Almost every village on the eroded state highway from Bhopal begins with a saffron signage of the Hindutva youth group Bajrang Dal. It reads: “Hindu Rashtra ka Hindu Gaon”—which means ‘Hindu village of a Hindu nation.” In one such village called Kulhor, 60 km from the capital, a 45-year-old peasant named Kamal Vishwakarma hung himself from a ceiling fan in the wee hours of February 27.
Vishwakarma and his three sons had two acres of land and were sharecroppers on a third acre. Hailstorm had wrecked half their crops of wheat and chickpeas. The family had lost their soya bean crop last year to rain and now ran an accumulated debt of more than Rs. 2.5 lakhs, says Vishwakarma’s eldest son Haricharan.
Despite assurances from the Chief Minister Shivraj Chouhan himself, the family is yet to get compensation or insurance for crops lost since 2012, till this report was filed. At least 18 farmers have committed suicide or died of shock this Black Spring in Madhya Pradesh.
“People with three tractors and 20 acres of land get ration cards here, but not us. Here my sons are doing wage labour and my daughter’s engagement was broken after her father died. The MLA (BJP’s Vishnu Khatri) came to the entrance of the village but did not enter our house. The Sarpanch (BJP’s Mahendra Singh) and others simply came as if there is a fair in our house. We will only vote for those who stood by us,” says Vishwakarma’s hysterical widow Ratanbai.
Yet, Haricharan says the BJP will win. “Compensation or no compensation, we need the BJP to survive. Their men get us fair prices for grain at the procurement centres. We have eaten food served at their party meetings. Even if we vote for Congress, we know the BJP will win,” he told The Hindu.
Such is the influence of the BJP in Bhopal district. With its roots in the 10 shakhas of the Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh in pre-merger princely state, Bhopal is the BJP’s safe seat, which it has held since 1989. While the Congress manages to put up a fight in the capital, it is the saffron flag that flies in most of rural Bhopal.
“I have seen this for the last decade. Peasants will curse the government when crops fail. Compensation will either not come or will be insufficient. But come elections they will vote for the BJP,” says Narendra Sharma, Berasia-based General Secretary of the Madhya Pradesh Kisan Khet Mazdoor Congress.
He mentions that crops failed in Congress regimes too, and farmers would vote against the party if they were not satisfied with the compensation. “In the case of the BJP, it is different. Most people believe that the BJP is the defender of Hinduism and not voting for them creates a dharam sankat (spiritual crisis),” he explains.
Kulhor resident Maharaj Singh has also lost most of his wheat crop. The grains have lost colour and are too small to fetch a viable price. He is also angry that compensation has not come and that the media is only bothered about Vishwakarma’s suicide. A Dalit named Bharat Singh died in the cold here a few days after Vishwakarma, he says, “but you don’t care because he didn’t have any land.”
He told this reporter: “Here compensation is not a political issue. People will blame the bureaucracy. Congress lost sway here because (former CM) Digvijaya Singh only cared about Dalits. Others, like my family, felt discriminated against. Today not only do Savarna castes, but also the Dalits vote for the BJP. Everyone wants to get any benefits that come their way.”
Every year, harvesting machines are driven all the way here from Punjab and Haryana to harvest the wheat crop — which ripens before the wheat in those states. Gurmeet Singh, a harvester driver from Patiala, told The Hindu that he has not seen such a depressing crop all these years.
“If they (farmers) lose, we lose. They don’t have any hope for compensation, so the demand for harvesters is also down. If this happened in Punjab, netas would be thrashed. But here people are loyal to the party (BJP),” he says.
Peasants standing beside him nod their heads. The eldest, Maharaj Dangi says, “What can we do? The BJP is in our fate. We can curse them but we can't change our fate."