Availability of water for irrigation was a major factor in farm distress that guided voting behaviour in rural areas, say farmers’ representatives in the state. Lack of government intervention in ensuring that farmers get adequate and timely water for irrigation was the root of the farming crisis, which drove voters against BJP, they say.”Without water you cannot pursue agriculture. In spite of tall claims of the government, the reality is that farmers in Gujarat are still predominantly dependent on rain water for irrigation. The voting pattern is a clear indication,” said Sagar Rabari, Secretary of Khedut Samaj (Gujarat).He argued that Saurashtra, where farmer distress is highest compared to other regions of the state, saw Congress overtaking BJP 30-23, while in north Gujarat, where efforts were made to supply water through canals, BJP gained a seat from Congress. In central Gujarat, agriculture is relatively more remunerative with a mix of dairy farming and industry. So the extent of distress was not that acute and BJP had a net gain of two seats in the region.In the past three years, two years witnessed erratic monsoon, causing heavy flooding in some regions and drought in others. The failure of the state government to take timely and effective measures in 2015 and 2016 likely cost the party in Saurashtra. “The BJP has been wiped out in Amreli which saw floods in 2015, and suffered setbacks in Banaskantha which was flooded in 2017,” said Rabari.Amreli, which suffered flash floods in 2015, saw BJP decimated with all five seats going to Congress. Even in Banaskantha, which had devastating floods in 2017, BJP lost one seat.In otherwise economically well-diversified region of central Gujarat, BJP added two seats to its tally. In the wealthy region of south Gujarat, BJP lost two seats, but Rabari attributes these losses to factors like land acquisition for projects like DMIC, Bullet train and other urban development works.However, Ahmedabad-based economist Hemantkumar Shah said that the key issue was overall agrarian distress which was a clear differentiator between voting in rural and urban areas. “Water was definitely an issue, but other issues also combined. We have no means to calculate to what extent issues like ‘Pakistan’ terrorism, ‘Neech comment’ and others played a role,” he said.
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