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Votes at stake as Congress, BJP vie for credit for Chhattisgarh’s record paddy procurement

Almost 23 lakh Chhattisgarh farmers have benefitted from paddy procurement so far this year, selling more than a record 100 lakh metric tonnes to the Central food grain pool

January 23, 2023 04:12 am | Updated January 26, 2023 10:06 am IST - RAIPUR

Chhattisgarh Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel on Sunday said that more farmers had benefitted from paddy procurement in Chhattisgarh than anywhere else in the country, as he questioned the Bharatiya Janata Party’s attempts to credit the Central government for the “State’s record procurement” this season. With many believing that the State’s last Assembly election was won on the issue of paddy procurement prices, this fight for credit could have high stakes.

Mr. Baghel took to Twitter and shared a chart of rice-producing States in the country, showing that almost 23 lakh (22,93,761) farmers in Chhattisgarh benefitted from this year’s procurement drive, the most for any State. Telangana, with 9.54 lakh farmers benefitted, comes a distant second.

This comes two days after the government announced that having surpassed its own record procurement of 100 lakh metric tonnes of paddy till January 17, the State was now No. 2 in paddy procurement for the Central pool, with data sourced from the Central Food Grains Procurement Portal. 

“Most of the farmers selling paddy across the country are from Chhattisgarh. It means the maximum money has gone into the pockets of farmers in #Chhattisgarh. Today Chhattisgarh is untouched by recession, the markets are abuzz,” the Chief Minister wrote in Hindi. 

Thank PM Modi: BJP

While the government claims that these numbers indicate a robust economy due to the sheer number of families dependent on farming, as well as the forward and backward linkages with other sectors, the Opposition BJP has raised questions on who deserves the credit for these numbers.  

“Congress can celebrate paddy purchase as much as it wants, but it is their moral responsibility to express gratitude to Prime Minister Narendra Modi for buying the entire stock and paying 90% of the amount spent on it,” the BJP’s State president Arun Sao said last week, adding that the Central government would buy 92 lakh metric tonnes of rice made from paddy from Chhattisgarh farmers and would pay about ₹22,000 crore for the purchase and for related activities such as transportation. 

‘Did BJP thank Manmohan Singh?’ 

Speaking to journalists in Raipur, Mr. Baghel shot back by asking why his predecessor, Raman Singh of the BJP, had never thanked former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for paddy procurement when he was in power at the Centre. 

“The BJP is thanking the Prime Minister. If they believe that the Centre does the procurement, why did Raman Singh not thank Manmohan Singh for 15 years [that he ruled] and kept claiming the credit himself?” he asked.

Mr. Baghel also targeted Mr. Modi for his stance on minimum support prices (MSP), recalling the 2021-22 national farmers protest which forced a repeal of three controversial farm laws, but had also demanded an increase in MSP. He pointed out that it was the State’s Rajiv Gandhi Kisan Nyay Scheme (RGKNS) which paid Chhattisgarh farmers ₹600 per quintal of procured paddy, above the MSP rates set by the Centre.

‘Key poll issue’ 

Political commentator Sudiep Shrivastava noted that paddy procurement was the plank on which the Congress had won the 2018 Assembly elections in the State. “In its last tenure between 2013 and 2018, despite promising a ₹300 per quintal bonus over and above the MSP, the Raman Singh government didn’t deliver on it, leading to farmer agitation,” he said. “Chhattisgarh is the only State in the country which is effectively providing MSP according to the Swaminathan Committee formula,” he added. The National Commission on Farmers constituted in 2004 under the chairmanship of Professor M.S. Swaminathan had recommended a higher MSP rate formula.

In the last elections, the Congress had announced that it would pay ₹2,500 per quintal for paddy if it came to power in the State, and its leaders say that farmers refusing to sell paddy before the elections was the surest indicator that they would win.  

Mr. Shrivastava added that apart from the previous BJP government in the State committing what the farmers saw as a “betrayal”, the BJP-led Central government had also objected to Chhattisgarh giving a higher MSP to its farmers, with the RGKNS being launched to circumvent the objection and give extra money to the farmer.

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