Will Modi’s Electoral Math Be Impacted By ‘Kheti Bachao’? Unlikely

The Congress party has launched a ‘Kheti Bachao’ campaign across the country to tap into the anger of farmers.

6 min read
Will Modi’s Electoral Math Be Impacted By ‘Kheti Bachao’? Unlikely

Farmers are out on the streets. They appear to be seriously upset with the Modi Sarkar’s new farm bills. And Rahul Gandhi and the Congress feel this could be the big comeback opportunity the party has been waiting for. So, the Congress has launched a Kheti Bachao campaign across the country, to tap into the anger of farmers.

After all, there are roughly 11 crore farming families in India, with at least 30 crore votes. These are just the families who have at least one member fully employed in farming. If the farm bills affect the incomes of all those who depend on farming in some way or other, that number could double. If rural turnout remains what it was in 2019, that’s well over 40 crore votes.

Now, remember that the Congress got only 12 crore votes in 2019. So wooing farmers seems to make a lot of electoral sense.

The idea appears to be to tell farmers that the Modi government wants to do away with the minimum support price (MSP) that they get. It is also to convince them that farmers are being sacrificed for the benefit of big corporates.


Farm Bills: ‘Naïve To Assume That Modi-Shah Hasn’t Thought Through Electoral Fallout’

On the face of it, this is a winning formula. It even makes one wonder why Narendra Modi would commit political suicide in this fashion. Remember that he was quick to withdraw the land-acquisition act when he saw it was giving some traction to the Opposition. But, also remember that many saw demonetisation as electoral hara-kiri as well. It turned out to be quite the reverse.

So, I submit, it would be naïve to think that the Modi-Shah combine hasn’t thought through the electoral fallout of the farm bills.

For starters lets take the break-up of India’s farming population in terms of the amount of land they own. Government data from 2017 tells us that 6 percent of those who are termed as ‘farmers’ own less than 0.01 hectares of land. That’s just a shade less than 1100 square feet, or the size of a medium-sized apartment in Delhi. This probably amounts to a small hut and a vegetable patch.

Another 31 percent own less than 0.4 hectares or about one acre of land. In fertile, well-irrigated zones you can grow about 20-22 quintals of wheat on that much land. At current MSP, that will fetch you about Rs 40,000. Remove the ‘comprehensive’ costs, as calculated by the government, it will leave you with Rs 9,000-15,000 in profit.

Reality Of 87% Of Farming Families In India With Less Than 2 Hectares Land

Now we come to those who own between 0.4 to 1 hectare of land. That’s about another 30 percent of agricultural households. Similar calculations for wheat show that they work with a maximum profit of about Rs15,000-35,000 depending on the state they are in and their average yield.

Remember, this is income for an entire agriculture season, for an entire family.

If you work that out for the average per capita, you will get a ridiculous amount of about Rs 14 per head, per day, in the arid zones of UP, and about Rs 37 per day in the irrigated regions of Punjab. This is the maximum earned by 67 percent of India’s farming families from their core occupation.

Data from NABARD’s financial inclusion survey of 2017 showed that agricultural households with less than 0.01 hectare of land earned an average of Rs 566 per month from farming, those with 0.01-0.4 hectares earned Rs 1,488, families with 0.41-1 hectare of land earned an average of 2,501, and those with 1-2 hectares earned Rs 4,485 per month from agriculture.

The same numbers, when converted into income from farming per head, per day, will give us a range of Rs 4 to Rs 30 per day. Adjust it for today’s prices and you will end up with a range of Rs 5 to Rs 35 per head per day.

This is the reality of 87 percent of all farming families in India, who own less than 2 hectares of land.

That is why all such families augment their incomes by doing other work – wage labour, running small shops, etc. In fact, families with less than 0.4 hectares (or 1 acre) of land, make only 19 percent of their total income from agricultural operations. 44 percent comes from wage-labour and 37 percent from some sort of self-employment or service.


Average Agricultural Family Earned Below Rs 9,000 Per Month In 2017

These households – with less than 0.4 hectares of land – account for 37 percent of all agricultural families, which is about 4 crore households or 20 crore people. In 2017, they earned an average of a little over Rs 1,300 per month from farming. Three years later, that would not be more than Rs 1,500 per month or Rs 18,000 per year.

If we include households with holding up to 1 hectare, their average monthly income from farming would come to about Rs 2,000 or Rs 24,000 per year. That is about 67 percent of all farming families, 7.4 crore households or 36 crore individuals. Even if the farm bills were to affect their incomes by 10 percent on either side, in real terms it wouldn’t cost them more than Rs 200 per month. PM-Kisan alone gives then Rs 500 per month.

On the other hand, families who own between 1-2 hectares of land get about 45 percent of their total income from farming. They account for 20 percent of all agricultural households.

Those who own more than 2 hectares earn 52 percent of their family income from farming. They make up 13 percent of all farming households. In today’s prices they earn between Rs 60,000 to one-lakh rupees per year from farming activities. Any change in farm earnings will make a significant difference to them. Together they make up about one-third of all farmers in India or about 3.4 crore households.

But most of them are concentrated in a few states.

If one takes the all India average in 2017, an agricultural family earned less than Rs 9,000 per month from all sources.

Only three states stood far away from this average – Punjab where the average income was more than Rs 23,000, Haryana where average farming households earned nearly Rs 18,500, and Kerala, where average incomes were close to Rs 17,000 per month.

Compare that to UP where an average farming family earned just Rs 6,700 per month, or Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Jharkhand where monthly incomes were around Rs 7,000. This includes income from all sources and chances are that income from farming was less than Rs 2,000 per month.

Electoral Math: Why Only A Few States Are Affected By Changes In Farm-Marketing Laws

This again tells us why the farmers of Punjab and Haryana would be most agitated about the new farm bills. Their average monthly income from farming would be in the region of Rs 8,000 to 10,000 per month. While this is still a relatively poor income, any significant drop will make it difficult for them to make a decent living, especially when other avenues of earning have reduced sharply.

The reason why Punjab and Haryana farmers make more from farming than their counterparts in other northern states is because of two things – MSP & APMC.

Farmers in these two states are able to access APMC mandis and get near-MSP rates for their paddy and wheat. Farmers in other states are forced to sell to local grain-traders or in local unregulated haats.

As the Shanta Kumar Committee reported, only 6 percent of farmers in India are able to sell to government agencies, and that too only 27-35 percent of their produce is sold at MSP.

As far as APMC mandis go, India has only 15 percent of the number that is required, and those too are concentrated in a few states.

So, when it comes to electoral arithmetic, only a few states are significantly affected by the changes in farm-marketing laws.

In the remaining states, a vast majority of farmers will be happy to receive cash-transfers, food against their ration-cards, subsidised LPG, more opportunities in MGNREGA, crop insurance, medical insurance, grants under PM Awaas Yojana, grants to educate daughters and various other government schemes.

As the Congress goes in search of farmers, it will discover that there are very few ‘real farmers’ in India. The rest are just poor people trying to keep their nose above water by latching on to government handouts.

(The author was Senior Managing Editor, NDTV India & NDTV Profit. He now runs the independent YouTube channelDesi Democracy’. He tweets @AunindyoC. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)

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