CHURU/JHUNJHUNU/SIKAR : Arphal Meghwal, 51, is concerned about lack of development in the arid wastes of Rajasthan. “The five years gone by have been difficult,” he says. Yet, he feels the “country’s security is the most important issue”. “Desh ko bachaana hai to Modi ko hi laana padega (If we have to save India, we will have to bring back Modi),” says the Jhunjhunu resident.
His statement sums up the general mood in Rajasthan’s Shekhawati region, where the kisan and the jawan are the main poll issues. Most people here agree that the region has barely seen any development in the last five years. Water scarcity, lack of job opportunities and educational institutions, and poor state of healthcare are major problems.
However, the Pulwama attack and subsequent airstrikes in Pakistan seem to have more resonance among the voters and have significantly improved BJP’s prospects in the Jat-dominated region.
The Shekhawati region, comprising three Lok Sabha seats of Churu, Jhunjhunu and Sikar, was also the epicentre of farmers’ protest in 2018 over poor crop prices, issues of government procurement and stray cattle. The farmers are admittedly frustrated, even furious.
But the narrative of nationalism runs high and the BJP seems to have an edge in Churu and Jhunjhunu. In Sikar, however, the Congress has an upper hand and many say they would vote on the basis of “real issues” such as unemployment and farm crisis, not on the basis of “TV propagated nationalism”.
Disappointment was writ large on the faces of farmers sitting at the Krishi Upaj Mandi in Sikar. Three of their fellow farmers collapsed and died due to heart attack in this mandi within three months. They complained the Modi government’s crop insurance scheme or Fasal Beema Yojana had not benefitted them.
Jita Ram Sahni, who grows groundnut, onion and gram claims he has paid over `3 lakh in premium in three years but the government is not even clearing `1 lakh for the loss of his crops due to lack of water and poor weather conditions. “This government has not done anything for farmers. I have not received a single penny under the Yojana. Every time I visit the insurance office, they ask for a new set of documents. I have all the papers, but they make excuses,” he says.
Sahni is interrupted by Lakshman Sharma who terms the scheme a success. But he is shut down by other farmers who term him a commission agent. “Because the government does not purchase our crops, we are forced to sell our produce to people like him at dirt cheap prices. Onions are being sold at `2 a kg. We used to get better prices earlier,” says Nathu Ram.
In Jhunjhunu mandi too, farmers echo similar sentiments. “Modiji said he would get black money through demonetisation. Demonetisation did no good, but wreaked havoc in our lives,” says Som Lal. He has no hopes from Congress’s Nyay scheme either, but expects that Rahul Gandhi will at least not force demonetisation.
Among the three constituencies in the Shekhawati region, it is Jhunjhunu that sends maximum number of soldiers to the country’s borders. Hence, the narrative of India teaching a lesson to Pakistan with Balakot airstrike is the most popular here, especially among urban voters. Sipping tea in the heritage city of Mandava, Vijender Singh, 28, says, “Modiji gave free hand to our soldiers to carry out airstrikes. No other leader has done this ever. We have to vote for Modiji to teach Pakistan a lesson.”
He denies that unemployment has been a problem. “I was a teacher but am not working for past two years and thinking of doing business. I cannot say I lost my job. There are other people like me.” Churu, which has a significant number of retired army personnel, also seems to be riding high on the sentiment of nationalism. Lawyer Sumer Singh Rathore says national security is the only issue and only PM Modi can show Pakistan its place.