The Hindu CSDS-Lokniti Post-Poll Survey

Post-poll survey: farmers’ issues were not centre stage

PM-KISAN and a nationalistic campaign seem to have worked for the BJP

In November last year, thousands of farmers marched to Parliament to highlight the agrarian crisis and demand higher crop prices, full loan waivers and drought relief. There were quite a few such protests in 2018, and considering their scale, many believed that it was likely that the discontentment of farmers, who also make up an important voting bloc given that half the country’s population is engaged in farm-related work, would hurt the prospects of the BJP in the parliamentary election. However, with a thumping majority for the second time, the Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) seems to have successfully neutralised the anti-government sentiment among farmers.

Priorities while voting

Lokniti’s post-poll survey found that the majority of farmers did not vote on issues that directly concern them. Development (’vikas’) was important — 15% of farmers went to the polling booths with this as their single-most important agenda. Unemployment was second (10%). Surprisingly, only 5% had farming or related issues as their most important agenda when they went to cast their votes. This may also be considered a failure of farmers’ movements and the Opposition which did not politicise farmers’ issues sufficiently in the few months before the election. Farmers’ distress was very much on the national agenda until the beginning of the election year.

Table 1: How different caste groups have voted among farmers

 

Despite mass protests last year, 68% of farmers were found to be satisfied with the performance of the BJP-led NDA government at the Centre, with 27% saying that they were ‘fully satisfied’ and 41% saying they were ‘somewhat satisfied’ when probed further. The survey found that among respondents who reported agriculture as their main occupation, 39% voted for the BJP (NDA 47%) and 20% voted for the Congress (UPA 26%). These figures are almost the same as the overall vote shares of both parties. In other words, farmers did not vote differently from the rest.

When we further broke down the numbers on the basis of their respective caste groups, 52% of upper caste farmers were found to have voted for the BJP and only 13% chose the Congress. When further segregated, we found that 41% of peasant proprietors voted for the BJP, which is 22 percentage points lower than the rest of the upper caste farmers. The number of peasant proprietors who voted for the Congress was almost the same. However, with 34% voting for the BJP and 18% voting for the Congress, the gap between the Congress and the BJP was much more narrow in the case of Dalit farmers.

Table 2: Farmers who had been benefitted under PM KISAN and credited the Central government and the State governments for the same

 CongressCongress alliesBJPBJP alliesOthers
Credits Centre8356924
Credits State25521841

Direct cash transfer

The survey suggests that some action by the government at the eleventh hour, such as providing direct cash transfers through the PM-KISAN Yojana, and the ultra-nationalistic campaign of the BJP might have helped the party assuage the angry farmers and shift the narrative from farmers’ issues to development and nationalism. PM-KISAN, under which ₹2,000 is transferred to the bank accounts of farmers with small land holdings every four months, seems to have made them swing in the BJP’s favour. Among farmers who had benefited from PM-KISAN and credited the Central government for the same, 56% voted for the BJP (NDA 65%) and only 8% chose the Congress (UPA 11%). On the other hand, among those who credited the State government, the figures were almost the same for both (UPA 30%, NDA 29%). Interestingly, two-fifth of those who credited the State government voted for parties other than UPA and the NDA.

Among farmers who had heard about India’s air strikes in Balakot, 42% voted for the BJP while 17% voted for the Congress. Contrary to this, among those who had not heard about the strikes, the gap was merely three percentage points, with 31% voting for the BJP and 28% for the Congress. Cash transfer through PM-KISAN and the wave of nationalism just weeks before the election seem to have clearly swept farmers’ issues away from the centre stage.

Table 3: How have the farmers who had heard about India’s air strikes on terrorist training camps in Pakistan voted

 CongressBJP
Heard (74%)1742
Not Heard (26%)2831

 

With the BJP back in power, it is important to highlight three key promises made by the party to farmers in its manifesto: zero-interest loans for up to ₹1 lakh; extension of PM-KISAN to the rest of the farmers; and pension to small and marginal farmers. Considering the fiscal burden these schemes would add, at the moment it doesn’t seem like they will be implemented in their entirety. Will these schemes merely end up as poll gimmicks or will they add anything substantial to farmers’ plates? It might be too early to answer these questions.

(Manjesh Rana & Amrit Prakash Pandey are researchers with Lokniti)

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 5:44:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/elections/lok-sabha-2019/farmers-issues-were-not-centre-stage/article27266699.ece

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