Lok Sabha elections 2019: ‘Bijli, pani’ issues outweigh rising nationalism pitch in this Madhya Pradesh village
For Natthu Lodhi, 72, and many of his fellow villagers in Madhya Pradesh’s Tindni village, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) sharp electoral pitch of nationalism, which focusses on the February Pulwama terror attack (that killed 40 troopers) and the strike on Pakistani terror bases, has little bearing on their daily struggle.
But Lodhi, a farmer who belongs to the Lodh community, still vouches for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and says the five- month-old Congress government in the state has done little to waive his mounting farm loans.
In the neighbouring village of Chandora, which is dominated by upper-caste Rajputs, there are several Modi supporters but their focus is on livelihood, not nationalism. “I got Rs 2,000 under the PM Kisan scheme,” says Amar Singh, as others proudly show the visitors a newly erected lamp post under the Saubhagya scheme.
“Most of our houses have Ujjwala,” quips Shyam Singh, another Rajput, of the scheme that offers free cooking gas connections to the poor.
Singh and Lodhi will vote when their Lok Sabha constituency, Damoh, goes to the polls on Monday. Damoh falls in the backward Bundelkhand region, where farmers are marginal, rainfall low and industries nearly non-existent. And, in this parched backyard of Madhya Pradesh, it appears that the political discussion is limited strictly to questions of bijli (power), pani (water) and farm loans.
In December, the Congress wrested power from the BJP in the assembly elections after 15 years, largely on the back of rural discontent and an agricultural crisis. The BJP had won 27 of the 29 Lok Sabha seats in the state in the 2014 general elections.
Within days of coming to power, the Congress announced a farm-loan waiver to five million farmers, and believes that this waiver, along with the new Nyay scheme that pledges a minimum annual income of Rs 72,000 to the 20% of India’s poorest will be a game changer.
In Damoh, almost everyone has heard about the Nyay scheme but many villagers say the well-publicised promise looks like a distinct dream as they have not yet received a loan waiver from the new Congress government. “I have a loan of Rs 1.20 lakh. I have not got a waiver of a single rupee. I don’t trust Nyay as my loan waiver is still pending,” says Lakshman Lodhi.
To be sure, there are other people who have received money in tranches, and not everyone is hostile to the Congress government, which has promised full waivers and said some disbursements are delayed because of the general elections.
These snapshots of discontent are no guarantees of the BJP’s victory in Damoh either. In the 2018 assembly election, the Congress ousted the BJP from the seat, once a saffron citadel, after 32 years — and this, local Congress leaders say, is an indication of how deeply unpopular the local unit of the BJP had become.
The sitting MLA Rahul Singh, an Other Backward Class (OBC) leader, says, “The poll is for parivartan (change). A change is the requirement of the time. Dalit and adivasis are solidly backing the Congress.”
A group of tribal daily wage earners at a tea stall said the Modi government has not helped them. “In our village, rich people have got houses (under the PM Awas Yojnaa). We live in kuchha ghar. But the panchayat says there is no allocation for us,” said one of the, Raju, on his way back to his village.
At the BJP office in Damoh, party functionary Pintu Thakur says, “People will vote for Modi. They know Modi is working for the poor people and, sooner or later, the remaining beneficiaries will get their dues.”
Out of 1.76 million voters in Damoh, young voters make up around 400,000. “Many of them have seen the Congress first time in power and might again vote for them,” said political analyst Sunil Gautam. He also added that there was local discontent about little development having taken place in the region despite MLAs from the region becoming ministers in the state government.
In the seat, the BJP candidate and sitting MP Prahlad Patel is taking on Congress’ Pratap Singh Lodhi, ex-MLA from Jabera. Both the parties are focussed on bread-and-butter issues, and experts say the election may well be decided on the efficacy of welfare schemes.
Aditya Prasad Padhi, former vice chancellor of Berhampur University, said, “Nationalism may be a viable pitch in the urban areas but for rural people that too is backward areas, these ideas hardly means anything.”