Savjibhai Gajnotar tills his field adjoining the Rajkot-Kalavad state highway in Anandpar village in Kalavad taluka of Jamnagar district. His wife Valiben and three daughters tend to chores while the son Dharmesh, 19, who works at a baking unit in nearby MEtoda GIDC, is checking messages on his smartphone.
Gajnotar and his family are eager to cast their vote. “We must do something. See, how prices of groundnut, cotton, and onion we produce have gone down,” the 45-year-old sharecropper says, adding that the market price of onions, “around Rs 250 per quintal may not even cover my transportation expense”.
Valiben tries to check her husband but Gajnotar goes on: “For those setting up industry they give loans in an hour, for farmers they restrict the amount to Rs two lakh. Why?” He even alleges that while landlords get themselves listed as below-poverty-line (BPL) families, while sharecroppers like himself struggle to make ends meet. Gajnotar earns just Rs 1.5 lakh a year. Dharmesh earns Rs 9,000 a month. Worried about the vote, Gajnotar asks, “We used to hear that if you press the button for Congress, the vote goes to BJP. How does that happen?”
Seven of 11 districts facing drought in Gujarat are in Saurashtra, Jamnagar being one of them. The others are Surendranagar, Morbi, Devbhumi Dwarka, Porbandar and Rajkot. The state government has paid farmers input subsidies to make up for crop loss. The region, where the BJP performed its worst in 22 years during the Assembly election in 2017 due to farm distress, has seven Lok Sabha seats.
In Shiva village of Bhanvad taluka, also in Jamnagar district, Karsanbhai Ravaliya, a 72-year-old farmer, says “This is a BJP-dominated area. Younger brother Savdasbhai, a sociology graduate who used to operate a stone-quarrying machine until recently, says, “Our problem is that both candidates are from our community (Ahir) so votes will get divided”. BJP has fielded sitting MP Poonam Maadam while Congress has nominated Mulu Kandoriya.
Karsanbhai complains that rates of agricultural inputs have doubled in 5 years. But his wife Malliben got cooking gas under Ujjwala yojana and declares her “vote for Modi”. Savdasbhai says, “Development has been good. Congress has no leadership at the top.”
But Kasranbhai says he would make up his mind only after a meeting of the community. “We will see which candidate offered the better deal for our village,” he says adding that the BJP could have it tough. “Farmers are unhappy. Crop insurance is a big issue. Government has declared only six per cent for groundnut.”
Savdasbhai also says the prices of cotton and groundnut, two main cash crops of Saurashtra region, are also low.
In Upleta town of neighbouring Rajkot district, Hasmukh Kaneriya complains, “Government says farmers in Gujarat get loans at zero interest” but he has not got it. “We produce groundnut. Those trading in groundnut oil and even empty groundnut shells are driving around in cars,” he says.” We farmers are still on motorbikes.”
He also alleges bias that the BJP government did not announce crop insurance for groundnut there “because we supported Congress in 2017”. But he says he would vote for Congress again. “I know, they (BJP) fears only voting (against them).