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Rural india notice to political parties

Some important lessons need to be learned from the Gujarat state legislative election which concluded on December 18. First, the BJP juggernaut led by former three-time chief minister of Gujarat and incumbent prime minister Narendra Modi, can be stopped. Contrary to most forecasts which predicted a BJP sweep, the party’s majority in the 185-strong legislative assembly dropped from 115 to 99, and the opposition Congress party’s number rose from 58 to 77. The contest was even closer. In 16 constituencies, the BJP margin of victory was less than 3,000 votes, and but for the Congress vote being split by several spoiler parties such as Mayawati’s BSP (which contested all 185 seats and didn’t win even one) and NCP which won one, the election outcome could well have been totally different. 

Secondly, the Gujarat election marked the coming of age of the Congress party’s newly elected president Rahul Gandhi, a scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty which has with a few interregnums ruled at the Centre and in most states for over half a century. Hitherto dismissed as a reluctant politician forced into national politics, Rahul fought a mature campaign revamping the Congress’ traditional overtly pro-minorities campaign to counter the BJP’s majoritarian Hindu vote consolidation strategy. Although the Congress lost the recent Gujarat assembly election, most media pundits agree that the party has acquired momentum and there’s a strong chance of Rahul (47) emerging as a formidable youth candidate of the overwhelmingly youthful electorate in the General Election scheduled for 2019. 

The other strong message of the Gujarat assembly election to all political parties is to pay greater attention to the agriculture sector and rural development. Curiously even though agriculture supports 67 percent of the population, it is woefully backward by developed world standards. The Green Revolution of the 1970s which saved the country from Russian and Chinese-style mass starvation, has long run out of steam, and rice and wheat yields in India are a fifth to half of the US, France and China. Moreover 16 percent of the annual horticulture produce of the nation’s farmers valued at Rs.41,000 crore rots every year because of a conspicuous failure to improve rural road and rail connectivity and lack of downstream agro-produce processing industry and infrastructure. State legislative assemblies are especially to blame while the Central government, economists and academics are passive witnesses to this blatant and continuous injustice. The result is mass immiserisation and a suicides pandemic in rural India. 

As the late agriculture economist Sharad Joshi vainly argued, India’s farmers don’t need government subsidies and loan waivers, they need better primary education and remunerative prices for farm produce. The significant rural vote against the overtly pro-industry and business BJP in the recently concluded Gujarat assembly election is a notice to all political parties that the long-suffering rural worm is about to turn. 

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