BHAVNAGAR: As the first sun rays touched upon the vast cotton fields making them glitter, Mansokbhai Gadwi got going with his task of plucking the fluffy cotton in his field. While at it, some bristles slashed his fingers. To this, he said, “These cuts are minor and will heal in no time. But our problems are far bigger than this and I have lost hope in the present government.”
Mansokbhai, a 55-year-old cotton farmer from politically-significant Saurashtra region’s Bhavnagar, is neck-deep in debts.
Cotton farmers across Bhavnagar and Amreli in Gujarat are up in arms against the state government, claiming it had been turning oblivious to their issues for the last three years.
“Problems such as non-availability of water, poor rain, bollworm attacks, bad quality of pesticides sold by private traders etc have doubled in the last two years. The cotton crop got damaged and whatever remained was of poor quality,” said Narendrasinh Gohil, President of Bhavnagar Marketing and Merchant Association, who is also a cotton farmer.
The government could have done a lot in arresting some of the farmers’ problems, he added.
Irked with the state government, the farmers have warned that the political scenario may change in Bhavnagar and Amreli, which are BJP stronghold and where over 60 per cent population is into cotton farming. In 2012 elections, the BJP had won five out of six seats in Amreli, and eight out of nine seats in Bhavnagar.
“Despite repeated pleas, none from the government came to our rescue. Now, all the politicians are coming out to woo us just ahead of the elections. However, I have decided which party to vote this election,” said Mansokbhai.
Seeing this as an opportunity to woo the farmers’ community and target the BJP-led Vijay Rupani state government and PM Narendra Modi at the Centre, the Congress backed by Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) has been raking up the issue of cotton farmers in every public meeting.
Congress Vice-President Rahul Gandhi and PAAS leader Hardik Patel have been targeting the ruling government and its policies, calling it anti-farmer.
“Rahulji has assured that if the Congress comes to power, they will increase the MSP and also take other steps which will benefit us,” says Rohitbhai, a farmer from Amreli.
The government has announced an MSP of Rs 954 per 20 kg of cotton, which is Rs 200 less than last year. “We earn some money if the MSP is between Rs 1,200 and Rs 1,400. During the UPA tenure, it was Rs 1,450 (per 20 kg),” said Mansokbhai.
However, the BJP leaders claim the farmers are happy. “Market rate of cotton is not more than Rs 700 per 20 kg, therefore the reduced MSP is adequate.
The farmers are content. The Congress wants to blow the issue, but will achieve nothing,” said Dilip Sanghani, BJP candidate from Amreli’s Dhari constituency. Nonetheless, the situation on the ground is that many farmers have quit cotton farming and switched over to daily wage jobs.
“I am now running a tea shop. I gave up cotton farming last year,” said Suranbhai.