In electoral politics, heated discussion ov
Farmers’ issues are part of the mainstream media debate once again. And it is not just due to the low price for their crops or their back-to-back protests, but because of the outcome of the recent assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.
After the Bharatiya Janata Party lost power in the three Hindi states, the Congress immediately announced loan waivers.
It has become increasingly evident that to influence the electoral outcome these days, a political party needs a polarising factor at the constituency level, which can motivate voters. But unlike what most analysts say, this polarisation will not be along communal or caste lines in the 2019 elections. The farm issue could potentially be a polarising factor at the constituency level, either in favour of or against the BJP in 2019.
In the next five months, public conversations among political parties, policy-makers and analysts will be dominated by issues like farm loan waiver, MSP, agricultural income and farm distress.
It is important to note that since 2014, this is the first time that the BJP lost its majority in a state and failed to retain power. The reason for the BJP’s reduced victory margin in Gujarat was its bad performance in rural Gujarat. BJP won just 36 of the 98 rural constituencies, at a strike rate of merely 37 per cent, while in other parts of Gujarat, the BJP won 63 of the 84 seats, at a strike rate of 75 per cent.
Pointing to the link between the BJP’s performance in Gujarat 2017 and the role of agriculture in the economy, political scientist Neelanjan Sircar says that in the constituencies in Gujarat where less than 50 per cent of the people are involved in agricultural activities, the BJP’s strike rate (total number of seats contested/total numbers of seats won) was an impressive 73 per cent. The BJP’s strike rate fell dramatically to 30 per cent in constituencies where more than 65 per cent people are engaged in agricultural activities.
The BJP survived the rural onslaught in Gujarat due to the urban nature of the state, with about 43 per cent of its population living in urban areas. But this is not the case in most other states, and certainly not for the country in general where 68.8 per cent of the population lives in rural areas. And, 68.3 per cent of these households depend on farming and allied sectors for their living, shows the National Sample Survey Office report in 2012-13.
This means that almost half of the households in this country (an estimated 47 per cent) depend on farming and allied sectors for a living. If any government or party can influence them with some schemes/benefits, it can become a polarising factor and change the dynamics of the 2019 electoral outcome.
If we go back to 2014 and look at the electoral discussions among people at any tea shop or any Nukkad gathering across the country, it was dominated by two major issues – corruption charges against the then-UPA 2 government, and Modi’s personal promise about bringing back the black money from foreign countries. While it is debatable if only these two issues were the decisive factors in 2014 election, no one can deny that every tea shop or Nukkad gathering had felt the urgency of these two hot button issues.
In electoral politics, heated discussion over a specific issue is always desirable at the local level to fire up the voters. These discussions can potentially create a ‘Lehar’ (wave) in favour of a party and can influence the floating voters (non-committed party voters) to vote for that party. This can kick off ground-level buzz among villagers about who got the waiver and who didn’t, which state government has announced a scheme and which hasn’t.
So, can the loan waiver scheme become an electoral game-changer in the next general election? The quick announcement of the schemes by the Congress party has given a positive sign to the farmers. If the Congress party is able to implement farm loan waiver scheme in a well-organised way, it can hope to create a new narrative in the countryside that the party can own and ride on.
The author is an independent researcher and election analyst. He has worked with Ashoka University, CPR and Lokniti, CSDS.