Severe drought in the Saurashtra and Kutch regions of Gujarat may cause dryness in votes for Chief Minister Narendra Modi with the farming class angry over the government's failure to stop the high suicide rates by debt-ridden farmers. Only in Saurashtra alone, 37 farmers took their own lives in the last three months.
"On 20 September this year, the news came that my brother consumed pesticide and committed suicide," said Rameshbhai, whose brother Chandubhai, killed himself after falling prey to huge debts due to bad crop. Even though, farmer Chandubhai's two brothers work as daily wage labourers, it is insufficient for the family. Chandubhai left behind his wife Banuben, two daughters and a son. His crops were actually the real source of income for the poor family.
The situation is alarming with the National Crime Record Bureau saying that 578 farmers committed suicide in 2011. Incidents of agriculture-related suicides have been on the rise since 2004, as per the NCRB records.
Saurashtra and Kutch are totally dependent on monsoon for their water needs, both for drinking and agriculture. With a failed monsoon this year, the situation took a turn for the worse.
The BJP manifesto in 2007 promised to complete the Sardar Sarovar project on river Narmada by 2010. However, this did not happen. The completion of the project on time would have saved Saurashtra from the draught.
"Farmers go into debt because of the high costs of pesticides and fertiliser. And if the crop fails due to lack of water it is an insurmountable loss for the farmers. Moreover, the government never helps. People make false promises," said a local person.
The lack of water, particularly in Saurashtra, has become a potent weapon for Modi's opponents to take on him.
"Saurashtra is facing exploitation from the BJP government in the areas of water, land, cattle and even human beings," said Gujarat Parivartan Party (GPP) leader Gordhan Zadaphia. Even the Congress is taking up the issue.
Out of the 87 seats that are going for polls in the first phase on 13 December, 48 are in Saurashtra while six falls in Kutch.
With the Leuva Patels already siding with the GPP, the farmer suicides in Saurashtra—a key region in the making or breaking of the Gujarat government—will make Modi's hat-trick attempt an acid test for him and the BJP.