After the violent protests of June 2017 and unremunerative prices for most crops in the last one and a half years, Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has one trump card — a Rs 5,000 crore-plus insurance payout under the Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana (PMFBY) — that could still tilt farm votes in the ruling BJP’s favour in the November 28 Assembly elections.
In conversations with farmers in the Ichhawar, Sehore, Sarangpur, Kalapipal, Bagli, Hatpipliya, Nagda-Khachrod, Ghatiya and Alot Assembly segments — spread across Sehore, Rajgarh, Dewas, Ujjain and Ratlam in the state’s Malwa region — the slump in crop prices, especially those of soyabean and garlic, emerge as a major issue. These areas witnessed powerful farm unrest, and led to deaths in police firing in Mandsaur last June.
What is interesting, though, is the vocal support for the BJP from farmers who have benefitted from the PMFBY. For the 2017 kharif season that followed the agitations, the total claims paid to farmers across the country under the Centre’s flagship crop insurance scheme amounted to Rs 15,181 crore, over a third of which — Rs 5,081.86 crore — was paid out in Madhya Pradesh. With 16.37 lakh beneficiaries, it translates into an average payment of Rs 31,036 per farmer.
That the “Mandsaur effect” may have had a part to play is suggested by the figures for the previous (2016) kharif season. That season saw total PMFBY claims of Rs 10,424.80 crore being paid, with MP’s share being just Rs 1,839.45 crore or 17.6 per cent of the all-India total. Only 11.05 lakh farmers in the state benefitted, each of whom received a mere Rs 16,642 on average.
Narayan Patel, who is in his early fifties and whose large joint family together cultivates about 200 acres, said, “Together, we got Rs 32 lakh from PMFBY as compensation for the crop damage that happened last year.” Patel belongs to the Gujjar community, and is a resident of Satvas village in Bagli Assembly constituency. He proudly shows a text message from the bank that has credited Rs 5 lakh of the insurance money into his account. Patel was among the farmers who attended a rally that BJP president Amit Shah addressed at Jaora, close to Mandsaur town, earlier this month.
Apart from the PMFBY, the BJP is also counting on the Bhavantar Bhugtan Yojana (BBY) — a scheme in which the state government pays farmers the difference between the official minimum support price (MSP) and the average market rate for the quantity of crop sold by them — to neutralise rural anger ahead of the elections.
Tufan Singh, a Rajput farmer who has just sold his soyabean crop at the Pachore whole grain market in Rajgarh district for Rs 2,900 per quintal, declared his support for the BJP, citing the BBY. He is confident that the price shortfall payment of Rs 500 per quintal — over the Rs 3,399 MSP for soyabean declared by the Centre — will be credited to his bank account very soon.
But there are also those that haven’t benefited from schemes like the PMFBY and BBY, and are impatient for change after 15 years of BJP rule. “I have decided to vote Congress this time,” said Rajkumar, who is in his mid-30s, and also belongs to the Rajput community. Standing around him at the Pachore mandi in Sarangpur Assembly constituency, several other farmers nodded their heads in agreement.
“Look at the price of garlic. It doesn’t cover our production costs, even after accounting for Bhavantar payment,” said 50-year-old Funda Singh from Rajakhedi, a village in Ratlam district’s Jaora tehsil that comes under the Alot Assembly constituency.
“It is a pittance,” the farmer said, displaying the receipt he received from the trader for the garlic he sold to raise cash before sowing his wheat crop. He, too, said he would vote Congress.
“They are making it seem as though PMFBY is a favour to us. But the money is, after all, coming from the farmers’ premium, and is being paid by the insurance company. What does the government have to do with it?” said Mann Singh, a Gujjar from Barkheda village, who too, is inclined to vote Congress this time. Digging deeper, it emerges that 147 out of the 217 farmers in his village in Sehore district received the crop insurance payout from 2017; and he is among the 70 who did not.
At Sodhan village in Ghatiya Assembly segment of Ujjain, a group of angry farmers were venting their anger against the BJP. Their grouse is about prices, but it turns out that they have also not benefited from the PMFBY. “When the Congress was in power at the Centre, we got up to Rs 5,000 per quintal for our soyabean. Now, even Rs 3,400 after Bhavantar is being projected as a big achievement,” said Prakash Patidar, sitting along with Mann Singh. Their Assembly seat of Nagda-Khachrod is part of the Ujjain Lok Sabha constituency and district.
But there are many farmers who have received PMFBY benefits as little as Rs 7,500, and are rooting for the ruling party. In a sense, the cushioning effect of PMFBY and BBY have somewhat weaned away farmers from going wholesale against the Chouhan government, which, until the June 2017 incidents, had cultivated a pro-rural image through assured MSP-based procurement of wheat, and investments in irrigation, electricity, road and mandi infrastructure.
The one big source of uncertainty, though — and which could spell trouble for the BJP — is the delay in the announcement of the BBY scheme for the current kharif crop that is being marketed. The protein-rich oilseed crop, which has been planted on over 54 lakh hectares in MP (out of the all-India area of 108.4 lakh hectares), is now trading at Rs 2,800-3,000 per quintal in mandis across the state. Many farmers have already harvested and sold their produce, as they need money to buy seed, fertiliser, pesticide and other inputs for the about-to-be planted rabi wheat, chana, masur, onion and garlic crops.
“We couldn’t have waited for the scheme to be announced. We are told that it will be announced after October 20 and we have sold in the hope that the payment will come,” said 62-year-old Gajraj Singh, echoing the sentiments of other farmers at the Pachore mandi. But given the already operational Model Code of Conduct, the launch of BBY’s new edition will require clearance from the Election Commission. In the event of that not happening, it could upset the calculations of both farmers and and the BJP.