Kottampally Srinivas, a turmeric and red jowar farmer in Telangana’s Armur village, stands with arms akimbo amid a crowd that has gathered at a public rally here but doesn’t sound optimistic. “No political party is concerned about agricultural issues,” he says. Sitting Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) MP K Kavitha is to address the rally at Metpally village in Maknoor mandal and Srinivas struggles to have a glimpse of her as she steps out of the car. Few months before the assembly polls in December 2018, the TRS government had procured red jowar at Rs 2,300 per quintal.
However, after coming to power, it stopped the procurement, Srinivas rues. Now as the polling date nears, the Nizamabad Lok Sabha constituency is in spotlight as it has the highest number of candidates — 185 — contesting, 179 of them being distressed farmers who have kept political parties on tenterhooks and the Election Commission (EC) on its toes to arrange for jumbo EVMs. These farmers are fighting the elections as independents so as to send a message across to political parties about their plight. Their only demand is that the Centre or the state government should fix a minimum support price (MSP) for both turmeric and red jowar (sorghum), rates for which have declined sharply due to the supply and demand mismatch. MSP is fixed by the Centre only for 25 crops in the country. At the rally, Kavitha asserts that she has not kept quiet on the matter and highlights the efforts made to convince the Centre to set up a turmeric board and even move a private member bill in this regard.
“The demand for setting up of a turmeric board is not new but the BJP-led central government has not approved it. Now both the BJP and the Congress are provoking farmers against the TRS in the elections,” she says, as she promises to boost value-addition to turmeric crop if re-elected. Another farmer Kota Venkatesh, visibly upset after hearing yet another promise, says, “All political parties make fleeting reference to farmers in their election manifesto. The BJP and the Congress too have made the similar ones.”
“The turmeric board never came up. Once elected, political parties conveniently forget about the promises,” he says as the crowd disburse after the rally murmuring when Maharashtra can fix support price of Rs 7,000 per quintal for turmeric, why cannot the Telangana government. Turmeric rates in wholesale market have fallen Rs 4,000-5,000 per quintal this year in comparison to Rs 12,000 per quintal in 2014, Venkatesh says and adds the price fall has affected the income of farmers. The state government procured turmeric last year at Rs 2,300 per quintal under the price support scheme and the farmers are demanding the same rate this year. The farmers in the poll fray are unaware of their symbols and have no time to campaign either and have approached the EC to postpone the election for the constituency and conduct the polling using ballots.
But the EC has decided to hold the election on the scheduled date. It is not for the first time that aggrieved groups have filed nominations en masse. A record number of 480 candidates had contested from Nalgonda Lok Sabha seat in 1996 to highlight the acute drinking water crisis. The EC has made it clear that there would no postponement and pointed out that it would set a new record in the country for using the largest number of Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs). The TRS, which currently holds all seven assembly segments in the Nizamabad parliamentary constituency, is confident of winning from this seat knowing very well the farmers do not have electorate clout, while rival Congress and BJP are trying to cash in on the anger of farmers towards Kavitha’s party.