Assembly elections near, it’s raining rice in Chhattisgarh. On Friday, Chief Minister Bhupesh Baghel announced proudly that the state was now No. 2 in procurement of the grain for the central pool.
A day earlier, he tweeted, “The move has helped bring money in the market, there has been zero effect of recession, unemployment rate has been lowest in the country and the increased business added to the GST collection.”With record procurement of 100 lakh metric tonnes (LMT) of paddy till January 17 already, and the target of 110 LMT for this year well within reach, Food and Civil Supplies Minister Amarjeet Bhagat exulted: “I feel like a cricketer who scored a century.”Going one up, Agriculture Minister Ravindra Choubey called the procurement drive a “masterstroke” for winning the elections due this year.That it might well be one seemed to be acknowledged by the BJP, which is facing an uphill battle in the state, as well. The BJP leaders offered in return that it was the party’s government that had “created” the system and the Congress was just reaping the benefits.With 27.07 lakh registered rice farmers in the state that is often called “Dhaan ka katora (bowl of rice)”, another 4.06 lakh registered as labourers on rice farms and a few more thousand people involved in its processing and transportation work – a rough estimate of 90 lakh, in a state with a population of 2.54 crore as per the 2011 Census — paddy is a sure way to many hearts.One of the major factors in the Raman Singh-led BJP government’s return to power in 2008 is believed to have been its scheme of Re 1/kg rice to poor families. The BJP government also offered a bonus to farmers per quintal over the minimum support price (MSP) of paddy. It earned Singh the nickname “Chawal wale Baba” and the BJP a third consecutive term in power in 2013.The Singh government’s failure to give the bonus for two years — 2014-2016 – got it much flak. While it did make amends the next two years, it could not stave off the Congress win in 2018.