Millennium Post

BJP versus Congress in politics of wheat

Both the ruling BJP as well as the main opposition Congress in Madhya Pradesh, for more than a month now, are bitterly bickering over what may well be described as the 'politics of wheat'. And why not? After all, it is an issue that involves the single biggest chunk of voters in the state — the farmers. One farmer has already died in police firing during a protest demonstration in the Raisen district of the State.

Bharatiya Kisan Sangh — the peasants' arm of the RSS, Bharatiya Kisan Union of Mahendra Singh Tikait fame and Bharatiya Janata Kisan Morcha — the farmers' wing of the BJP have all jumped into the fray. As for the BJP and the Congress, the former is blaming the central and the latter the state government for the anger among the farmers.

Madhya Pradesh had a bumper crop of wheat this year. About two months back, the government launched a massive exercise to buy wheat at minimum support price from the farmers. Over and above the MSP (which is fixed by the centre), the state decided to give a bonus of Rs 100 per quintal to the farmers. Procurement centres were set-up all over the state. The government boasted that it had put in place a perfect system, which would ensure that the farmers need not wait at the centre for the purchase of their produce and that payments were made instantly. Farmers who wished to sell their wheat to the government were asked to register themselves with the department of food and civil supplies and were promised that they would be informed of the date on which they should bring their wheat for sale through SMS. Payments were to be made through electronic transfer into the farmers' bank accounts.

The process started on 1 May and according to official figures, so far, 66 lakh MTs of wheat has been purchased from 7.61 lakh farmers and nearly Rs 10,000 crore has been paid to them.

Though the government had promised that the procurement process would be smooth, it got stuck within a few days of its commencement from 1 May. Reason: shortage of gunny bags to store the purchased wheat. The state government immediately went into an offensive, blaming the DG&D for having failed to supply the required number of gunny bags. The muck began flying. The CM threatened to sit on a dharna on the premises of the Parliament to protest against the 'centre's conspiracy'; the DG&D claimed that the delay was caused by the state government placing the second order for the purchase quite late.

Meanwhile, with the procurement process having come to a halt, the farmers were forced to wait at centres for days at end. The RSS-affiliate BKS jumped into the fray and began holding demos and protest marches. One such demonstration at Bareli in Raisen district on 8 May turned ugly. The farmers took to violence, torching vehicles and attacking cops. The police, in turn, opened fire, killing one farmer and injuring at least 40 others. Curfew was imposed in the town. A shocked BJP mounted pressure on the RSS and got the state chief of the BKS sacked. He was later arrested and is cooling his heels in the Bhopal Central jail for almost a fortnight now.  

The Congress' too began cashing in on the resentment among the farmers. It sought CM's resignation for 'botching up' the procurement process. It also charged the BJP with trying to portray the centre as the villain of the piece. As part of a damage-control exercise, the CM conducted surprise inspections of several procurement centres all over the state and promised that the government would purchase 'every single grain' from the farmers. Instead of jute bags, the government started using plastic bags. Also, 'silo bags' — huge polythene bags that can hold several tonnes of foodgrains - were procured at a considerable cost to the state exchequer.

The state government is also blaming the Food Corporation of India for deliberately not lifting the stock of procured wheat. A minister, recently, levelled this charge. The congress says that the state government was hiding the fact that it was the centre that was bankrolling the purchase and that the state government's contribution was limited to the Rs 100 per quintal bonus being paid to the farmers.
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