Farmers say their children won’t take up their vocation. Their sons are working in the US, teaching in schools or colleges or working as IT engineers.
A regret as I write this column is that I will neither be able to use pictures of the farmers I met in Ahmedabad recently nor use their real names. All the three farmers, nearing 70, and their younger friend, a farmer-turned-manufacturer of electrical cables, knew the conversation was being recorded. But not once was there was an off-the-record request!
We are seated in the sprawling bungalow of the farmer-cum-industrialist Maganbhai (all names changed) and discussing Gujarat’s farmers. The three farmers are Chaudharis, originally from Rajasthan; one has taken on the name of Patel. Two are staunch BJP supporters and the third — let’s call him Kaka (Gujarati for uncle) — is a self-confessed “Congressi”. But when required, they’ve voted across party lines to make a Chaudhari/Patel win! They have 7-12 acres of land, and grow tobacco, wheat, cotton and vegetables, and are absolutely happy with the last decade of Modi raj. Their only plea to their CM: “Please waive the interest on farm loans taken from nationalised banks, as you’ve done for co-operative banks.”
The earlier day, Kanubhai Patel, a dissident from the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh whom I spoke to, was scathing in his criticism of Modi; “The BJP-led by Modi is not a political party, but a corporate body engaged in political activity.” He accused Modi of selling Gujarat to big industrial houses at the cost of farmers.
But Kaka disagrees. “We might get only two or three hours of electricity required to draw water from our borewells, but that is enough. Of course, we would like to have Narmada water, but we don’t get it. Otherwise there are no issues… it’s another matter that from farming today, you can’t buy a Maruti car!”
Patel, who is from another village, is luckier… there is a pond adjacent to his field and he manages to get the Narmada water. All the three laugh when I try to dig a little deeper. Kaka grins, “Ben tamey sanjhi jao, chori toh badhi baju thai, kheti ma bhi aney industry ma bhi! (Theft is everywhere; both in farming and industry)”.
He explains, without batting an eyelid, how he draws water to irrigate 12 acres of his farm, “but I pay for the electricity for only one acre.” Even though that costs only Rs 1 per unit; “for farmers even that is too much, as we need to draw water from a depth of 800 ft in this region.”
As the industrialist nods in agreement, I murmur that everything in Gujarat is supposed to be free of corruption. There are guffaws from all the four. “Arrey, phul corruption chey Ben, phul! (There is full corruption),” says Patel. Maganbhai agrees and even puts an estimate — “corruption has gone up by five times in five years. But your work will get done. There might be talk outside of a corruption-free Gujarat, but there’s no such thing. The Gujarat Congress was equally corrupt, and is not able to win because it is ridden with internal evils.”
The talk then turns to development and the industrialist says development has taken place all over India, “even in Bihar. But Modi’s advantage is the shamta (capacity) to work hard and work right. The Congress’ biggest handicap is absence of a tall leader in Gujarat. There is dissidence and infighting and everybody wants to become CM. As RSS workers, both (Shankarsingh) Vaghela and Modi rode on the same bike. But Modi works hard, knows how to control bureaucrats and get work from them.”
Reigning in Muslims
His wife Mayaben pitches in, “The best thing about Modi is that he has kept both the Kshatriyas (Durbars originally from Rajasthan) and the Muslims in tight control.” She has no clue I am a Muslim; perhaps only the ‘Bhagat’ in my name has registered or it’s the bindi I’m wearing. My two other Muslim friends can easily pass off as Hindus too!
All the four men launch into an assault on Muslims and Durbars. “Both are Congress supporters. Etli lukkhagiri karey… (whiling away their time without doing anything constructive); in buses, they harass girls and indulge in criminal activity. And if the Congress ever comes to power, Muslims will definitely take revenge for 2002. They have not forgotten. Congress gives them bin zaroori mahatva (undue importance). Modi is required in Gujarat to keep them under check.”
I keep a straight face and veer the discussion back to corruption and other election issues. My ears perk up when I hear that daru (liquor) plays a big role in elections.
But I thought there was prohibition in Gujarat? Now all the seven — the four men, Mayaben and my two friends — burst into laughter. “Where do you think the Rs 2 crore spent on every Assembly seat goes? In every house, they distribute bags of chavanu (a snack) and a potli (sachet) of liquor,” says Mayaben. Chaganbhai says that within an hour he can get me a full crate of “Black Label, Chivas or any single malt you want; it will be delivered to your hotel. Just keep the money ready!”
Kaka has me in splits as he explains how the youngster he gets, with great difficulty, to water his field in the night, has to be given not only Rs 300, but also food, a packet of 25 beedis, and a potli of liquor. And then, he will consume the liquor and go to sleep and the water will keep flowing!”
Maganbhai claims that maximum liquor is sold in Gujarat. “Why prohibition? If they lift it, what will happen to the police haftas? If you are driving a car filed to the brim with liquor and have paid the required hafta, your car will sail through the check-post faster than ministers’ cars!” Returning to farming, all the three farmers say their children won’t even look at this vocation. Their sons are working in the US, teaching in schools or colleges or working as IT engineers. “We are able to survive because all of us have diversified into milk, and get good supplementary income from it.”
Maganbhai’s manufacturing business is booming and he freely uses the hawala system, as “do most Gujarati businessmen. This system operates on trust and I can get one or two crore transferred to Mumbai or Delhi in an hour’s time, through a phone call.” My head spins as he explains the ‘ATM system’, the Delhi equivalent to Mumbai or Ahmedabad’s hawala system! “As anything above Rs 10 lakh goes into IT scrutiny, businessmen open, say 10 accounts of Rs 9 lakh each, sometimes in different banks, and send the ATM cards to their associates. And everyday from each account you can withdraw Rs 25,000 to make a payment of Rs 2.5 lakh.”
But can’t the accounts be traced, I ask and he says incredulously, “What kind of a Gujarati are you? Of course the accounts are in the names of the servants, drivers, gardeners…”
“Just like Gadkari”, chips in Kaka, and my education of Gujarati/Dilli business acumen in complete!