BJP, Congress to woo farmers before Madhya Pradesh elections

Mumbai: Madhya Pradesh’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and a resurgent opposition Congress begin jostling for the state’s crucial farm constituency starting this week.

The Congress will hold kisan sammelans (farmers’ conventions) in each of the state’s 50 districts over the next couple of months, starting with Narsinghpur on 28 March.

The conventions, according to Madhya Pradesh Congress president Arun Yadav, will highlight the “failure of the BJP government in keeping the promises it has made to the farmers in 15 years of its rule”. Yadav said on the phone that the Congress was looking to reach out to farmers across the state in the backdrop of the farm unrest witnessed in the state in 2017—which he said the state government had failed to address.

The BJP will launch a counter-initiative in the first week of April. Chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan will flag off a kisan samman yatra that would travel across the state and explain to the farmers the initiatives as well as the achievements of the BJP government on the farm front.

“Our kisan samman yatra is not a response to the Congress campaign. We had planned it much before Congress thought of doing something for farmers,” said a state BJP functionary who did not want to be named. He said the yatra was part of the BJP’s larger campaign to maintain contact with the farmers after the June 2017 protest in Mandsaur, when five farmers were killed in police firing.

“The party organization and government acknowledged that the Mandsaur incident was both an intelligence and political failure. Our internal assessment revealed that there was little communication between our local cadres, MLAs, and ministers. After Mandsaur, we did a course correction and tasked ministers and MLAs with specific assembly segments and re-established contact with farmers,” said the BJP functionary.

Assembly elections are expected to be held in Madhya Pradesh in November. The BJP government will have completed 15 years in the state by then. In June last year, farm unrest over low remunerative prices for major crops in the state like wheat, soyabean, moong, and onions, took a violent turn when skirmishes between traders and farmers in Mandsaur ended in police firing.

The protest and deaths stigmatized the Chouhan government which had prided itself on its award-winning performance in the farm sector (five-time winner of Krishi Karman award for highest wheat production) and a consistent farm sector growth of more than 20% per annum over four years.

Sensing political opportunity amid anti-incumbency, the Congress jumped in, with its president Rahul Gandhi reaching out to farmers in Mandsaur. The BJP government, however, announced a slew of measures directed at farmers like the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana or the price deficit financing scheme which guarantees farmers payment of margin money if crops fetch prices below the minimum support price (MSP), expansion of crop insurance scheme, establishment of a state level agricultural costs and prices commission, and direct financial assistance to farmers. The state budget for 2018-19 allocated more than Rs37,000 crore to agriculture and irrigation.

State Congress chief Yadav, however, said all these announcements have merely remained on paper.livemint

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