The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is facing the heat of farm crisis in Amreli constituency of Saurashtra region in Gujarat. Amid a razor-sharp contest between two strong candidates (both from the Patidar community) farm issues are dominating the campaign, giving the ruling party a tough time. The Patidars form 60 percent of the population in the Amreli assembly segment followed by Kolis at 15 percent. Amreli will go to polls on December 9.
The saffron party has fielded its heavyweight Bavkubhai Undhad – the legislator from the nearby Lathi seat – against sitting Congress MLA Paresh Dhanani.
There is a talk in political circles here that Dhanani could emerge as a strong contender for the chief minister’s post if he retains his seat and the Congress dislodges the BJP from power in Gandhinagar.
Dhanani (41) is considered close to Congress Vice President Rahul Gandhi and had accompanied the latter during his campaign tours. The grand old party has given him a team of its tall leaders and workers from Haryana and Maharashtra to support him in the campaigning.
In the 2012 Assembly elections, Dhanani had registered a resounding victory with a margin of over 18% votes over his nearest rival Dilip Sanghavi, a senior BJP leader and prominent cooperative leader.
The most important issue in this agriculture-dominated constituency, known for cotton cultivation, is farm distress, and the Congress seems to be cashing in on this.
“We are raising the issues faced by the people of the region. Because of skyrocketing prices of fertilisers, seeds and electricity, which is needed for irrigation, the production cost has become much higher, whereas, the cost of farm produce has gone down. As a result, farmers are unable to pay back the bank loan and money borrowed from private lenders. Hundreds of the farmers in distress have committed suicide in the region. All this is happening because of the faulty policies of the state government, which only thinks about big corporates and conveniently ignore poor farmers,” Dhanani told Newsclick.
Asked how he is countering the BJP allegation that curfews are imposed during Congress rules in the state, he said, “They have nothing to promise people. Left with no option, they are doing polarisation politics. The politics of religion and fake nationalism is the USP of the BJP and people know it very well. They will answer their allegation on the day of polling.”
Asked about his winning prospect, he said that politics of polarisation does not work here. “I won the election from this constituency in 2002 when polarisation was at its peak because of the communal violence in the state. I have been meeting people in my constituency and getting good response from them. There are 116 villages in this constituency and I have covered 114 of them by doing door to door campaign and addressing public gatherings. I will go to the remaining two villages on Thursday, the last day of campaigning,” he said.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath addressed a public meeting in Amreli on Wednesday evening where he came down heavily on the grand old party, accusing it of appeasing minorities and not doing anything for the majority community.
“Congress did nothing in its hub of Amethi and Raebareli and therefore tasted humiliating defeat in the region in the recently concluded civic body polls,” he told the gathering, urging them to vote for the saffron party whose only mantra is “appeasement of none, development of all”.
But people appeared not in the least least convinced. “I wanted to ask Yogi a question - what has he done in his state. Children are dying in UP and he is campaigning here. He should better go there and work for the people who have voted him to power,” a young man, who was returning from the public meeting, told Newsclick when asked about his reaction on Yogi’s speech.
“If the BJP is confident of securing 150 plus seats, as Amit Shah claims, why has it deployed the entire central cabinet and a battery of chief ministers of BJP-ruled states to campaign for the party,” he asked.
A section of farmers believes that the promises made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi regarding minimum support price (MSP) for farm produce and tackling issues related to agriculture have not been fulfilled.
“Modiji had promised us MSP of Rs 2,000 per 20 kg on cotton against Rs 1,500 given by the UPA government. But we are getting Rs 800-900, which is causing us a huge loss. Many of us have not got crop insurance money,” said Nattubhai, a cotton farmer.
He added that the PM’s pre-Lok Sabha election promise of giving farmers a support price that is 50 percent more than production cost of a crop, too, remains a pipe dream.
In Amreli, cotton prices have seen a sharp decline this year, fuelling anger against the state government.
Dhanani said Chief Minister Vijay Rupani recently announced his government would purchase cotton at Rs 100 per 20 kg over and above the MSP. However, he alleged only the farmers who were close to the BJP were getting this benefit. “It is a scam in which BJP’s commission agents have made a lot of money while genuine farmers have been left out,” he said.
Meanwhile, the BJP candidate Undhad is battling the image of a politician who has switched sides. He started out as a BJP leader and later joined the Congress and became its MLA from Lathi in 2012. He came back to the BJP fold in 2014 and was made a minister.
“The BJP is strong because Bavkubhai lives here most of the time, while Congress candidate Paresh Dhanani mostly remains outside the constituency and is rarely seen here,” said district BJP President Hiren Hilpara.
“As far as farmer issues are concerned, we are making sure all farmers get higher rate than MSP for their produce. The government is making purchases of groundnut and cotton which will continue till March next year,” he said.