The article originally appeared on India Today.
Here it is bit modified based on new developments.
According to the 70th Round of the National Sample Survey, conducted during January-December 2013, India has 9 crore agricultural households. Now if we take the average Indian family size of five, we can say that can say there are 45 crore Indians dependent on farming for their survival.
The projection increases further the number of population dependent on agriculture in India if we factor in the Census 2011 data. According to Census 2011, India has 26.32 crore farmers, including 11.86 crore cultivators and 14.43 crore agricultural labourers. Taking the average Indian family size of five and multiplying it with 11.86 crore cultivators gives us 59.3 crore Indians who are supported by agriculture.
That is a huge number, when we see the voter turnout in the last Lok Sabha elections. India had 834082814 electors in the 2014 Lok Sabha election and with a turnout of 66.30 per cent, 553020648 of them voted in the polls. In 2009, the number of electors was 716985101 and turnout was 417158969 at 58.21 per cent.
It becomes even more important to weigh the political consequences when seen the context of the vote share of the winning parties in elections that is much less than the overall number of farmers in India.
In the 2014 Lok Sabha election, the BJP won 282 seats and a full majority for a single party after the 1984 Lok Sabha election with just 31 per cent vote share, i.e., 171436400 votes, much smaller than the population segment dependent on agriculture, the 45 crore Indians based on the projection made on NSSO findings or 59 crore Indians as per the Census 2011 findings.
Congress emerged as the largest party in the 2009 Lok Sabha election winning 206 seats with a vote share of 28.55 per cent, i.e., 119098885 votes and continued its alliance government in the centre that had come to power by defeating the BJP in the 2004 Lok Sabha election. The Congress led United Progressive Alliance government had defeated the BJP led National Democratic Alliance government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee in 2004 to form the government in the centre.
India had 671487930 electors in the 2004 Lok Sabha election. 389948330 of them voted with a turnout of 58.07 per cent. Congress got 145 seats and 26.53 per cent votes, i.e., 103453291 votes. Though it got just 7 seats more than the BJP’s 138 seats, it could stitch a viable political coalition and went on to form the government.
In the 1999 Lok Sabha election, 371669104 voters of the 619536847 electors exercised their voting rights. The BJP formed the coalition government by winning 182 seats with a vote share of 23.75 per cent, i.e., 88271412. Though the Congress could win just 114 seats, it got greater share of voters’ pie at 28.30 per cent, i.e., 105182356.
If we go by these figures, it is clear that farmers can swing electoral outcomes if they are mobilized. We have seen that with 2007 Nandigram and 2008 Singur land acquisition protests in West Bengal. Both were farmers’ agitations mishandled by the Left Front government of the state. 14 farmers were killed in police firing during the Nandigram agitation. Mamata Banerjee realized the political opportunity it gave and she successfully exploited it by leading the farmers’ agitation. Though farmers, too, are divided across community and caste lines, but agitations like Nandigram and Singur which present a survival threat have the potential to unite them to unseat the governments. West Bengal confirmed this when riding on the success of these farmers agitations Mamata Banerjee formed the government in the state in 2011, unseating the 34-year long unbridled run on the Left Front. And she has become only stronger since then, winning election after election while the Left Front is almost dead politically in the state.
That is what galvanized and united farmers can do. If it can happen in a state, it can happen in India if it spreads to too many states.
Drought or rains, the farmer in India is cursed to live a life of misery even if he has been at the core of the political discourse in our country. In last 15 years, over 2.30 lakh farmers were forced to commit suicide, i.e., two farmers committing suicide every hour, as per the latest publication of the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) . Either a drought year damages their standing crops or a normal rainfall causes overproduction that makes their produce much cheaper than the prevailing market prices and thus a burden as they are not able to recover even their input costs.
Raging farmers’ agitation in Mandsaur and other districts of Madhya Pradesh and farmers’ protests and clashes with administration in states like Maharashtra, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu tell us their patience is finally waning. Protests in Madhya Pradesh have reached to its capital city Bhopal. Also, in a worrying development for two state governments and the central government, farmers of Punjab and Haryana held protests today supporting farmers of Madhya Pradesh. That has sent state governments and the central government in a panic mode. Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan first announced a compensation of Rs 5 lakh for the farmers killed in Mandsaur firing, raised it to Rs 10 lakh and then finally to Rs 1 crore, all in a span of just few hours. He has also announced to sit on indefinite fast from tomorrow. Central government led by Narendra Modi held an emergency meeting on farmers’ agitation and Maharashtra chief minister decided to waive of farmers’ loans in the state worth 30000 crore, a long standing demand even by the Shiv Sena, the BJP partner in the state government.
Because they realize that if the BJP loses the confident of the farmers, it is staring at an electoral loss in the upcoming elections including the 2019 Lok Sabha election. Farming community and its dependents who form over one-third of India’s population are an electoral force that no political party can dare to ignore. Rahul Ganduhi’s visit to Mandsaur or politics over farm crisis and farm suicides tell us the electoral might of farmers even if they are cursed to live a life of misery with a paltry monthly household income of just Rs 6426 a month, the National Sample Survey Office’s report says.