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  Opinion   Columnists  25 Jun 2017  Farmers’ crisis likely to escalate for BJP

Farmers’ crisis likely to escalate for BJP

Sanjay Kumar is a professor and currently director of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies. The views expressed are personal.
Published : Jun 25, 2017, 12:19 am IST
Updated : Jun 25, 2017, 12:19 am IST

It would be a complete lie to say that people are unhappy with the three years of Modi government at the Centre.

The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, which looked so popular till a month ago, was suddenly pushed on the back foot by farmers. (Photo: PTI)
 The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, which looked so popular till a month ago, was suddenly pushed on the back foot by farmers. (Photo: PTI)

The recent farmers’ agitation in Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and other states is only an indication of growing discontent of farmers against the state government as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi. People had high hopes from Mr Modi, but crisis in the agricultural sector has made farmers unhappy. Many are also deeply unhappy with the MP government and chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan. At the moment, Opposition parties are in disarray. There is crisis of leadership amongst Opposition parties, but one can’t rule out the possibility of one issue turning into a game changer.

The Emergency resulted in the defeat of Indira Gandhi and Bofors ended the rule of the most popular government (in terms of voteshare and seats) the country has ever had with Rajiv Gandhi as the Prime Minister. The farmers’ agitation may not have the potential of overthrowing the government as they do not work as a votebank. Studies conducted by the CSDS clearly indicate that amongst farmers, 40 per cent voted for the BJP and only 24 per cent voted for the UPA during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. Amongst the big land owing farmers, 49 per cent voted for Mr Modi. But such growing discontent amongst farmers — roughly 60 per cent of Indians depend on agriculture for their livelihood — can put the government in a tight spot.

 

The Shivraj Singh Chouhan government, which looked so popular till a month ago, was suddenly pushed on the back foot by farmers. But does that mean that the Modi government is in serious crisis? Has the government turned unpopular?

It would be a complete lie to say that people are unhappy with the three years of Modi government at the Centre. People generally seem happy about how the government has performed during the last three years. A recent study conducted by the CSDS indicates 60 per cent people are happy with the performance of the Modi government, while only 27 per cent are unhappy. This popularity is much higher compared to many previous governments which managed to win their next election. But to say that farmers in various states of India are also happy with what the Modi government has done for farmers would be a complete misrepresentation of the situation. The Modi government did initiate various schemes, namely Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, introduction of neem-coated urea, Pradhan Mantri Krishi Sinchai Yojana, etc., for the welfare of farmers, but farmers do not seem to believe that these schemes have benefited them. Overall there is a shared belief amongst farmers that the Modi government has done nothing good for them during the last three years.

 

The CSDS study clearly indicates that 46 per cent farmers believe that the Modi government has done bad work for them during the last three years, while 39 per cent believe the government has done good work. The view is shared amongst farmers of various states. This negative view is expressed by farmers in most of the states barring a few like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat, Chhattisgarh and, to some extent, Rajasthan where more farmers feel satisfied with the work done by the Modi government for farmers.

In MP, 58 per cent farmers expressed their unhappiness while only 35 per cent felt satisfied with the work done by the Modi government for farmers. The number of farmers who seemed unhappy with the Modi government was 60 per cent in Maharashtra, 62 per cent in Punjab, 86 per cent in Tamil Nadu, 60 per cent in Telangana, 62 per cent in Kerala, 55 per cent in Jharkhand, 51 per cent in Haryana, 48 per cent in Andhra Pradesh and 45 per cent in Assam. There are much smaller number of farmers who felt satisfied with the Modi government on farmers issue. Those farmers who seemed satisfied with the Modi government were mainly small and marginal farmers, as the anger against the government is much more amongst big farmers, owing large land holdings. Probably, the loss suffered by bigger farmers is much more compared to the financial loss incurred by the small and marginal farmers.

 

As MP elections are still more than a year away, the growing discontent amongst farmers against the Chouhan-led BJP government could upset the electoral calculations of the BJP in the state. A recent visit to some villages in MP also confirmed this sentiment of farmers. Landless labourers too seemed unhappy with the work done by the Modi government for farmers during the last three years to the extent of yelling loudly, when they heard that I was from Delhi: “Agar Modi mile to keh dena, agle baar vote nahi denge”. In most places people confirmed that they voted for Mr Modi enthusiastically during the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, but might change their decision in the next election, and by next election they meant the next Assembly election and also the Lok Sabha election.

 

Besides MP there are few other BJP-ruled states like Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Gujarat where elections are due in a year or little more than that. Increasing the support price for onions and some other farm product could only be a short-term strategy. Visiting families of the deceased farmers by chief minister and other senior officials could only be a short-term strategy and may not help in solving the larger issues of farmers and the agricultural sector. It could help in appeasing farmers in the short run, may even help in defusing the immediate crisis. But there is a need for careful thinking on the part of the government — a long-term strategy to protect the interests of farmers and boost agriculture. The task may not be easy but the government needs to think of a long-term strategy rather than just sitting on a fast and showing willingness to speak to farmers personally.

 

Tags: narendra modi, shivraj singh chouhan, indira gandhi, bofors, farmers