Is ‘Rhythu Bandhu’ KCR’s election bonanza for farmers?

Opposition parties in Telangana believe that KCR wants farmers to remember his generosity and assistance of Rs 8000 per acre when they go to the polling booth

Telangana chief minister Kalavakuntla Chandrashekar Rao’s (KCR) political style borrows much from the pomp and glitz of Tollywood or Telugu film culture. His programs are grand displays of power and paternalistic authority. A carnival like atmosphere marks most of them whether the Godavari Pushkaralu or Telangana Rashtra Samithi (TRS) plenary.

Little wonder then that the KCR stamp was all over a new farmer support initiative called Rythu Bandhu he launched on May 10. Around mid-morning his ‘chariot’ – a Rs 5 crore bullet-proof luxury bus – started from Karimnagar for Indiranagar near Huzurabad in the Karimnagar district, a 40 km stretch. Instead of a helicopter ride, Rao chose the road to reach the venue where he would distribute input subsidy cheques worth Rs. 4,000 to farmers, scripting a story of his government’s generosity and benevolence.

Hundreds of people welcomed the leader along the road route with cultural programs and showers of petals. The vehicle haltingly made its way to the venue in over an hour and a half giving people ample opportunity to sight their leader. At venue, the stage basked in pink, the official color of TRS, awaiting the CM’s grand gesture.

The program christened Rythu Bandhu or farmer’s friend is meant to put Rs 8000 (per acre) into every farmland owner’s hand as annual investment support. KCR distributed the cheques for the current Kharif season. The second round of cheque distribution is slated to take place during the Rabi season in November. No doubt the current tranche of Rs 4000 as assistance during sowing time would be of great help to farmers who would otherwise have to borrow the amount from local money lenders. The objective of the scheme is to cover the cost of inputs such as fertilisers, seeds, pesticides and other needs.

In the Kharif season owners of 1.40 crore acres will be assisted to the tune of of Rs 5608 crore. TRS has billed it as the first of its kind welfare scheme in the world. It’s slated to be the party’s centerpiece for the 2019 general elections and seems to have infused a sense of confidence in TRS workers. KCR himself has been quoting the former Congress CM YS Rajasekhara Reddy who said, “vyavasayam dandaga kadu, pandaga chestan” (farming is like a festival, not outdated). This is, in turn, meant to heckle Andhra Pradesh’s Chandrababu Naidu who spoke of farming being outdated reportedly under the influence of World Bank sponsored reforms during his first stint as CM.

Irrespective what the TRS says, the scheme has come in for sharp criticism from Opposition parties in the State. They allege that it has ignored tenant farmers who bear the brunt of agrarian distress and suffer losses from crop failure every year. Bulk of farmer suicides take place within this section of farmers. With tenant farmers accounting for 25 to 30 % of Telangana’s farmers, the Rythu Bandhu scheme has benefited absentee-landlords and big farmers, the Opposition has argued. The one question being asked of KCR is why has the tenant farmer been left out of this ambitious scheme?

S Simhadri, a social justice activist, said KCR was not interested in the economic empowerment of tenants, a majority of whom hail from the lower castes. “KCR wants to empower landlords who are either Reddys or Velamas. All rich farmers belong to these castes. The scheme is meant to benefit rich farmers, who control ownership and can influence the tenants as well,” he told SouthWord.

M Kodandaram, President of the Telangana Jana Samiti, a new political outfit, saw a massive scam in the scheme. He argued that there was a discrepancy in the extent of cultivable land and number of farmers compared to the actual numbers. “The recently released Telangana Economic Outlook says the cultivable land doesn’t exceed one crore acres. But, the cheques are being distributed to about 1.40 crore acres. Where is this land? Who are these farmers,” he asked. Kodandaram said the scheme was glossing over the real demand of the farmers for a hike in the minimum support price (MSP).

“The farmers want Rs 500 bonus per quintal over the MSP. Then the farmers across all categories will be benefited. Farmers’ main demand is remunerative price. The scheme is a temporary measure suitable for celebrations,” he said, adding that the removal of the tenant farmers from the purview of the scheme was a major distortion of the scheme.

Telangana Congress chief spokesperson Sravan Dasoju also alleged a 'massive scam' in the scheme. He said the Telangana farmer requires a real solution to the agrarian crisis in the State and not an electoral trick. Like Kodandaram he too pointed out that there was a contradiction between the actual number of farmers and cultivable land and the extent of land and farmers shown in the scheme. “Official figures say 45,10,990 farmers possess 1.24 crore acres of land. But the government has identified 1.39 crore farmers for the scheme. Who are these extra 13 lakh farmers and 15.60 lakh acres? Where have they come from? Is this not the scam,” he asked. The government is distributing Rs 520 crore extra to these unknown farmers, he added. Tammineni Veerabhadram of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) is of the opinion that the scheme would not address the real demand of MSP plus bonus as it is being offered in Kerala.

Why has KCR has chosen to disburse money in the form of input subsidy rather than to increase the MSP? The unanimous opinion among Opposition parties is that increasing MSP or announcing bonus above the MSP doesn’t provide an occasion for ‘celebration’. KCR wants that in an election year people should remember his generosity and assistance of Rs 8000 per acre when they go to the polling booth.

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