Issue 18

Harvesting a Vote Bank

Biplob Kumar Das

Contesting on the backdrop of a successful year-long farmer’s agitation, the political parties in UP and Punjab have made several promises for farmers, ranging from MSPs to crop loss compensation and more.

As the states of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh gear up for their respective state elections, political parties are making several promises to the farmers of the two states. The looming shadow of the year-long farmer’s agitation that ended in November 2021 with the repeal of the three farm laws has made its mark, as political parties have taken resurgent interest in farmer’s issues. In Punjab, farmers’ unions who were part of the agitation have created their own political party, Samyukt Samaj Morcha (SSM) to contest the state elections. Meanwhile, in Uttar Pradesh, Bharatiya Kisan Union leader Rakesh Tikait has sustained his campaign against the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the face of the elections.

Amidst the debate and the rhetoric around farmer’s issues, we take a look into the promises made for the farmers by the main contenders in the upcoming elections of UP and Punjab. 

In Uttar Pradesh, the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) is primarily banking on agricultural schemes and decisions it had already implemented, both at the state and center to campaign among the farmers. Sugarcane prices have been a contentious issue in Uttar Pradesh, especially the Western UP region where 40 lakh farmers grow sugarcane. In 2021, the UP government had increased the purchasing price of sugarcane by Rs 25 per quintal, hoping to pursue the UP farmer population. However, the opposition has not shied away from pointing out that sugar mills are yet to clear around Rs 2000 crore pending dues to farmers. 

The BJP is also campaigning on the basis of national level schemes such as the PM Kisan Nidhi instalments, which it claims has benefitted numerous farmers. On the issue of guaranteed Minimum Support Price (MSP), which emerged as one of the main demands of farmers during their year-long protest, the BJP has largely stayed silent. Overall, the party has primarily chosen to campaign on the issue of better law and order, occasionally raising issues around “Jinnah”, or “80 vs 20 elections”, in what can be seen as a way to polarise Hindu-Muslim voters. 

The alliance of the Samajwadi Party (SP) and Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) have emerged as the main challengers to the incumbent BJP. The alliance has opted to heavily emphasise on farmers issues throughout their campaign. In a press conference dedicated to farmers’ issues, former Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav of SP stated that upon coming to power their government will make a law to assure MSP for every crop. 

Additionally, he also stated that his government will provide free electricity up to 300 units which will benefit the farmers immensely. The party also promised to provide free irrigation facilities for the farmers. Yadav also mentioned that a Farmers Corpus Fund and a Farmers Revolving Fund would be created to pay arrears to sugarcane farmers within 15 days of their government formation. He further stated that farmers will be granted interest free loans, while insurance and pension schemes will be implemented for their benefit. 

Another big promise that the SP-RLD alliance has made is that it will withdraw all cases filed against farmers during the year long agitation. They have promised to pay a compensation of Rs 25 lakhs to the family of each farmer who died during the protest. Additionally, they have assured to grant the status of ‘martyrs’ to the farmers who died during the protests. RLD leader Jayant Choudhury’s claim that “this is an election between ‘ganna’ (sugarcane) vs ‘Jinnah’” seems to epitomise the campaign approaches of the two main contenders in Uttar Pradesh. 

In Punjab, the state which participated most vehemently in the farmer’s agitation, the upcoming election is witnessing a tri-cornered contest. While incumbent Congress is looking to retain power, the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), and the alliance of Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) are seen as the main challengers. Responsible for the supply of wheat and paddy to most of the country, the farmers of Punjab have been promised several benefits by each party. 

The Congress recently released a ‘farm model, ’ which promises to help farmers steer out of the wheat-paddy cycle by replacing paddy with diversified crops, thereby allowing beneficial returns. The party has promised the procurement of dal, oilseeds, and maize at guaranteed MSPs through state cooperatives and corporations. The party has also promised to create a parallel market intervention scheme under which the government would pay the differential between market selling price and MSP directly to the farmers. 

Similarly, the SAD-BSP alliance has also promised to introduce MSP for fruits and vegetables and pay the differential to farmers. The alliance further promised crop insurance for any damage of crops during the protests. The alliance also acknowledged the need to end the culture of over-reliance on wheat and paddy crops in the state. 

Meanwhile, the Aam Aadmi Party has promised to make farming profitable through a ‘special plan.’ While the special plan itself has not been revealed, nor a manifesto published, the AAP has made several pledges through its campaigns. The party has promised that upon forming the government farmers will be paid crop loss compensation by April 30th. The party also stated that they would facilitate the use of stubble for power, cardboard and agro-based industries, and DAP fertilisers. 

Uttar Pradesh will vote from February 10th to March 7th in seven phases, meanwhile Punjab is set to vote on 20th February in a single phase. The results will be announced on 10th March. While the election rhetoric has often tended to shift towards religious and caste based issues in both the states, the impact of the farmers protests have assured that agrarian issues are not overlooked by the parties. One can imagine the stakes for the farmers to be higher in these state elections given the backdrop of a successful farmers’ agitation and given that agriculture remains a state subject. 

Biplob Kumar Das is a Graduate Student in Ashoka University currently pursuing an Advanced Major in Political Science and a Minor in Media Studies. He completed his undergraduate degree in Political Science and takes keen interest in anything related to Indian politics. 

Picture Credits: Al Jazeera

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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