LokMarg speaks to a stream of migrant workers on their way home in Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh. The dejected workers lament heartless employers and apathetic administrations. Yet, their resolve to reach their families remains firm as they brave the scorching sun, long distance to reach home.
Forget the Congress and Jyotiraditya Scindia drama. The Congress already seems to be in political ICU facing last rites having been crushed by BJP’s Congress-Mukt campaign. The next on the BJP’s predatory game are the regional parties. There is much nervous ness within the smaller regional parties as loyalties among their members are being tested.
The members of the smaller parties are easier to “manage” and more susceptible to allurements and pressure tactics generally employed to “win” over vulnerable opponents. The saffron party made a beginning in this direction last year when four MPs from the Telugu Desam Party and three from the Samajwadi Party switched loyalties to the BJP. However, the regional parties can expect to feel the heat once the BJP leadership is satisfied that it has succeeded in its mission of decimating the Congress.
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The immediate provocation for engineering these defections is to push up the BJP’s tally in the Rajya Sabha where it does not have a majority. At the same time, the saffron party is also busy toppling state governments as it did in Karnataka last year and is currently in the process of bringing down the Kamal Nath government in Madhya Pradesh.
The BJP felt cheated when it was prevented from coming to power in Karnataka in 2018 when the Congress and the Janata Dal (S) teamed up to form the government. The BJP had since then been waiting for an opportunity to get back at the Congress-JD(S) combine. It eventually met with success last year when sixteen MLAs from the Congress and the JD (S) resigned and crossed over to the BJP, enabling it to form the government in the Southern state.
In Madhya Pradesh, the drama unfolded when former Congress minister Jyotiraditya Scindia decided to switch sides when he found himself being sidelined by his party rivals – chief minister Kamal Nath and senior leader Digvijaya Singh. Denied political space in his home state and a Rajya Sabha seat by the Congress, Scindia chose to walk out along with his supporters. Sixteen Congress MLAs have sent in their resignations and were airlifted by the BJP to Bengaluru where they have been sequestered in a luxury resort.
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At the same time, the Congress is facing trouble in Gujarat where five MLAs have put in their papers, jeopardizing the party’s chances of winning two Rajya Sabha seats in the March 26 election. The Congress has since been struggling to keep its remaining legislators safe.
These developments are predictably being followed closely by the regional parties which realise that they are next on the BJP’s hit list. The Samajwadi Party and the Telugu Desam Party have already lost seven MPs to the saffron party and they don’t know what awaits them in the coming days. With West Bengal assembly polls due next year, the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress has reason to worry. As it is, a number of Trinamool members had crossed over to the BJP in the run-up to last year’s Lok Sabha election and the party has every reason to believe the BJP will pull out all stops to weaken Mamata Banerjee before the assembly polls.
Moreover, regional parties feel that the weakening of the Congress and the emergence of a unipolar polity will hit them hard. Although these parties have been battling the Congress in their respective states, there is also a realization that if the grand old party faces extinction, the possibility of putting together an anti-BJP opposition front will become more difficult. Any such grouping necessarily needs the Congress to anchor it. However, if the Congress is rendered incapable of playing that role, it will become so much more difficult for the regional parties to mount a combined offensive against the all-powerful BJP because there will be no nucleus around which the parties can coalesce.
And this will make the regional parties more vulnerable to the BJP’s predatory moves. These parties will then have a choice of playing second fiddle to the BJP or facing erosion in its ranks. This situation suits the BJP as its leaders privately admit that they find it easier to deal with regional parties because they are “ideologically flexible” and purely focused on the interests of their respective states. Consequently, they can be co-opted with the lure of Central grants and special projects as regional leaders are made to realise the benefits of keeping the Centre on their right side. Odisha and Andhra Pradesh chief ministers Naveen Patnaik and Jagan Mohan Reddy have understood this well as their parties extend full support to the Modi government and are not inclined to rock the boat at the Centre.
Regional parties, especially the smaller ones, often stand to lose their identity and their political space if they throw their lot with the larger national party. The Uttar Pradesh-based Apna Dal is a case in point. The BJP wooed the party and even gave a ministerial berth to its leader Anupriya Patel in order to get the support of the Patels in the electorally-important Hindi heartland state of Uttar Pradesh. But now that the Patels have shown a preference for the saffron party, Apna Dal and Patel now find themselves sidelined in the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance.
From all accounts, it appears the regional parties face tough times ahead. BJP the predator is on the hunt and they appear to be easy game after Congress.
Housewives in her village, like elsewhere in rural India, were restricted to household works and carrying water for miles on foot. But after Seema Bai of Jhiriyajhor village in Bundelkhand joined a workshop on upkeep of state-installed hand pumps, she essayed a new role for the women in the vicinity. My life was no different from that of any other housewife of my village. With matkas (earthen pots to store water) on our head, we would walk several kilometers to fetch drinking water. Sometimes it would take us all day. But this is what life is like in Jhiriyajhor, my village. Located in the district of Chattarpur, Madhya Pradesh, our village falls in Bundelkhand, and arid region where access to potable water is a privilege. The state government (public health engineering department) has installed water hand pumps in most blocks but most of them remain dysfunctional. People call them sookha (dry) pumps. About three years ago, I heard about an NGO organising a camp about the upkeep of hand pumps. I, along with a couple of other women from my village, decided to attend it. There was disapproval from our menfolk who thought it was waste of time. But I stood my ground. Within a month, we got familiar with the structure and mechanism of a hand pump and how to repair a dysfunctional one. The NGO also provided us with some basic tools. Empowered, we returned to our village with a hope to end the drinking water problems that plagued our village. A few days later, we came to know about a dysfunctional hand pump on the outskirts of our village. I realised it was time to put our skills to test. Armed with our new toolset, we reached the spot and inspected the machine. The entire village had gathered around us. For them, a group of illiterate women were trying to mend a hand pump; they had only seen trained mechanics from the sarkari department do the job. Much to their surprise, we were successful in repairing the pump within an hour. As the first stream of water gushed out, there were claps and cheers all around us. We were superstars. I was nicknamed `Hand pump waali Chachi’. The state department in the region takes four to five days to address complaints. But we were ready to reach the spot immediately. So, people started approaching us. They found us prompter, free of cost and more efficient. Other women of our village too joined and we trained them as well. It became a block chain soon. Today, we are a group of 15 women now who can fix a pump. Our village head has arranged for us a mobile number for people to lodge their complaints. We cater to nearby villages like Mabiya, Gullankhera, Patnakhera, Udanna, Poorapatti, Jhiriyakehra, Sarkana and Barela. People appreciate our efforts. They have even arranged for some new tools to help us deal with faulty machines better. Our efforts have even been lauded by the (district) collector sahib too. He was impressed with our efforts and assured us of all possible assistance. For several years, women in my village had to travel miles in search of water. But one bold step has brought water into our village. I now want to train more women in repairing hand pumps. Women are not restricted to kitchen and household work. We are independent, we know how to help ourselves. My story says it all!]]>
One year ago, farmers seeking loan waivers and better crop prices faced off with the cops at Piplya Mandi and Bhai Choupati in Mandsaur district of Madhya Pradesh. The cops opened fire after their usual baton-and-teargas response failed to scatter the protesting farmers, mostly Patidars. Five farmers died; 17-year-old Abhishek Patidar was among them. Lokmarg met Abhishek’s father, Dinesh Patidar. Here’s what he had to say.
I have lost my son; this state (Madhya Pradesh) has lost so many farmers but their situation has not changed one bit. The condition of farmers in the country can be estimated from the fact that if we invest ₹100 in a crop we will earn only ₹40 to 60. Forget profit margins or breaking even, the question is about existence. And the situation is the same for every farmer no matter how much land they have. I was born to be a farmer. In the 1980s we used cattle for farming in 28 bighas (A bigha of land measures a little more than a fourth of an acre) of ancestral land. But as times changed technology came into place. New machinery, equipment, better irrigation facilities, fertilizers, and seeds, but this all has only increased our capital expenditure. We cannot even realise the price of a tubewell even after five years of farming. So despite new kinds of farming, the debt of farmers is only increasing. All the farmers are using latest seeds and fertilizer for better crop so that we can get better prices for our hard work but the end of the day we cannot get adequate price for our cultivation. I feel the government has taken few measures for the relief for farmers but those are only in government files as no relief or aid is reaching farmers. We are getting cheaper electricity but fuel to run latest machinery and equipments are abnormally high. Even the cost of transporting produce from our fields to the mandis (grain and vegetable markets) is only increasing. This region lost many farmers in police firing and lathi-charge in June 2017, but the farmer of this region is still forced to commit suicide. Where will a farmer go if he doesn’t even earn what he has invested? We Patidars believe giving subsidy or writing-off debt is a long-term solution. I strongly believe a farmer can grow only if he gets fair prices for his hard work. Farmer of this country can only prosper if the government makes sure each crop is brought at the right price. We still sometimes recall the violent action in which I lost my son. We are still angry that no action has been taken against the policemen who killed my son. One year after police firing in Mandsaur, anger among farmers persists. Abhishek was a class 12 student and was also one of the five killed in police firing against angry farmers demanding a better price for their produce, and a loan waiver. For political gains, politicians keep coming to our village but none of them are going to get my son back nor can they stop farmers’ suicide. Rahul Gandhi’s Mandsaur’s visit and farmers rally kick-started Congress’ MP election campaign but is there anything he can do in a BJP ruled state? Netas should now deliver their promises made to the farmers or there will be no one to work the fields.
—With editorial assistance from Lokmarg
Also on Lokmarg
Rahul Gandhi’s speech on Wednesday in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh, where he targeted Modi government over farm distress and rising losses of public sector banks, brought the claws out, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley taking to social media for a rebuttal of the Congress president’s charges. So who’s right? Here’a a fact-check: RaGa 1: The Modi government waived loans of Rs 2.5 lakh crore of 15 top industrialists. This is more a political statement. We have to learn how PSU banks are run and how they make a decision on long-term industrial loans. The role of annual auditors must also be taken into account. Top appointments in any PSU banks are made by the Union finance ministry of the day. While the NDA government did appoint a Bank Board Bureau in 2016 to bring transparency into these appointments, the control largely still remains with the government. Having said that, the NPAs (non-performing assets or bad loans) are decided over a period of time. Thus, for example, a loan sanctioned in 2007 may easily be declared an NPA (or bad loan), in 2018. So it would be premature to say or put a figure of loan waiver to industrialists by the Congress President squarely on the Modi Government. The banking system and its auditors are directly responsible for such loans and actions taken thereof. Jaitley counter: The bulk of today’s NPAs or bad loans was created in the banking system during the period 2008-14. This is a debatable issue. In a PSU bank, the board of directors, and its chairman, play an important role in approving a large sum of loan to an industrial house. Often, the boards criss-cross the tenure of governments led by different parties. In addition, when a loan is declared non-performing asset depends on the alacrity of the auditors. To bring into account the role of loan approvers and the auditors has been a recurrent observation of several committees formed for banking reforms and cut down on bad loans. Often, the date of approval of loans and the declaration of it as an NPA, need not reflect the true picture. It is the view of experts that auditors take a lenient view due to political duress. Thankfully, the recent PNB fraud and media outrage have brought some of these issues out in the open. RaGa 2: The NDA government is giving loans only to industrialists and not to farmers. This is a self-defeating statement. For, Gandhi himself said that if voted to power, the Congress will waive all the loans of Madhya Pradesh farmers within ten days of forming the government. If the farming community was not given any loan, how would the government waive them off? Jaitley claim: If jobs are not being created, how can the latest GDP data make India the fastest growing economy in the world? Not quite. Most economists agree that Indian economy has been witnessing jobless growth for several years. This means there is growth in the output of industrial, agricultural and service sector front, but the job numbers struggle to grow. The Modi government has often tried to disprove this by quoting figures in provident fund accounts and even ‘pakora economics’, but all economic indicators belie their claims on the job front, which some observers call a ticking time-bomb. RaGa 3: Modi has given Rs 35,000 crore each to two diamond jewellers who have now fled the country. This is a laughable statement. Even though the charges of crony capitalism tend to stick on the NDA government, to insinuate that Narendra Modi was personally involved in loans given to Nirav Modi and Mehul Choksi is rhetoric nothing more.]]>