Prime Minister Narendra Modi, seeking re-election from Varanasi constituency, is set to face the heat from the agitating farmers from far-away Telangana and Tamil Nadu. Over 100 turmeric farmers from the two southern states are set to file nominations in Varanasi to highlight their set of demands including constitution of a Turmeric Board to stabilise the prices.
The farmers from Nizamabad in Telangana and Erode in Tamil Nadu have mobilised contributions from the villagers towards nomination deposit and are heading to the high-profile constituency to file their papers on April 29.
The bulk nominations are meant to highlight the problems of turmeric farmers at national level and force the central government to take remedial measures.
“It is not just about turmeric farmers but about the plight of the entire farming community. The agrarian crisis has deepened in the last five years of NDA rule. The debt burden has increased and the farmers are not getting remunerative prices for their produce despite the tall promises made by Narendra Modi,” the president of All India Turmeric Farmers’ Association Deivasigamani told The Federal.
Erode in Tamil Nadu is a major hub of turmeric production with the crop covering over 20,000 hectares.
“We are all proceeding to Varanasi to file nomination papers on April 29,” he said.
Repeat of Nizamabad model
The mass nominations in Varanasi is a repeat of the novel protest by the Telangana farmers who had filed large number of nominations in Nizamabad Lok Sabha constituency for which the election was held on April 11.
As many as 178 farmers, engaged in turmeric and red jowar cultivation, had filed their papers in the constituency from where the Telangana Chief Minister K Chndrasekhar Rao’s daughter K Kavitha is seeking re-election.
Nizamabad is a major turmeric production center in India. The farmers say that the investment per quintal works out to Rs 9,000 but they get less than Rs 4,500 per quintal from the traders. They have been demanding that the government intervene in the market and ensure remunerative price for the produce.
The constitution of Turmeric Board has been a long-standing demand in the region. As part of the agitation, the farmers held protest rallies and staged a march to Hyderabad on several occasions to bring their problem to the government’s notice.
Questions over motive
Interestingly, none of the farmers who remained in the fray in Nizamabad is filing the nomination in Varanasi. A different batch of farmers are being mobilised for the Varanasi battle, raising questions over the politics behind the move.
The argument is that since the constitution of Turmeric Board comes under the purview of the central government, the issue must be highlighted at the national level and there is no better way than doing it in PM’s constituency.
During the campaign, Kavitha had said, on a couple of occasions, that the aggrieved farmers should confront the central government and the BJP leadership instead of filing mass nominations in Nizamabad. She had also claimed that in her capacity as MP representing the region she had taken up the issue with the Centre several times and also raised the matter in the Lok Sabha but in vain.
“We are raising money from various donors from the villages for the election deposits of the contesting farmers. Each contestant requires the signatures of at least 10 locals,” Deivasigamani said.
“Our intention is to expose the callousness of the present government towards the problems of farmers. In Tamil Nadu alone, 380 famers have committed suicide in the last one year. We demand full waiver of crop loans and a mechanism to ensure remunerative prices for farmers,” he said.
A similar situation arose in the 1996 Lok Sabha elections in Telangana’s Nalgonda constituency where a record number of 480 candidates had filed their nominations as a mark of protest against the lack of safe drinking water for the fluoride affected villages of the district. The EC had to requisition a jumbo-sized ballot paper instead of EVMs to facilitate polling. Most of the independents were sponsored by the Jala Sadhana Samithi, a farmers’ organisation which had launched an agitation for early implementation of Srisailam Left Bank Canal (SLBC) project and drinking water supply scheme for fluoride-affected villages.
The temple town of Varanasi is going to polls on May 19.