Gearing up for a rich harvest in 2022: Monsoon, MSP and Markets provide ruling BJP a fertile ground this elections

Special article (DeshGujarat): Rains, agriculture produce markets and the political prospects have an established co-relation. As Gujarat heads for the Assembly Polls in a few weeks from now, a closer look at the past trends of this co-relation could throw up an estimation about the outcome of the next elections.
Out of the 182 Assembly Constituencies (ACs) or Vidhansabha seats in Gujarat, about 30 per cent or 55 seats are in four key Urban centers, whereas the remaining 127 seats are in semi-urban or rural areas, where the condition of agriculture decides the mood of people.
Since majority of the arable area in Gujarat is rainfed, the rainfall pattern during the election year holds the key for a good harvest for both – farmers and political parties.
What makes a case to analyse this year is the excess rainfall in the historically drought-prone regions of Gujarat i.e. Kutch, Saurashtra and parts of North Gujarat. The excess rains have provided bright prospects for kharif crops as well as for horticulture crops due to improved water availability for the remaining part of the year.
The 2017 scenario:
In 2017, Gujarat had received overall average rainfall of 909 mm, about 12% more than the average of 810 mm and the kharif sowing – taken between April – September – was recorded at 85.30 lakh hectares, down by 1 lakh hectares than 86.38 lakh in the previous year in 2016.
The Assembly Polls were held in December 2017, where the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) had secured 99 seats, while the opposition Congress could manage 77 seats. One seat went to Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the remaining five were elected as independents.
According to political observers, this was the lowest tally for the BJP in past two decades. There were multiple factors at play for the electoral hammering of the ruling party. These included then Patidar reservation agitation, rural distress due to lower price realisations among several others.
The two key kharif crops for Gujarat, groundnut and cotton – together constitute about half of the State’s total kharif sowing. Therefore, the harvest and the post-harvest economics of the crops are considered crucial for the economic well-being of the agrarian voter-base.
From the realisations perspective, for the year 2017-18 the Centre had announced minimum support price (MSP) for groundnut and cotton at Rs 4450 per quintal and Rs 4320 per quintal respectively. But the market prices for groundnut were down by 15% at Rs 3750 per quintal during October 2017. Cotton prices however were higher by about 10% at Rs 4781 per quintal.
The 2022 scenario:
This year, Gujarat has received total average rainfall of 1010 millimetre so far, 20% more than the State average of 850 mm. The four-month long south-west monsoon season starts from June and continues till end of September.
As per the Gujarat government’s State Emergency Operation Centre (SEOC), the rains this year have fairly widespread across the State. Interestingly some otherwise-parched regions of Kutch, North Gujarat and Saurashtra have received excess rains by 85%, 21% and 9% respectively from their respective average rainfall.
The North Gujarat region has received 44% more rainfall -highest in the State. The regions of Saurashtra and Kutch too received excess rainfall by 17% and 15% respectively.
On the sowing front, during the ongoing Kharif season of 2022, total sowing has reached 85.34 lakh hectares as of end of September 2022, about 1 lakh hectare more than previous year’s 84.26 lakh hectares. The sowing of the two main kharif crops of groundnut and cotton showed divergent trends. Groundnut sowing dipped by about 10 % to 17.09 lakh hectares, cotton area increased by 13% to 25.49 lakh hectares.
Also what is noteworthy is that the Centre has increased the MSP rates for the two key kharif crops by a significant margin. The MSP for groundnut has been hiked to Rs 5850 per quintal and Rs 6380 per quintal for raw cotton (kapas). As compared to 2017 rates, this is a steep hike of over 31% and 48% in groundnut and cotton MSP respectively. Also, the market rates for the two commodities hover at around Rs 6,800 a quintal and Rs 9000 a quintal respectively at Rajkot mandi at present.
In comparison to 2017 market rates, groundnut growers are fetching 81% higher market rates, while cotton growers are getting about 88% more realisations of their produce.
Let’s take a closer look at five political regions of the State and their performance in 2017 vis-a-vis the agriculture performance.
Saurashtra and Kutch:
Out of the combined 54 AC seats in the regions, in 2017 polls, the BJP won total 23, Congress 30 and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) one seat from Kutiyana in Porbandar district. In the previous election of 2012, BJP had secured 35 seats, and Congress at 16 followed by 3 seats to others.
In 2017, it was for the first time the Congress could make a sizeable dent in the saffron bastion.
The Patidar reservation agitation, along with farm distress and anti-incumbency factors, badly hurt the ruling BJP in the Saurashtra-Kutch region.
Notably, Saurashtra has the largest concentration of cotton and groundnut crops in the State. The districts rich in groundnut cultivation include Rajkot, Junagadh, Devbhumi Dwarka, Amreli, Jamnagar, Gir Somnath, Bhavnagar, Porbandar, Morbi and Surendranagar districts. In North Gujarat, Banaskantha, Sabarkantha and Arvalli are the other major groundnut growing districts in the State.
Similarly, for cotton cultivation the prominent districts are Surendranagar, Amreli, Rajkot, Morbi, Bhavnagar, Jamnagar, Botad in Saurashtra besides Kutch district, and parts of South Gujarat in Bharuch and Sabarkantha in North Gujarat are the other major cotton growing districts in the State.
Clearly, the farmers were displeased with the non-remunerative prices for their farm produce – especially groundnut and cotton, inadequate procurements and also the Patel reservation factor played a major factor in electoral outcome in 2017.
Given the higher MSP and the persistently high market price of the agriculture commodities such as groundnut and cotton has improved the farmers’ sentiment. Also, the government has tried to address the demands of the distressed youth seeking reservation with the government’s Socially and Economically Backward reservation provisions. The past five years has witnessed drastic improvements on the field with area under crop improving as well as the prices staying high – well above the MSP.
BJP had a complete white-wash from three districts in Saurashtra i.e. Morbi, Amreli and Gir-Somnath. The districts have witnessed improved agricultural prospects and better rains this year, leading to a brighter prospects for the ruling party to regain its lost ground.
North Gujarat
BJP had to suffer a dent in the North Gujarat region in 2017. Out of the 32 ACs in the region, BJP was reduced to 14, with Congress and allies securing 17 and one seat going to ‘others.’ However, in 2012 this wasn’t drastically different. BJP had 15 seats and Congress was at 17.
North Gujarat region has large concentration of castor, cotton, groundnut, soybean partly pulses including moong and urad cultivation. An improved monsoon season this year is surely going to benefit the agriculture as the numbers indicate that the cultivation of groundnut, castor, soybean have increased significantly over 2017 levels.
Soybean MSP has been fixed at Rs 4,300 per quintal for the 2022 season, the market rate is around Rs 4825 a quintal, which is above the MSP.
Central Gujarat
The region has 61 ACs, of which in 2017 BJP had secured 37, followed by Congress at 22 and others getting two seats. Even though the region has high Urban influence due to State’s most populous city Ahmedabad falling into the region, there is still a large voter-base from the rural areas.
The region has been a hotbed for paddy followed by some cultivation of cotton and maize and pulses. Notably, MSP for paddy has also been hiked by about 20% since 2017 to Rs 2040 a quintal now.
Also, the Central Gujarat region is well-connected with canal network providing irrigation for horticulture and other cash crops.
South Gujarat
South Gujarat is a hot-bed of political developments ahead of the 2022 polls. The Party, which has about four of the MLAs from South Gujarat as ministers in the Bhupendra Patel-cabinet, holds strong position in not just the urban pockets, but also in the agrarian pockets of sugarcane area of Navsari, Valsad and Tapi districts. Even though the urban-rural divide is stark in the South Gujarat region, the prospects for the ruling party to retain its 2017 lead over Congress at 25 seats over 10 seats would not be a difficult task.
In summary, the rural clusters of Gujarat have been sensitive to climatic adversity, thereby influencing the political outcome. In the last Assembly Elections, the entire rural cluster of the State saw BJP securing 43 seats, while Congress and its allies gained majority seats with 62 and the others won on 4 seats.
This was in contrast to the 2012 scenario when BJP was enjoying a comfortable 56 seats from the rural areas, followed by Congress and its allies at a distant 47 seats with six seats going to others.
This year in 2022, the monsoon gods have showered their blessings for the farmers with widespread rains across the State. This is accompanied by the Centre’s supportive pricing policy of past few years that has saw MSP rates improving for the key kharif crops. And the favourable factor has been the market scenario for the agricultural produce, where the commodity prices have shot up giving handsome returns to the farmers. This appears to be a favourable ground for the ruling party to make a rich harvest in the upcoming polls in December 2022.