IN SUCCESSIVE governments, Gujarat’s agriculture ministers have come from Assembly segments falling in the Amreli parliamentary constituency. But, say Amreli’s cotton farmers, that has hardly meant any change in their fate.
Battling a second poor monsoon and “low” prices for their produce, Bhavesh Kanak says farmers like him in one of Gujarat’s largest cotton producing districts are disillusioned with both the BJP and Congress. “Politicians are all the same. I don’t feel like voting this time.”
A farmer owning 1 hectare in Navakhijadiya village of Amreli taluka, Kanak recounts a visit to the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (AMPC) with his 41 bales of cotton. The 35-year-old returned without selling any, with the offer price going up to only Rs 5,250 per quintal. “This harvest of around 18 quintals is the fruit of toil of my family,” says Kanak. “I can’t sell it below Rs 5,400.
In the 2017 Assembly elections, some of that anger had translated into the BJP’s shock defeat from Amreli. The Congress had won all the five Assembly segments falling in the Lok Sabha seat, the first time the BJP had been shut out of Amreli in 32 years. The Congress’s performance was also helped by the Patidar agitation led by Hardik Patel. With Hardik indicating he could contest from Amreli in the coming elections, the contest is again open.
The Amreli Lok Sabha seat has long been a BJP bastion, with the party winning it in 1991, 1996, 1998, 1999 and again in 2009 and 2014. The Congress won in 2004.
Amreli is one of the 11 districts of the largely agrarian Saurashtra region. Farmers and cattle-herders dominate, as do the Patidars or Patels. A rough estimate puts their number at 23 per cent of the voters, followed by Kolis at 20 per cent.
The 2017 Assembly results were in line with the BJP’s defeat in the 2015 local elections in the district, months after the Patidar quota stir was launched.
Dhiru Javiya, who owns 1.25 hectares in Ankadiya Nana village of Amreli taluka, doubts, however, that Hardik will be as big a factor this time. “Hardik is a Kadva Patel (a Patidar sub-group). Our district is of Leuva Patels. If he contests and the rival candidate is a Leuva Patel, the district will vote for the latter, unless Paresh Dhanani himself throws his weight behind Hardik,” he says.
Dhanani has won the Amreli Assembly seat the past two times for the Congress.
But at a tea stall in Amreli town, plumber Mansukh Chavda and his friends say Hardik may end up hurting the Congress. “People will think Hardik will work only for the Patels and not vote for him,” says Chavda.
Arjun Sosa, the president of the Amreli district unit of the Congress, insists the party candidate has not been decided yet.
Sitting BJP MP Naran Kachhadiya, who has hit the road, denies farmers are angry. “We have ensured crop insurance every year. Work is on under PM KISAN.”
Playing down any Hardik ‘effect’, Kachhadiya adds, “PM Modi has already announced 10 per cent reservation for those who are not eligible for caste-based reservations. This means the Patidar quota stir is over.”