India's BJP takes stock after defeats in state polls

Bharatiya Janata Party supporters at a rally in Madhya Pradesh last month. India's ruling party has just lost the elections in three stronghold states - Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.
Bharatiya Janata Party supporters at a rally in Madhya Pradesh last month. India's ruling party has just lost the elections in three stronghold states - Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Ruling party meets to try and solve woes of vital rural voters as general election looms

NEW DELHI • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party officials were gathering yesterday for talks on a general election due by May, with their deliberations overshadowed by the party's election defeat in three heartland states.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) said the gathering, to be chaired by party president Amit Shah, is a regular quarterly meeting but the losses in its stronghold states of Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Rajasthan, confirmed this week, are likely to dominate discussions.

Disgruntled voters blamed the slow pace of job creation and weak farm prices for the Hindu nationalist party's defeat in the states, two of which it had ruled for three straight terms.

"We realise that rural distress and employment generation are the key issues and we are working on them," said BJP spokesman Gopal Krishna Agarwal. "They will have to be tackled, and we will take suggestions from wherever needed."

Senior BJP minister Nitin Gadkari told the ET Now business channel yesterday that the agriculture sector may have been neglected under their government.

Mr Agarwal said the party already had a strategy for the upcoming general election, which must be held by May, and it would hold another big gathering next month.

A chartered accountant who is also a director in a state-run bank, Mr Agarwal said increasing lending for job-generating small businesses was a key focus, as was enhancing procurement of grain from farmers by government agencies at state-mandated prices so that there will be no distress sales.

The government announces minimum support prices for most crops to set a benchmark, but state agencies mainly buy limited quantities of staples such as rice and wheat at those prices, restricting benefits of higher prices to only around 7 per cent of the country's 263 million farmers, various studies show.

Following the state election setbacks, Mr Modi's government is expected to announce loan waivers worth billions of dollars to woo farmers, government sources told Reuters this week.

Mr Agarwal said the party's loss in Madhya Pradesh, which is known for multiplying agriculture production under three BJP governments, has reinforced its realisation that higher output helps consumers by bringing down prices but can hurt farmers badly.

"The focus has so far been on consumers, like importing onions when prices shot up," he said. "Now we need to look at the producers, not just the consumers."

He added that there was a case for fiscal stimulus given that inflation fell to a 17-month low last month. Food inflation sank to a negative 2.61 per cent from a negative 0.86 per cent in October, official data out on Wednesday shows. REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2018, with the headline 'India's BJP takes stock after defeats in state polls'. Print Edition | Subscribe