Growing resentment

Print edition : October 12, 2018

Potato farmers from Uttar Pradesh at a demonstration seeking an increase in the minimum support price in New Delhi in July 2017. Photo: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

YOGA guru Ramdev’s warning about price rise and its implications for the Narendra Modi government’s future has evoked varied interpretations from the grass roots in the Hindi heartland. A group of farmers belonging to Pakhanpur village of Saharanpur district in western Uttar Pradesh sees his comments as reflecting the severity of economic hardships on the ground. They said that Ramdev knew what was happening on the ground because he sourced raw materials from the countryside for the various products made by his company. “His business sense is much better than the social and economic sense of leaders of the BJP governments in the State and the Centre. The farmers of this village are engaged in the production of wheat, lentils, vegetables and sugar cane. Sugar cane payments from the government are running way behind schedule. The average arrears are to the tune of 30 per cent of the dues, which adds up to a substantive amount of money in actual terms. What we have got in the last four years from BJP leaders is never-ending promises. They have not done anything other than talking,” said Charan Singh, claiming to represent the views of his fellow farmers.

At Bilhaur in central Uttar Pradesh, closer to the big towns of Kanpur and Lucknow, the potato farmer Anil Awasthi was agitated about how the financial burden imposed by the government’s defaults on payments for different crops including sugarcane gets aggravated by rising prices of petrol and diesel: “When they were in the opposition, BJP leaders, including Narendra Modi, kept on criticising the government on rising petrol and diesel prices, but now that they are in power, they are literally playing around with us as a cat does with a mouse. Everything they did, from demonetisation to GST, has added to our burden. Fertilizer prices have gone up by nearly 30 per cent on account of GST.”

Awasthi said he was an enthusiastic campaigner for the BJP and was really excited by the projection of Modi as Prime Minister. “Now, even if the Lord himself comes and tells me to vote for Modi and the BJP I would not do it. They have broken our back, we cannot give them another chance,” he said.

The resentment was also apparent among the merchants, industrialists and real estate businessmen whom Frontline interacted with in the Kanpur-Lucknow industrial belt. Prem Manohar Gupta, a prominent member of the Kanpur Chamber of Commerce, said that the crisis that this major trade-industrial hub faced from the time of demonetisation had stayed unchanged through the introduction of the GST regime and its constantly changing implementation mechanisms. “Every day, there is a new twist to the GST rules and regulations. Traders and industrialists are forced to rack their brains constantly to make sense of this. The net result is that business suffers.”

Many others were not ready to go on record, but they said that trade and industry had not yet recovered fully from damage inflicted by demonetisation and GST implementation. They added that the chain effect of the spiralling prices of petroleum products was making things worse. They were all certain that this state of affairs would go decisively against the ruling dispensation.

A retired senior government official with nearly three and a half decades service in a premier intelligence agency, who did not want to be named, agreed with the opinions expressed by a cross section of society to Frontline. He commented that an informal survey by a group of retired officials belonging to different intelligence units, done at the behest of certain senior serving officials, showed that no segment of the population, classified under social and economic parameters, was happy with the economic track record of the present regime at the Centre. “The dissatisfied lot includes those from the lowest income group of unorganised labour to the highest income groups working in and even running huge corporates. This is undoubtedly a strange and perhaps even a bizarre situation,” he told Frontline.

Venkitesh Ramakrishnan

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