of Rajasthan for the past six months

jaipur Updated: Dec 19, 2017 19:08 IST
Manoj Ahuja
Manoj Ahuja
Hindustan Times, Jaipur
Rajasthan bypoll,Alwar bypoll,Ajmer bypoll
BJP leaders are banking on Modi-Shah magic.(PTI)

BJP’s poor assembly poll show in Gujarat’s Saurashtra-Kutch region, which was attributed to farm distress, sends a warning signal to the party in Rajasthan ahead of by-elections to two Lok Sabha and one assembly seat, and next year’s state polls, experts said.

Farmers’ unions, including an RSS-affiliated one, have been staging protests and sit-ins in different parts of Rajasthan for the past six months.

The Congress gave the BJP a tough challenge in Gujarat’s rural areas, bringing to fore the sharp rural-urban divide in the voting pattern. The BJP took a beating in the cotton- and groundnut-growing belt in Saurashtra. The Congress won 28 seats in Saurashtra, and the BJP 19.

“Rural distress in Rajasthan is much worse than that in Gujarat and there is little time left for the government to take effective remedial measures. Then, some communities, such as Gujjars, are unhappy over reservation issue,” Rajiv Gupta, a political analyst, told Hindustan Times.

The number of suicides in the past three years reflects farmers’ plight in Rajasthan. Low minimum support price (MSP) for certain crops puts farmers in financial distress. Farmers in Hadauti region did not even get the production cost in the government’s procurement of garlic, and threw the crop on the roads as a mark of protest.

“Secondly, unlike the urban hubs in Gujarat that supported the BJP, a section of the urban middle class in Rajasthan is also disillusioned with the ruling party,” said Gupta, a retired professor of Rajasthan University. “The draconian ordinance gagging the media has upset the civil society and the people who believe in democratic values. Then, Muslims have been alienated after a spate of incidents targeting the minority community.”

The opposition Congress is upbeat after a close finish in Gujarat polls. “BJP will face the wrath of farmers because there is an agrarian crisis in Rajasthan far worse than Gujarat, though the Vasundhara Raje government is in a denial mode,” PCC president Sachin Pilot told HT.

“The BJP has killed the rural economy due to its anti-farmer polices but the state government is insensitive to their plight. When we talk about farmers committing suicide due to debt burden, the ministers attribute it to personal and family problems,” Pilot said. “We have been highlighting the farmers’ plight in Rajasthan for the past 9-10 months, and farmers now rely more on the Congress.”

Rajasthan BJP president Ashok Parnami dismissed the Congress charge. “BJP has done a lot for the farmers in the past four years. We have brought down the compensation criteria for crop damage from 50% to 33%. The agro-tech meets held in the state has benefitted the farmers,” Parnami said.

“We rolled back the power tariff hike for agriculture and also increased the hours of power supply to rural areas.” On the Gujjar issue, he said the community members know that BJP is committed to giving them reservation.

BJP leaders bank on Modi-Shah magic. “The BJP can shake off anti-incumbency and the farm distress but that requires Shah ji’s organisational skills to work with BJP’s governance record and an emotional appeal by Modi ji to give us another chance,” said a BJP leader, requesting anonymity.

Chief minister Vasundhara Raje, who has had tense relations with the RSS in the past, has been cordial to the sangh of late. The central leadership of the party has responded by deputing Chandrashekhar, who was a RSS functionary, as organisational secretary for strengthening the Raje government. Chandrashekhar was in-charge of BJP’s Varanasi unit when Narendra Modi contested the 2014 elections from there.

“The Congress needs to get its act together and sort out the leadership issue in Rajasthan if it wants to win the assembly elections,” said Gupta.

In 2008, the Congress vote share in the assembly elections was 36.82% against the BJP’s 34.27%. The narrow margin was enough to clinch victory for the Congress that won 96 seats in the 200-seat assembly. In 2013, the BJP in Rajasthan rode piggyback on Modi’s popularity and the unpopularity of Gehlot government due to price rise, increasing its vote share by 11.76% and winning 163 seats.

By-elections to Alwar and Ajmer Lok Sabha seats and Mandalgarh assembly seat are the BJP’s immediate concern. The by-poll results, particularly in Alwar, which is a predominantly agriculture belt with a sizeable Muslim population, will indicate the way the wind will blow during the assembly polls.

First Published: Dec 19, 2017 19:08 IST