Among the several factors that may have worked for the BJP in Karnataka is its campaign for a revival in rural incomes, which were significantly dented in the years in which Siddaramaiah’s Congress government was in power. Between 2013-14 and 2016-17, years for which data are available with the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), the production of rice, wheat, cereals, foodgrains, oilseeds, cotton and sugarcane declined by 20-38%. (See table right)
Siddaramaiah, 69, became Chief Minister of Karnataka in May 2013.
The decline in production numbers over these years, which coincided with consecutive years of drought and steeply falling water tables across several parts of the state, led to acute farm distress and protests. As rural indebtedness rose, a spike in the numbers of farmer suicides was reported, especially in the Mandya region in south central Karnataka.
According to the latest National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data (2015), farmer suicides witnessed a spike of 41.7% in 2015 over 2014, with the biggest increase being in Karnataka. There were a total 8,007 suicides by farmers 2015, compared to 5,650 in 2014. Maharashtra (3,030), Telangana (1,358), and Karnataka (1,197) saw the most farmer suicides in 2015, with the number for Karnataka rising more than threefold from 2014, when around 300 farmers ended their lives in the state.
Among the “major causes of suicides among farmers/cultivators”, “bankruptcy and indebtedness” saw the sharpest spike in 2015, the NCRB data show, registering an almost threefold increase (3,097) countrywide as compared to 2014 (1,163). “Farm-related issues” saw a spike of over 61%. While 969 suicides were recorded due to crop-failure and other farm-related issues in 2014, 2015 saw 1,562 suicides in this category.
The issue of agrarian crisis and farmers’ suicides was raised by BJP president Amit Shah and other leaders during the campaign. Shah accused Siddaramaiah’s Congress government of being “anti-farmer” and indifferent to the agrarian crisis in the state, and the BJP alleged that as many as 3,781 farmers had ended their lives in the past four-and-a-half years in Karnataka. The BJP president claimed that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “farmer-friendly” schemes were “crucial for ensuring a better future for farmers”.