Distress among farmers a key contributing factor

While it was evident from the results of the Assembly elections on Friday that a wave in favour of the All India N.R Congress (AINRC) had swept across the Union Territory, the party's performance in the rural segments, in both Karaikal and Puducherry, was astounding and contributed much to its thumping victory.

The fact that the party was banking on the popularity of its leader N. Rangasamy in the countryside was indicated by the choice of its constituencies, which largely consisted of those in the rural pockets.

In fact, among the 10 rural-dominated Assembly segments in the two regions, the party chose to contest in nine and emerged victorious in all but one.

In the Puducherry region, the candidates from the party's alliance in Mannadipet, Manaveli, Nettapakam and Thirubhuvanai managed to poll 15 per cent more votes than their rivals from the Congress-led alliance. While it snatched Thirunallar in Karaikal with a four per cent vote difference, the AINRC won Nedungadu with a margin of 8,134 votes, which was 36 per cent higher than the runner-up.

Apart from the above six constituencies, the party also managed to prevail in Embalam, where the Social Welfare Minister M. Kandassamy was defeated and Bahour, where the electorate was mix of rural and semi-urban voters with the former dominating.

The only rural-dominated segment that Congress won was Villianur, where it fielded a heavyweight in Public Health Minister A. Namassivayam.

While many attribute Mr. Rangasamy's accessibility and popularity as main factors for such a mandate in the rural areas, there were also other contributing factors for the sweep including distress among the farming community.

Data provided by the Agriculture Department revealed that there were close to 22,000 farming families in the Union Territory. If one also considered cultivators who take land on lease for raising crops, this number went up to 30,000 and a majority of these families lived in 11 constituencies.

Senior officials connected to agriculture told The Hindu that the sector had taken a severe beating in the last three years as cost of inputs had sky-rocketed. Farmers were forced to spend a lot more to cultivate their crops and this resulted in a decrease in profit margin.

When the margin of profit decreased, wages paid for the labour hit a plateau.

“The agony of lower incomes was magnified by the rise in prices of essential commodities. Farmers and farm labourers were caught in this vicious cycle of lower income and higher prices, which could have been a reason for the popular resentment,” said an official on condition of anonymity.

Apart from lower wages, finding work also became difficult as the area under cultivation had shrunk consistently for the past several years.

Others also pointed to the choke in the supply of inputs to the farmers as State-run corporations such as PASIC faced huge loses and failed to fulfil their basic responsibilities.

“As PASIC became dysfunctional, farmers were forced to buy fertilizers at higher prices. They paid at least Rs.100 a bag higher than market price when they bought it from private suppliers,” said a senior official.