Like in Telangana, Congress Party Places all Eggs in the Farmer’s basket
Two days ago, Rahul Gandhi challenged the Prime Minister to offer a loan waiver for farmers across India. This came soon after the wins in Chhattisgarh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. Many in Rahul Gandhi’s strategy team believe this will win them the election in 2019. What his strategy team appears to have forgotten is the debacle in Telangana. Why Telangana?
– KCR like Modi was in his first term
– KCR like Modi enjoyed a huge lead over his rivals on leadership
– KCR like Modi enjoys a fully fragmented opposition
So What do we learn from Telangana?
In Telangana for the last 24 months, the Telangana Congress party was extensively focussed on the issue of Farmers. This was smart strategy as Farmers in Telangana were and are still in poor shape. However, KCR is a very savvy politician who used all methods and means to be ensure the formation of the new State and then become the CM in 2014. So in early 2018, he came up with
Given the water resource profile of Telangana, there was a lot of dependency on pumping water from the Ground. Free power supply to farmers targeted about 2.3 million cultivators.
Provide Direct Cash Transfers to the Farmers
In the budget of 2018-19, a scheme to provide for direct cash transfers – Rythu Bandhu Scheme for supporting Farmers input costs was announced. This was on top of the farm loan waiver between 2014 and 2017
Completing as many irrigation projects as possible by the election in 2018
While KCR’s irrigation projects suffered from execution, some of them made it throughproviding much needed support inspite of a poor monsoon. The work on tanks was already helping the Farmers
None of these issues dramatically changed the Telangana Farmer’s revenue profile but it did signal an intention to change their lives. In elections, that counts a lot.
Having looked at the acreage and predicted production data in August-September, KCR announced early elections. The rest is history.
While the Opposition continued its focus on Farmers, it ignored numerous other issues. Survey data late last year showed us two major trends
Even if Dalits were unhappy with KCR for not fulfilling his 3 Acre land promise, they were not exactly dying to vote for the Congress party. The party did not offer an attractive alternative whether in terms of senior leaders in the party or in terms of substantial policy hook.
TDP voters were moving en masse to TRS.
During the last 24 months, there was nothing that the Telangana Congress did to dramatically hook the Dalit Voters. The entire strategy was to tap into the dissatisfaction with KCR and TRS. While dalit voters did not move en masse to KCR like other segments did, their enthusiasm for Congress-TDP was not exactly great.
While TDP voters were moving en masse to TRS, the Congress party’s belief was they did this because TDP was not a viable alternative in Telangana. In the meanwhile, BJP voters appear to have largely stuck to their party even if the party they support was not viable? So what really happened? Large number of TDP MLAs had already abandoned the TDP soon after the 2014 election. Even many unelected MLAs had done so. Most of them joined the TRS. They took their organisation structure and relationships with them. In the meanwhile Telangana is one of the fastest growing States in the country which meant that large number of Urban TDP voters (for example in Hyderabad) saw no serious fault in shifting their vote from TDP to TRS. Therefore, a combination of strong urban economy and a shift in TDP’s party structure to TRS meant that when Congress and TDP aligned, there wasn’t much that the TDP could offer the Congress. The end outcome is clear.
There were many other mistakes that Telangana Congress made but my focus was on these 3 issues for a variety of reasons was to make a larger point about issue concentration in elections..
Let us now switch to the National perspective
Farmers are the most dissatisfied group nationally
Apart from the recent elections, enough economic data seems to suggest that they are the most dissatisfied group. What % of the voters are Farmers?
14-15% of Indian Voting Population make up for Cultivators (Census plus election 2014 data). Add their Family members (and this is now only an estimate) perhaps about 30% of the voters are Cultivators or their families.
This is an important point because farm loans are concentrated amongst these 30% households
Where are Farmers located in India?
Uttar Pradesh – Congress Presence – Weak
Maharashtra – Strong (along with NCP)
Rajasthan – Strong
Madhya Pradesh – Strong
Andhra Pradesh – Weak
Karnataka – Strong
Bihar – Weak
Gujarat – Strong
In 3 out of the 8 States, Congress party is weak. In Andhra Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar its alliance partners have their own troubles whether it is Caste limitations or strong anti-incumbency. In Karnataka, the Congress party is itself troubled by rural anti-incumbency now being in power for the last 6 years. That leaves us with – Gujarat (Modi’s home state), Rajasthan, MP and Maharashtra. Recent election data shows Congress can gain in these States. With about 85 rural seats, the Congress (and NCP can perhaps swing about 40 Seats in their favour). That is the net gain from Congress party’s farmer strategy
So who is left out?
Service Sector workers (mostly in cities)
The Congress has no visible or aggressive strategy amongst these voters. Should the PM announce a direct cash transfer scheme (like Rythu Bandhu) in the 2019-20 budget, the above 40 seats gain will mostly disappear. The Congress party nationally just like the Telangana Congress has put all its eggs in one basket.