Biting the hand that feeds: Small towns favour BJP

KASBA BONLI, India Mon Nov 11, 2013 9:05am IST

1 of 2. A village woman walks through a street at Kasba Bonli town in Rajasthan October 30, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Shyamantha Asokan/Files



KASBA BONLI, India (Reuters) - Kasba Bonli is a newly prosperous market town in Rajasthan and it should be a perfect advertisement for the ruling Congress party's pro-farmer policies. Instead the buzz in the bazaar is for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In just a few years, handouts for farmers by Congress have helped turn the once-deprived village into a thriving retail centre, selling everything from glittery bangles to satellite dishes.

The Congress party-led government pours at least $20 billion a year into rural India in addition to free education and health and cheap food. Cheap fertiliser, seeds and electricity, 100 days of guaranteed paid work a year and new rural roads have given farmers cash to spend.

These funds have helped create an emerging middle class, mostly in semi-urban and small towns, which one estimate has put at almost a quarter of India's 1.2 billion people.

But many in this new middle class believe the next step up the income ladder will come when the opposition BJP and Narendra Modi, its candidate for prime minister and currently the chief minister of neighbouring Gujarat state, will be in power. That bodes ill for Congress ahead of a general election that must be held by May.

Farmer Raghuvir Meena, who voted for Congress in the last state polls, bought two new tractors over the past few years and nearly doubled his farming area, attributing the prosperity to better farming techniques and seeds. He sent three of his four children to college to train as teachers. Now he wants to get out of farming and this time Modi has his vote.

"Modi's track record in Gujarat has excited the youth. Even I would love to see BJP come back to power, for my kids, for their jobs," he said, juggling phone calls on his mobile.

Modi is widely seen as a business-friendly reformer who has attracted investment and bolstered economic growth in Gujarat, providing jobs to many.

For Congress this trend in the small towns is the latest in a series of reverses. It is already battling slowing economic growth, perceptions of poor governance, several corruption scandals and the growing popularity of Modi.

For decades, Congress relied on its pro-farmer policies giving it rural votes. Then, at the last election in 2009, it gained wide support in cities during a period of fast economic growth to win a second consecutive term in office.

However, the urban goodwill is fast eroding because of corruption and a sense of policy drift, while its base constituency of rural poor is shrinking.

"It's a new phenomenon. It's not something that we have been used to in the past," said rural development minister Jairam Ramesh, of the demographic shift.

"Very often experience shows that beneficiaries of programmes instituted by one party end up voting for the other political party," he said.


Beyond the commercial bustle, Kasba Bonli has little to offer to the groups of twenty-somethings who loiter on motorcycles in the dusty market, unable to find work.

Often the first graduates in their families, these young men say they want industries and professional jobs rather than more handouts, and they look to Modi for providing such opportunities, not Congress.

Modi has attracted companies such as Ford Motor Co (F.N), Maruti Suzuki (MRTI.NS) and Tata Motors (TAMO.NS) to Gujarat, the state he has governed since 2001.

But he is also seen as a polarising figure. Critics of Modi, a Hindu nationalist, say he didn't do enough to stop religious riots on his watch in 2002 that killed at least 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, although the allegations have never been proved. Others say that despite fast growth, his state is a laggard on social and poverty indicators.

That's not the impression held by Mateem Khan, a frustrated 22-year-old Muslim resident of Kasba Bonli with a lowly data-entry job at the local office for one of the handout schemes, the only skilled work he could find.

"Look at what he has done for Gujarat, there's hardly any unemployment in the state," said Khan. Kasba Bonli's 18,000 people are about half Muslim and half Hindu.

Four banks, 15 private schools, and one private college have sprouted up in the town since 2008, said Ramkishan Gurjar, head of the village council that governs Kasba Bonli. Motorcycle and tractor showrooms have come up over the past three years.

Many local farmers now clutch mobile phones they use to chat to traders about crop prices. Roads have been built to a dozen surrounding villages, helping bring crops quickly to market and consumer goods flowing the other way.

It's a pattern repeated across the country, with swollen villages becoming small towns, creating a demographic group of relatively better off semi-urban voters that barely existed a decade ago, social scientists and politicians say.

Rural consumer spending grew by 36 percent, higher than the 33 percent rise in urban areas, between 2009 and 2012, according to government data.

A national census in 2011 found that 14 percent of India's urban population of about 400 million lived in these towns, double that of a decade earlier. Boston Consulting Group calculates 24 percent of Indian households are now found in small towns.


Modi has directly addressed this demographic shift, catering speeches to the new constituency and promising urban amenities such as around-the-clock electricity and broadband internet connections to communities similar to Kasba Bonli.

Opinion polls suggest he is making headway. In a recent Nielsen survey of two largely rural states, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, that contain a quarter of India's population, Modi emerged as the most popular candidate for prime minister.

In Rajasthan, the state in which Kasba Bonli lies, the Congress and the BJP are neck and neck in the villages with support from 46 percent of voters each, according to a July poll by the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), a think-tank.

However, in towns of less than 100,000 people, which fall under the semi-urban category, BJP scored 56 percent to Congress's 40 percent.

India electoral mathematics is complicated, taking in local issues as well as caste and religion, making it hard to forecast results. But Rajasthan and four other states hold provincial elections over the next month, which will provide a pointer to how far Modi's popularity extends and how Congress may fare in the national election.

"If you look at people in the (semi-urban) category, they have benefited from education and reservation policies for lower castes. But increasingly our surveys show that, as people get more educated and affluent, the possibility of them voting for the BJP is much higher," said Sanjay Lodha, who co-ordinates CSDS' polls in Rajasthan. (Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see
Comments (7)
abhisVoice wrote:
Although the article takes a balanced view, but I am surprised at the headline. “Biting the hand that feeds”: paints a negative picture while it sure isn’t. Also authors conveniently choose to ignore the leakages in distribution of public schemes. And its not the funds doled by government that has created emerging class, it was the sustained economic growth @8% for a period of almost 6-8 years that raised the rural and urban incomes. The current young generation in India is not used to growth rate below 5, and with jobless youth entering into market, its likely that they will vote for a change. BJP at present seems only viable replacement and with a strong leader at it’s head, the party appeals more to the youth. Given that Congress would be lead by relatively in-experienced and “not so intellectual” Rahul Gandhi without any credible track record of brilliance (let alone governance), the public doesn’t have much to choose from. Also author choose to ignore high food inflation that will have a high impact on peoples choices of their ruling party. The food prices (vegetables/fruits/cereals) all have more than doubled in last 5 years.

Nov 11, 2013 11:31am IST  --  Report as abuse
PappsGemini wrote:
It seems the author of this article are Pro-Congress and by means of this article they want to tell the Congress not to lose sight. Good way of paid news.

Nov 11, 2013 6:07pm IST  --  Report as abuse
CommunalAward wrote:
China prospered without India’s dummy democracy/caste system.
Indians are brainwashed to believe that “voting In elections = democracy”.
In democracy it’s your vote that counts; In “feudalism” it’s your count that votes.

Nov 11, 2013 6:40pm IST  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.

  • Most Popular
  • Most Shared

Fuelling Change


No West Indies Tour

No West Indies Tour

India suspends all future tours with West Indies  Full Article 

Pistorius Sentenced

Pistorius Sentenced

Oscar Pistorius jailed for five years for Steenkamp killing  Full Article 

Ebola Outbreak

Ebola Outbreak

Nigeria declared Ebola-free, holds lessons for others.  Full Article 

Inside Kobani

Inside Kobani

Turkey to let Iraqi Kurds reinforce Kobani as U.S. drops arms to defenders.  Full Article 

Apple Earnings

Apple Earnings

Apple's iPhone sales beat Street but iPad volumes slide.  Full Article 

Lingering Issue

Lingering Issue

Unfinished war in Sri Lanka threatens paradise regained.  Full Article 

De la Renta Dead

De la Renta Dead

Fashion designer Oscar de la Renta dead at 82   Full Article 

Reuters India Mobile

Reuters India Mobile

Get the latest news on the go. Visit Reuters India on your mobile device.  Full Coverage