Under the blazing late morning sun, Savjibhai Gajnotar is busy tilling his field with a pair of bullocks, completely detached from heavy vehicular traffic on Rajkot-Kalavad state highway bordering his farm in Anandpar village in Kalavad taluka of Jamnagar district. As his bullocks start breathing heavily due to the labour, the farmer gives them break.
In a cottage on the other side of the wall of his field, Gajnotar’s wife Valiben and his three daughters, Dakhsa, Manisha, Geeta, are busy doing domestic chores and tending to a cow. His son Dharmesh, 19, is checking messages on his smartphone.
While he may look disinterested from the world outside his farm, Gajnotar, a sharecropper, is aware that it is time for Lok Sabha election and is eager to cast his vote in the village where he has been living for the last 12 years. “We must do something. See, how prices of groundnut, cotton, onion and every other things that we produced have gone down. I harvested around 10 quintals of onion two weeks ago. But market price is bust at around Rs 250 per quintal. That may not even cover the expense of transporting the bulls to Rajkot for selling,” rues the 45-year-old farmer.
Valiben tries to check her husband, saying they don’t know all these things about prices and government. But Gajnotar goes on: “This government has put too much pressure on farmers. For those setting up industry, they give loans in an hour; for farmers, they restrict to Rs 2 lakh, why?”
He even alleges that landlords have been enlisted by government as below-poverty-line families while sharecroppers like him toil hard on fields to provide for their families.
Gajnotar, who has not received any formal education, is a native of Vanana, a village around 60 km away in Jamjodhpur taluka of Jamnagar and is landless. He and his family migrated to Anandpar around 12 years ago to work as sharecroppers. As a tenant, he has been tilling 18 bigha land belonging to two different owners. Five bighas of these lands have been converted into an orchard of mango, sapodilla, custard apples, etc. “The landlords have been very kind. They are not demanding any share in the produce and I manage to save around Rs 1 lakh per year. But afterall, I am a tenant here. Just a few weeks ago, people from a big company came here, telling they want to construct a warehouse by removing orchard. My children are grown up now and I need some stability to arrange for their marriages,” says the farmer, adding this is the reason he doesn’t want his children to take up farming.
Gajnotar, his wife Valiben, daughter Daksha and son Dharmesh will be voting for the first time here while their two other daughters— Manisha and Geeta- are still minors. Earlier, the couple were registered voters in Jamjodhpur and only Gajnotar would make the 60-km trip to cast his vote. But this time, the couple and their two children are set to exercise their franchise in Anandpar village on April 23, having transferred their names here.
Dharmesh works at a bakery in the nearby Metoda GIDC after a second attempt to clear the XII commerce board exam. At the bakery, he earns Rs 9000 a month of which Rs 1200 goes in commuting. He does not want to become a farmer like his father. Daksha and Manisha, who dropped out of school, also double up as labourers of imitation jewellery work while Geeta is studying in Class X.
Savjibhai, earns Rs 1.5 lakh a year, but it has not come easy. The fruit orchard is battling a mealybug menace. “I don’t use a tractor because they will destroy the trees in the orchard,” he says. Ask them about who they will vote for and Valiben says, “Matdaan is a daan (charity), what else would we know? What difference will it make?”
While three of the family are set to vote in Jamnagar Lok Sabha constituency, they have concerns. Savjibhai says, “We used to hear that if you press the button for Congress, the vote goes to BJP. How does that happen?”
“Shush!” Valiben hushes her husband to not to say things they had only heard of. Her biggest concern is how will Dharmesh afford a wife with his meagre salary.
Seven of the eleven districts facing drought in Gujarat are in Saurashtra, Jamnagar, being one of them. The others are Surendranagar, Morbi, Devhbumi Dwarka, Porbandar and Rajkot. There is not enough water to irrigate fields and the state government has paid farmers input subsidies to make up for crop loss. The region, where the BJP had witnessed its worst performance in 22 years during 2017’s Assembly election due to farm distress, has seven Lok Sabha seats.
In Shiva village of Bhanvad taluka, also in Jamnagaar district, Karsanbhai Ravaliya and his brothers Savdasbhai and Dhanabhai sit on charpoys under a mango tree on a breezy evening. “This is a BJP-dominated area,” says Karsanbhai, a 72-year-old farmer.
The younger brother Savdasbhai, who has graduated in sociology and used to operate a stone quarrier till recently, says, “Our problem is that both candidates are from our community so votes will get divided.” BJP has fielded sitting MP Poonam Maadam while Congress has nominated Mulu Kandoriya as its candidate.
Both Maadam and Kandoriya are Ahirs.
Karsanbhai complains how rates of agricultural inputs like fertiliser and equipment have doubled over the last five years. But his wife Malliben is happy. “I got cooking gas bottle under the Ujjwala yojana and use it regularly”, she says declaring that she would “vote for Modi”.
Savdasbhai says, “Development has been good. In the case of Congress, there is no leadership at the top.”
But Kasranbhai says he would make up his mind after meeting of the community. “We will see what offers candidates make for our village. I shall vote for the one with better offer. One of the total agricultural land gets water through canal from a local dam but we are not getting it. There is no water in my wells and tubewells. We need water,” says the farmer, adding that the BJP, which has been strong in Jamnagar Lok Sabha seat, might have a tough time as. “Farmers are unhappy. Crop insurance is a big issue. Government has declared only six per cent crop insurance for groundnut,” he said.
Savdasbhai agrees and adds, “Bhavma bahu dabavya (prices are so low),” while referring to comparatively low prices of cotton and groundnut, the two main cash crops of Saurashtra region.
In Upleta town of neighbouring Rajkot district, Hasmukh Kaneriya complains governments in the past 15 years have not done much for farmers. “We have been listening to empty promises for the last 15 years. The government says farmers in Gujarat get loans at zero interest. But I have not received interest subvention for three years since the scheme was announced. It seems things are working for everyone but farmers. We produce groundnut. Those trading in groundnut oil and even empty groundnut shells are driving around in cars. We farmers are still on motorbikes,” says the 46-year-old farmer from Timbadi Jam village who has settled in the Upleta town so that his daughter can pursue a course in biotechnology.
He also alleges bias by the BJP government in the state and the Centre. “Groundnut crops of farmers, including mine, failed this year due to little rain but the government has not announced the payment of crop insurance. This is because we support Congress in the Assembly election. But I know, they fear only voting (against them),” says Kaneriya who has studied till Class IX, adding he would vote for Congress in the Lok Sabha polls also.
Upleta is part of Dhoraji Assembly constituency, which in turn is a segment in Porbandar Lok Sabha constituency. Congress has given the ticket to Lalit Vasoya, the former Patidar quota agitation leader who is now the sitting Congress MLA from Dhoraji.
Like Vasoya, Kaneriya is also a Patidar.
Meanwhile, Ramesh Dhundhalva and 13 other members of his extended family are busy harvesting onion on a field in Simran village in Savarkundla taluka of Amreli district under the scorching sun. “We have to make the most of whatever work we get. It’s a drought year and not much work is available. We can save a few rupees only if we work with speed and for longer hours,” he explains why they were all at work past midday, not even breaking for lunch.
Dhundhavla and his family are agricultural labourers. They are native of Bildi village in Mahuva taluka of adjoining Bhavnagar district and are voters registered in Bhavnagar Lok Sabha constituency, where Bharati Shiyal of the BJP is seeking a second term while Manhar Patel of Congress is challenging her.
Dhundhalva says that he has not got direct benefit of any scheme of the Central or state government nor is on the BPL. “We have to spend Rs2000 to get benefit worth Rs4,000 from government,” he complains. But he says he would vote for BJP this election also. “We are BJP supporters and we also have to vote for Bhartiben because she is from our community,” says the 45-year-old labourer who has not received formal education.
While Shiyal belongs to Koli caste, an OBC community, Patel hails from the upper-caste Patidar community.