A collective voice with agriculture at the centre may spring a surprise in coming electoral battles
So far, farmers have never acted as one identity to have a say in the policymaking; they have voted as Hindus, Muslims, OBCs and Dalits. Credit: Sayantoni Palchoudhuri / CSE
The Gujarat election results have prompted me to reverse an old saying: from sublime to ridiculous. Now it pretty much sounds like from ridiculous to sublime. An election, which was fought on several caveats around communalism, minority appeasement, jobs, reservation, agrarian distress, demonetisation, GST and other clichéd barbs between the two major parties, finally settled in favour of new and emerging narrative: urban-rural divide.
Even the national juggernaut Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi failed to read it. Nor do the regional political rookies like Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani or Alpesh Thakur who did not have slightest of idea how their political aspirations and jibes at present dispensation at the Centre and in state might create a new political perception in the future: rise of rural India vis-à-vis the popular notion that urbanisation is the solution to all the problems.
Or else how come a particular powerful community rejected the BJP in rural areas and voted for it in the cities. The reason is simple: the effects of demonetisation and GST could still be overpowered or forgotten despite the havoc they wreaked, but people dependent on agriculture are still struggling to register their grouse in the minds of the powers that be.
The discontent among the rural masses was quite visible in recently held UP civic polls too, but it was obfuscated by the articulations dished out by the media and self-styled political pundits. The voices favouring the rural masses are either not heard or simply reduced to mere tokenism. This is really a warning signal to those heading farmers’ movement or writing on social indicators.
Why is it happening? Now juxtapose this notion with the impact that three young men—Hardik Patel, Jignesh Mevani and Alpesh Thakore—representing the rural community in three different streams—Patidar community reservation, Dalit uprising and OBC movement. People hailing from these streams actually represent one mother stream, which is agriculture. So, instead of representing this mother stream collectively, they are representing three political planks leading to a symbolic political representation.
Vote for core concerns not fringe issues
Now the question is why the rural masses, despite the huge resentment, never got the strike rate at the hustings that single-issue movements around reservation, dalit atrocities, religious passions and castes got in the past.
The electoral analogy in the past suggests that the rural masses, especially farmers, never acted as one identity to have a say in the policymaking. So far, they have voted as Hindus, Muslims, OBCs and Dalits. The political parties easily made them believe that their blood identities are more important than their needs. The farmers, too, which constitute the largest chunk of rural masses, have to learn how to stand up against the fringe issues which always sideline their core concerns. The farmers commit suicides, talk about low MSP, education and jobs for their wards and migration, but when it comes to politics, they always vote for their blood identities.
But would voting en bloc in favour of one party do any wonder for the rural people? For this, we need to go back to pre-emergency days when the Congress would garner most of their votes. But that was the period when farm distress was not as acute as it is now as green revolution acted as a major catalyst in bringing relief to them. The farmers were annadatas (providers) and did not face the prospect of becoming labourers in the guise of getting inducted under Skill India campaign, as a farmer in Western Uttar Pradesh said aptly.
In another example, former Prime Minister Choudhary Charan Singh brought the rural community on one plank in 1977, particularly in Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar and Rajasthan. However, that was more because of anger against the emergency than any genuine concern confronting rural masses. It is the same anger that got reflected in 2014 against the Congress.
There have been many leaders like Kishan Patnaik, Sharad Joshi and Mahendra Singh Tikait who fought for the cause of the farmers, but failed to reach out to landless and other regional identities. But fortunately or unfortunately, Mandal Commission created few electoral blocs, which were conveniently exploited by the successive regimes till now. These new blocs threw up many leaders and served many political outfits but ended up getting nothing beyond fringe benefits.
But now there seems to be a collective sense of loss and desperation and challenges are bigger for rural masses. The fragmented voting for political choices will not serve them well as witnessed in Gujarat election.
A collective voice with agriculture at the centre may spring a surprise in coming electoral battles; who knows.
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