The BJP has claimed the reservation demand by Patidars in Gujarat is no longer an issue and expressed confidence that the community will vote for it in the upcoming Lok Sabha polls. A number of Patidars in the state’s Saurashtra region are engaged in agricultural activities, and the opposition Congress has accused the government of going back on its promises to farmers, specially the crop insurance scheme. However, a leader from the ruling BJP feels their Rs 6,000 annual income scheme for farmers will a “game changer” in the Lok Sabha polls.
Notably, the Patidar reservation agitation became a dominant narrative impacting the outcome of the 2017 state Assembly polls, particularly in Saurashtra which has a significant population of the community. Out of 49 Assembly seats across seven Lok Sabha constituencies in Saurashtra, the Congress bagged 30, while the BJP could only win 18 and the NCP got one.
Firebrand leader Hardik Patel, who led the statewide agitation in 2015 demanding reservation benefits for the Patidar community, recently joined the Congress and has been campaigning for the opposition party in the Saurashtra region. However, the ruling BJP, which won 99 out of total 182 Assembly seats in the 2017 Gujarat polls, has taken several steps to address the Patidar community’s grievances, including implementation of 10 per cent quota for general category poor.
The saffron party, which won all 26 Lok Sabha seats in the state in 2014, is seeking to retain them this time also as it believes the youth will support it. “During the last Assembly elections, we suffered because the youth were against us. Our seats in the Assembly decreased. Now the youth are with us, with Narendra Modi, they are supporting us on nationalism.
We will not lose any Lok Sabha seat in the state,” said Union minister Mansukh Mandaviya, who is the BJP’s Saurashtra zone in-charge. Referring to the earlier Patidar quota agitation, he said, “You can mislead a community for some time, but not for long…the (Patidar) protest was politically motivated by the Congress to win elections.” However, Arjun Sosa, president of Congress’ Amreli district unit, which comes in Saurashtra region, claimed farmers are not happy with the Modi government as “it did little to help them when they suffered from crop losses.”
Cotton, groundnut and castor are the main crops grown in the region, and deficient rainfall adversely affected the crop output this year. Bharat Padsala, a farmer from Kerala village in Amreli, said, “Nobody in our village has got crop insurance claim, despite paying the premium. The state government, however, paid up to Rs 11,600 as part of financial assistance to scarcity-hit areas.”
The Congress has also tried to play up the alleged Rs 4,000 crore groundnut scam in Saurashtra wherein the crop procured from farmers was sold to millers and replaced with adulterated material or set on fire. However, four of its MLAs in Saurashtra, all from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs), recently joined the BJP. Some of its district panchayat members in Rajkot, Surendranagar and other districts in the region also switched over to the BJP in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections.
To seek votes from farmers in Saurashtra, the BJP is banking on the Rs 6,000 annual income scheme for farmers, making crop insurance policy as voluntary, and efforts to fill dams in the region as part of the SAUNI Scheme (Saurashtra Narmada Avataran Irrigation Yojana). “The annual income scheme is a game changer, as farmers have already got Rs 2,000 in their accounts and will get another Rs 4,000. We have also decided to make the compulsory crop insurance scheme as voluntary, which farmers have accepted,” Amreli BJP MP Dileep Sanghani said. “Also, as chairman of the National Federation of State Cooperative Banks, I have ensured that farmers are not asked to pay interest if they have failed to repay their loan by March 31. They can now repay their loans till June 30 without paying the interest,” he said.