Farmers’ anger, which reflected in the ouster of the Ashok Gehlot government around four months ago in the 2023 assembly elections, still persists in Rajasthan, where wheat harvesting is currently under way. All 25 Lok Sabha seats in the State go to polls in the first and second phase on April 19 and April 26, respectively.

Though agriculture and its related sectors contribute 28.9 per cent of the GSDP of ₹7.99-lakh crore and more than 63 per cent of total households in the State are directly linked to it, the agrarian community across parliamentary constituencies collectively express their frustration over the severe water crisis, inability to get MSP for wheat, spices, and other crops, and costly diesel and crop insurance compensation. They said it has a bearing on their income.

Ramswarup Singh, a 67-year-old farmer in Barbara village of Alwar LS seat, laments that the water table in his area has receded to a depth of 600 feet. “We don’t have water for drinking and farming. Farming has become very difficult and too costly. I sow mustard, wheat, bajra and vegetables like carrot. But there is no water and the rainfall pattern in our desert has also become erratic,” the farmer of four children belonging to the village dominated by Gujjars said.

A few kilometres away in Puthka village, which connects Bharatpur LS seat to the adjoining Alwar district, Sandeep Kumar Saini has the same concerns. “The tap water comes once in ten days; we have to go a distance to collect water even for drinking. Our crop yield has come down due to water scarcity. There is no canal to feed our farmland,” he lamented.

The agony of 76.5 lakh farmers of the State found a voice in Gothu Ram at the Rajas bus stand in Nagaur. He said they are not getting an adequate rate for their wheat despite the government announcing increased MSP for the farmers. “Since the government is not buying from us, we are at a disadvantage because the produce does not fetch the price offered by the government,” he said. 

Interestingly after coming to power in the State, BJP Chief Minister Bhajanlal Sharma announced in January a bonus of ₹125 on the wheat, increasing the MSP to ₹2,400 per quintal. The first-time CM, Sharma, also stated then that the government has decided to increase the amount under PM Kisan Samman Nidhi in the State from ₹6,000 to ₹8,000 annually.

Nathu Ram, sitting beside, gave an account of the poor market rates his agriculture produces are getting. He said they are hardly getting ₹6,000 per quintal for moong dal from the market though the government price is ₹8,000 per quintal. Likewise, the ‘gawarfali’, (Cluster beans) a vegetable, is getting them just ₹5,100 per quintal. “Sacks of gawarfali are lying at my house since we cannot meet the expenses incurred at this price,” he stated

The canal conundrum

Realising those issues are occupying farmers’ minds, PM Narendra Modi in his election campaign alleged that the previous Congress government in the State scuttled the Easter Region Canal Project (ERCP) that is expected to water 13 districts of Rajasthan including Jhalawar, Kota, Bundi, Sawai Madhopur, Karauli, Dhaulpur, Bharatpur, Dause, Alwar, and Jaipur. He, however, told that its ‘Modi ki guarantee’ that the canal project will be executed in his third term at office.

Former Congress MP from Alwar and ex-Union Minister Bhanwar Jitendra Singh, who is a Congress general secretary at present, accused the Modi government of not honouring the promise on the water project. Union Water Minister Rajendra Singh Sekhawat, who is seeking re-election from Jodhpur, created hurdles in the implementation of the ERCP since he thought the Gehlot government will get the credit in the assembly elections, he told businessline.     

Bhagirath Chaudhary, Founder-Director of the Jodhpur-based NGO, South Asia Biotechnology Centre, told this reporter that politicians don’t deliver on the promises made during elections and that there are three to four agri-related issues that need urgent policy intervention for real long-term solution to defuse farmers problems.

Added climate worry

Due to climate change-induced erratic rainfall, it has become difficult to plan crop plantation, he said while calling for a ‘whole nation’ approach towards this critical agriculture issue. 

“The PM Fasal Beema Yojna or crop insurance scheme continues to be a drag on the farmers. A couple of years back, the policy was changed to bring in a clause that only those farmers who pay premium will get insurance. And while there is a window for logging in to get insurance benefit, there is no time period slotted for getting claims, resulting in private insurance companies exploiting farmers,” he pointed out. Even agitations by farmers have not yielded any corrective measures, he claims.

He also agreed with farmers over the need to have a water distribution network in Rajasthan. “We need something like Narmada water distribution network of Gujarat to wet our desert, missing since the last 40 years,” Chaudhary remarked. On volatility in market price of agriculture produce, he said “what should be done is to bring in some kind of cushion to address market manipulated price”.

In Rajasthan, politics divides farmers on strong caste or khap loyalties, fragmenting possibility of having one common identity. Perhaps that explains why farmers fail to raise their voice emphatically at the national stage the way their counterparts from Punjab and Haryana do, said Laxmi Narayan Meena, also a farmer, on the outskirts of Jaipur.