Agri Business

Will India’s farmers vote for Narendra Modi?

Bloomberg May 16 | Updated on May 16, 2019 Published on May 16, 2019

As India’s massive election enters its final stage, Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid for re-election will turn on the sentiment of the country’s 263 million farmers who support more than half the population. With crop prices depressed and farmers protesting and even committing suicide in their thousands, his ability to keep this vital section of the electorate on board could depend as much on his appeal to their nationalism as on cash handouts.

One of the election pledges that swept Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party to power five years ago was the promise to pay farmers 50 per cent more than their cost of production. But the implementation has been a long time coming — a formal announcement from the government came only in February 2018 — and even then, many farmers complain that authorities aren’t able to ensure the promised rates.

Cash payment

To win over the disgruntled farmers, Modi announced an annual cash payment of ₹6,000 in three equal installments to as many as 120 million farmers. But it may be the country’s military flare-up with Pakistan that helps buttress the BJP’s rural vote.

In July, Modi’s government finally followed up on its previous election promise and announced returns that are at least 50 per cent more than the estimated production cost. Yet, many of the country’s 263 million farmers still aren’t able to fetch adequate returns. The government purchases about a third of the country’s wheat output and about 40 per cent of the rice crop for food welfare programs, as well as small quantities of other commodities like mustard, corn and pulses. Delays and problems implementing that programme have threatened to erode Modi’s support this time round.

Pawan Kumar, a farmer in Haryana, made five unsuccessful attempts to register his name to sell his mustard crop at a state-run procurement centre, only to be told that the government’s web portal wasn’t working. As many as 1,600 farmers were deprived of the opportunity to enroll their names in the roster at Rewari grain market in Haryana, according to Narender Yadav, secretary at one of India’s biggest wholesale market for the oilseed. Kumar, who said before voting last week that he would vote on farm issues, is hoping open-market mustard prices will climb at least 17 per cent to the government-set support levels before he sells.

Votes lost

Parshuram Yadav, a rice and wheat farmer in Uttar Pradesh, and Dilip Patidar, a wheat and garlic grower in Madhya Pradesh, said they voted for the BJP last time but won’t vote for Modi’s party again on Sunday. Patidar said it costs as much as ₹30 to grow a kilogram of garlic and he is waiting for prices to rise about 25 per cent to ₹50 per kilo so he can sell his 8-ton garlic crop.

Abhay Singh, a farmer in Haryana, said last week he won’t vote for the BJP as the key issue for him is the guaranteed prices for his crops. “We want a government that supports farmers, creates jobs and works toward the country’s development,” he said. “We want assured crop prices not loan waivers. Elections shouldn’t be fought on the basis of the achievements of our armed forces.”

As many as 12,602 farmers and agricultural laborers committed suicide in 2015, according to the last available data before the government stopped releasing figures.

In Uttar Pradesh, the country’s most populous state and the top sugarcane grower, farmers are struggling to get paid on time by mills. The state’s mills owed ₹89.92 billion ($1.3 billion) to farmers as of March 8.

With only a few days left till polls close after six weeks of voting, those economic realities are putting Narendra Modi’s appeal in the nation’s villages to the test.

For more: Elections 2019

Published on May 16, 2019
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