Patna: Bihar’s “Aloo”, jealously and zealously guarded by the two ex-Chief Ministers Laloo Prasad Yadav and his wife Rabri Devi, may throw its hat in the ring for the coming legislative assembly polls as they juxtapose the sowing season of this tuber-crop in October with the elections.
Incidentally, the present Chief Minister Nitish Kumar’s home place Nalanda is also a major grower of Aloo.
Interestingly, ever since the electoral era began in India in 1952, Aloo has never ever been a major poll issue until now.
But why is Aloo poised to impact the poll results? This question has many answers but first the sowing month: October. In Bihar, like every other place in India, sowing season means interaction between farmers, their wives, children, and others.
Since the NDA practically has done nothing for the Aloo-farmers and especially to provide them protect them against the frequent raids and extortion by the Naxalites, this popular edible tuber may eat up a substantial quantum of votes from the JD (U) and BJP in the October-November polls.
Much to the discomfiture of Nitish and BJP, the polls coincide with the harvesting time of October-December in the Nalanda: the home district of Nitish. Nalanda district is an old fort of the Maoists. “Aloo” earlier became a major poll issue in Bihar as the Naxalites found it the best bait to break the economy of upper caste kulaks who mostly supported the BJP. The upper castes, supported by the private army Ranveer Sena, set up arms training camps along the course of rivers like Ganga, Sone, Punpun, Kosi, and Koilwar, to counter the Naxals. But the Maoists have their own arms camps located in the same areas. Therefore, the sparking of poll-time violence does not surprise people much. The coming poll is also being held in this backdrop.
In Bihar, about 86% of farmers are small and marginal. Thus, they are a major decision-making group politically. Even if 25% among them goes against the JD (U)-BJP combine, the NDA would face a major poll debacle.
After West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh, Bihar is the third-largest producer of Aloo providing good opportunities to raise farmers' incomes as it has the capacity to yield 5-10 times more than cereals, pulses, or oilseeds. Though it is a high-profit cash crop, Nitish made no move to do it, not even in his home district Nalanda.
He did not do anything to transform rural Bihar’s economy with the help of agriculture, particularly potatoes. Though the Aloo-growers clamored for years together for extension of post-harvest handling including transportation, marketing, and processing, it was never done.
The Nitish Government never realized that though potato is produced seasonally, it is marketed throughout the year all over India. Hence, the building of cold storages across Bihar could have really helped the farmers. Without cold storage facilities, farmers are forced to sell all their produce immediately after harvest at a very nominal price often resulting in poor return or sudden price crash during the peak harvesting season. This issue will now is to figure very prominently in the coming polls.
Besides, with the heavily armed Naxals and bloodthirsty caste-based private armies like the Ranveer Sena whose residue remains in rural Bihar, the potato growers are laid bare without any defenses for themselves or their crop. These Maoists and private armies often loot the crop.
With the potato economy of rural Bihar crumbling due to government apathy, and the lack of storage and commercial arrangements for their crop having a stark effect on their prosperity, the wrath of the Aloo growers may visit the NDA may during the polls. The RJD Election campaigns in have in the past focus on the humble Aloo with RJD Chiefs Lalu Prasad Yadav and his wife, Rabri Devi, both former CM's of Bihar making it famous. Laloo, during his visit to Pakistan in 2003, said in typical Laloovian style that Bihar’s potato can mitigate hunger of the teeming Pakistani millions. It was major news globally and the Pakistanis welcomed it.
Laloo-Rabri uniquely projected Aloo and won over the potato growers substantially. Very interestingly, after the collapse of RJD earlier in the polls, Rabri Devi said she would not vacate No. 1, Anne Marg in Patna (official residence of chief minister) as her “aloo garden” would be “plundered” by Nitish Kumar.
Here, “plundered” would mean consumption of “Aloo” by Nitish for breakfast, lunch and dinner!
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