Gujarat Elections: Farmers' distress may give Congress the edge over BJP in Cyclone Ockhi-hit Amreli
Farmer's distress and water woes, egged on by Hardik Patel, are deeply entrenched in the large agrarian belt of Amreli
On the eve of the 25th anniversary of Babri Masjid demolition, Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath described 6 December 1992 as “adbhoot”. Adityanath, who was addressing a gathering in Gujarat’s Savarkundla town of Amreli district, alluded to Ayodhya and Ram Mandir several times in his speech, and when he did not, he brought up Somnath temple’s register for the non-Hindus to mock Rahul Gandhi. Pakistani terror groups and Rahul Gandhi’s Italian roots also found a mention in Adityanath’s 40-minute speech, while slipping in an odd “vikas”.
Savarkundla has seen communal clashes in the past. The speech, with an evident undercurrent, was directed at an enthusiastic audience, not one of whom was a Muslim in a town that has a sizeable Muslim population.
Haresh Buha, 31, who I met earlier in the day and spotted later at the Adityanath rally, said he would continue to vote for Prime Minister Narendra Modi because BJP rule keeps Muslims in check. “Congress would appease Muslims if they come to power,” he said, adding, “It could lead to communal tension. This is a Hindu country.”
Buha is a Patidar, and Adityanath’s speech was aimed at invoking this precise sentiment of the community, which has historically been more anti-Muslim than any other, in an attempt to undo the Hardik Patel effect through communal polarisation.
However, step out of the ground where the rally transpired, and one realises that farmer's distress and water woes, egged on by Hardik, are deeply entrenched in the large agrarian belt of Amreli.
Farmers shudder at the thought of no rains and unpredictable rains. Unfortunately, farmers in Amreli lived through the drought of 2016, and endured Cyclone Ockhi as heavy rains on 4 and 5 December this year triggered severe crop loss.
Ramesh Gondalia, 56, from Charkhadiya village lost 120 quintals of cotton after unseasonal rains destroyed his crop on 35 acres of farmland. “The cotton was to be plucked from the farm in a few days,” he said. “Hit by rains and low temperature, the moist crop is now useless.”
Going by Rs 4,000 behind a quintal, Gondalia lost Rs 4.8 lakhs in two days. To be fair, the state can hardly be blamed for the loss, but when anger has piled up over a period of time, any calamity can go against the establishment.
Not a single farmer, said Gondalia, will vote for Modi, as he liked to put it. "He (Modi) does not think of the farmer," said Gondalia, adding, “Gujarat model begins and ends in cities. We were fools to believe him when he said a Gujarati man in Delhi would benefit Gujarat.”
Gondalia said that three years ago, 20 kilos of cotton would fetch him Rs 1,200. “A bag of fertilisers cost Rs 550 then,” he explained. “Seeds for the acre used to cost Rs 300, and pesticides would cost Rs 500 per litre. Today, all of that has tripled, but the market rate for cotton has plunged to Rs 800 per 20 kilos. How do we sustain? Even the labour costs have doubled. At this rate, farmers would soon be extinct in Gujarat.”
Predominantly a cotton belt, a drive through the outskirts of Savarkundla, or at the Agriculture Produce Market Committee in Amreli city, the sentiment among farmers is identical. While explaining the skewed economics behind cotton farming, they are quick to point out that Modi, as chief minister, would berate former prime minister Manmohan Singh for not raising the cotton price up to Rs 1,500 per 20 kilos. Whereas today, as the prime minister, he has done little to emancipate them.
Jayesh Koladiya, 26, from Dadhiya village, which is 30 kilometers from the coast, asked when would water from Narmada be reaching Amreli. He is referring to the Saurashtra Narmada Avtaran Irrigation (SAUNI) Yojana that aims to fill 115 dams in Saurashtra through a network of pipelines that would channelise floodwater from the Sardar Sarovar Dam. "I have been hearing about it for a while,” said Jayesh, who lost over a lakh rupees of onion in the rains caused by Cyclone Ockhi. "If the canals had reached Amreli last year, we would have used some water during the drought," he added.
The 2016 drought was a terrible time, informs Jayesh, adding that that the entire agriculture community had been wandering from place to place in search of water.
“The drought rendered the entire cropping season useless.
“There was no water to farm. We worked as labourers to make our ends meet. Drinking water was sporadically provided by the administration. We did not bathe every day,” he added.
Saurashtra has been infamous for water deficit and Amreli suffers severely, for it has to depend solely on monsoons to eke out a living. Even though the district had received 31-inch rainfall in 2015, which was 128 per cent of the average, by summer, the electorate was struggling for water.
The parched nature of the region allows farmers to farm only for six-eight months a year. Most cultivate a single crop of cotton, which is an 8-month crop. Others cultivate groundnuts as Kharif crop and follow it up with wheat, jeera and tur as Rabi crops, all of which were hit by the unseasonal rains this year.
Bhupad Koladiya, 54, from Jhinjuda village said none of his tur crop on four acres would now be sold in the market. “Tur alone has cost me close to Rs 1.5 lakh and cotton and wheat 50 thousand more,” he said. “Even though my loss exceeds Rs 2 lakh, I don’t expect the state government to compensate me for it. The state’s insurance scheme is a fraud anyway. They deduct the premium but we have hardly received crop insurance.”
Koladiya has been a loyal BJP voter for decades, but this time around, he is set to support Congress. “Hardik is raising important issues,” he said, adding, "Modi has brazenly ignored us. It is time to topple the government. To be honest, I do not like Congress, but I want to vote BJP out of power."
The development came shortly before the TMC supremo boarded a flight for New Delhi to unite the Opposition against the BJP ahead of the 2024 Lok Sabha polls
Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his address to the nation on last Independence Day had announced that a new university would be established in Ladakh
The ''Mann Ki Baat'' programme is broadcast at 11 am on the last Sunday of each month through various channels of the All India Radio and Doordarshan