THANKS to Narendra Modi, agriculture and farmers have come back to occupy the election debates. A stark contrast this in an era of competitive freebies electoral politics.
The Congress this time round has deserted its communal political agenda. Prompted by a series of positive coverage in global media for Gujarat Chief Minister and the recent thawing of the British position on him, the Congress party and its NGO cohorts this time round are keeping off the minority-victim bogey from the campaign. Ever since the Godhra and post-Godhra incidents, these forces have been pegging their propaganda in which only the Muslims were victims and the Hindus the perpetrators.
This is Modi’s third election as chief minister and under him, the party has seen two Lok Sabha polls. In none of these did Modi offer any sops. He has never announced anything free—power, gas connections, cookers, mixies—nothing. He has purely sought and won votes on his performance.
The Gujarat Congress in this elections also has announced a series of lollipops including free laptops, tablets for school and college students. It has promised subsidies for agricultural implements and 100 per cent crop insurance. After pushing FDI down the throats of Indians, it has pledged to revive over 60,000 small scale industries. For the minorities there is a slew of goodies, the cherry in the cake being the implementation of the recommendations of the Sachar Committee report. The Congress has even promised to revive the already flourishing ship-breaking industry!
All over the country, political parties offer all sorts of incentives, overtly and covertly, to swing votes. The DMK offered free TVs to all voters in the last elections. Of course, there was hidden business interests as it resulted in increased sale of the family company’s satellite DTH service.
The Congress’ cash transfer scheme has to be seen in this context. There was a telling cartoon in a website which showed Sonia Gandhi asking Nandan Nilekani if he can work out a scheme by which liquor can be transferred also; implying the widespread use of money and liquor by the Congress in elections. Since it is becoming clear to the Congress that the party’s chances of coming back to power in 2014 are nil. Like the last time it used the farm loan waiver, to improve its electoral prospects, it is hoping that this cash transfer would act as the vote gainer.
The development that Gujarat has achieved in the past decade have been manifold and inclusive. In many decades, agriculture received the attention of the government. It is still unfashionable to discuss agriculture growth and pro-farm policies among the Planning Commission and financial ministry mandarins. The state has registered a constant 12 per cent growth against the national average of two per cent. Saurashtra, one of the drought-prone areas in the country is today a green land, with farms full of produce.
The Gujarat story demonstrated how a balanced growth of agriculture and industry can bring about a total change in the lives of people. It has been an inclusive growth because the policies are made for the people of Gujarat and not for the various vertical and horizontal divisions in the society, generated by politics. In fact, Modi proved that Muslims can be taken into the mainstream, instead of keeping them in a socio-political ghetto.
Both political parties and the media are maintaining a safe distance from the decade-old Gujarat riots. Instead, the Congress has launched a shrill TV campaign debunking the Gujarat growth story. But these ads are rather strange because in one ad (a conversation between a grandfather and grandson) the development of the state is highlighted with the grandfather telling the child that it was all because the Gujaratis have always been hardworking and forward looking.
This actually defeats the party’s claim that there has been no development under Modi. Fumbling and tripping, the Congress campaign has lost its focus. The cash transfer it hopes would help. Whichever way, the fact that development, agriculture, people, governance and morality have come back into the political discourse and debate is a welcome turn.