Punjab farmers didn't have time for election campaigns this year. They were busy harvesting and marketing wheat.
By the time the 9th round of voting finishes on May 12, it will be time for the farmers to also relax. No, it is not the regular election campaigns that have exhausted him. Nor has he been busy with door to door campaigns for any candidate. Neither did he have any time to attend the election rallies of political stalwarts. In fact, in this year’s elections he hardly had any time to follow the dance of democracy.
Farmers were busy in harvesting the standing wheat crop. Ideally they would have got free of harvesting and marketing the wheat crop latest by the first week of April. But the unusual rains and hailstorm that continued as late as the first week had kept them in their crop fields. In the entire northwestern parts of the country the unusual rains had delayed harvesting by a fortnight on an average. The slow harvesting, the poor arrangements in the mandis and the delays caused by the tardy purchase process had made them indifferent to elections.
Knowing that it is of no use to disturb the farmers, political leaders too avoided the rural areas. In Punjab for instance newspaper reports say that farming largely remained unaffected by the political heat generated by 250 candidates in the fray for elections. The picture was no different in Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. In the Khanna grain market, the biggest market in Asia, sitting over his heap of grain Santosh Singh of Mandiala Kalan village says though some political parties are holding meetings in the villages but are drawing a blank. “Farmers have no time for them,” he told a journalist.
Not surprising therefore to find issues affecting farmers largely absent in the election campaigns. Most candidates are only mentioning farmers but not talking about their problems. Why only farmers, the candidates are also not speaking about the problems being confronted in the marketing and storage of the wheat crop. What is baffling is that even the common site of huge stocks of wheat lying in the open for want of adequate storage is not on the poll agenda of any political party. Nor is grain wastage an issue.
But farmers will certainly vote. Farmers unions have already announced their preferences.
Travelling through the malwa belt in Punjab, I come across mountains of grains stacked in the open at a number of places. Covered (and some places uncovered) by a black tarpaulin cover the grain bags are lying under the open sky. I have witnessed these grains stocks lying in the open for over 25 years now. Every harvest season, the old stocks are replaced by the fresh arrivals. Nothing else has changed. The condition of the open grain storage only worsens with every passing year.
This year too there is no place to stock the fresh arrivals in Punjab and Haryana (and now in Madhya Pradesh also, which has emerged as a top wheat producer). With harvesting delayed by over a fortnight in Punjab because of freak weather conditions, it is still a depressing site to see heaps of wheat grain lying in the mandis. Farmers complain that they had to wait for days to find a place to offload their wheat in the mandis for want of space.