Last week, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley clarified in the Rajya Sabha the parameter for calculating the cost of production of farm produce. On Tuesday, Rajasthan Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje announced a loan waiver of Rs 50,000 for small and marginal farmers of the state in her Budget for the 2018-19 fiscal. In Bhopal, the Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government announced a bonus of Rs 200 per quintal over the minimum support price (MSP) for wheat and paddy farmers. These decisions, made in the span of a fortnight, were no coincidences, particularly for the Narendra Modi government at the Centre and the BJP administration in the two states. The Centre and the two state governments have paid inadequate attention to agrarian distress in their nearly four-year long tenures, which had contributed to farmers’ agitations in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in mid-2017. The immediate spur isn’t just the assembly elections in Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh (and Mizoram) by the end of the year. In Madhya Pradesh, by-elections are due in the assembly constituencies of Kolaras and Mungaoli on February 24. Both the constituencies fall in the Guna Lok Sabha constituency of Congress leader Jyotiraditya Scindia, and were won by Congress candidates in 2013. Many in the Congress speak of Scindia as the party’s likely chief ministerial candidate against Chouhan for the Madhya Pradesh assembly polls. Defeating the Congress candidates in Scindia’s pocket borough would strengthen Chouhan and the BJP’s morale in the run up to the assembly polls. A win in either of the seats would also aid Chouhan forget the memory of the loss in the Chitrakoot assembly by-election in November, which he had made a prestige issue over his government’s Bhawaanter Bhugtan Yojana, or price deficit financing scheme, to cover the rabi crops of gram, masoor and mustard, and onion. The Congress had retained the Chitrakoot seat. In the case of Rajasthan, Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje’s leadership is being questioned from within the BJP after the party’s rout in Lok Sabha by-elections in Ajmer and Alwar, and by-poll in the assembly seat of Mandalgarh. On February 1, as Finance Minister Jaitley had read out his Union Budget 2018-19 speech in the Lok Sabha, the news coming from Rajasthan was distressing for his party. The BJP’s defeat in Ajmer, Alwar and Mandalgarh was comprehensive. Both Ajmer and Alwar Lok Sabha constituencies have eight assembly constituencies each. In all, the BJP lost all the 17 assembly constituencies – eight each of Ajmer and Alwar seats, and the lone assembly constituency of Mandalgarh. The BJP had won all the 17 assemblies in 2013. Rajasthan assembly has 200-seats. Rajasthan CM Raje’s farmer friendly Budget, therefore, had one eye on the assembly elections at the end of the year, but the other to reinforce that she remained her party’s best bet to lead into the assembly elections.
The by-election results have strengthened the hands of her detractors within the party. BJP legislator Gyandev Ahuja’s audio recording has gone viral on social media. Ahuja is yet to deny the recording where he suggests that it was time Raje is replaced with another leader, or else BJP is set to lose the assembly election. Om Mathur, considered close to BJP chief Amit Shah, is a potential rival. Raje’s farmer friendly Budget could make it difficult for the party to brass to bring her to the Centre. The biennial Rajya Sabha elections are scheduled for April, which would give the BJP leadership opportunity to induct Raje in the union cabinet and get her elected to the Rajya Sabha. The term of the Rajasthan assembly ends on January 20, that of Madhya Pradesh assembly on January 7, Chhattisgarh on January 5 and Mizoram assembly completes its five-year term by December 15. In 2013, Madhya Pradesh went to polls on November 25, Rajasthan on December 1, Chhattisgarh in two phases on November 11 and 19 and Mizoram on November 25. This leaves nearly nine months for the state governments to prepare. All the three north Indian states are currently BJP ruled. The BJP had recorded convincing wins in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh in the 2013 assembly elections. In the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, barely four months after the assembly elections in these states, the BJP had swept all the 25-Lok Sabha seats in Rajasthan, won 27 of the 29 in Madhya Pradesh and 10 of the 11 of Chattisgarh’s Lok Sabha seats. Together, it won 62 of the 65 seats on offer in these three states. A defeat in the assembly elections could have a bearing on the Lok Sabha polls.