In Varanasi, Modi to face 85 Tamil and Telugu opponents

On 29 April, forty farmers from Tamil Nadu will file their nominations in Varanasi Lok Sabha constituency. Among them will be Deiva Sigamani, the Erode-based President of the Turmeric Farmers Association of India. This will be part of their attempt to do a Nizamabad in Varanasi. In the Lok Sabha constituency in Telangana, 178 turmeric farmers had filed their nominations as Independents forcing the Election Commission to install 12 EVMs to accommodate all 185 candidates during the election on 11 April.

K Kavitha, the TRS candidate in Nizamabad

If the Nizamabad contest was against K Kavitha, the daughter of the Telangana chief minister, K Chandrasekhar Rao, the turmeric farmers have upped their profile with Varanasi where they will be taking on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. 

“We are of course not looking to defeat the Prime Minister,” says Deiva Sigamani. “In 2014, we supported Modi. He promised to double our income, instead our debts have doubled. The government is taking away our land for different projects, asking us to vacate within 60 days. This is violence on the farmer.”

Mittapally Ganga Reddy is on the train to Nagpur from Armoor in Nizamabad district, from where he along with 44 other turmeric farmers will take a connecting train to Varanasi to file nominations on 27 April. 

“For the last 15 years, we have been asking for the establishment of a turmeric board. They set up Tobacco Board, why not turmeric board? This when turmeric is used in every ceremony, from weddings to death ceremony,” says Ganga Reddy.

None of the 178 farmers who contested the Nizamabad elections are however, part of this Varanasi contingent. D Arvind of the BJP, who contested the elections against Kavitha, is not amused by this attempt to take on the Prime Minister. 

“Most of the 45 people are members of the Telangana Rashtra Samiti, holding positions as sarpanch or in the party’s farmer wing. Kavitha’s ego was hurt because the Nizamabad episode showed that farmers were opposing her. So she is fielding these candidates projecting them as turmeric farmers to show the fight is against Modi,” says Arvind. 

“Yes, I am a member of the TRS, so what,” asks Ganga Reddy. “But I am also a farmer, so are my parents. Our decision to contest has nothing to do with party politics.”

The Varanasi move has divided the farmers in Nizamabad. Turmeric farmer Anvesh Reddy who organised the 178 candidates to contest the 11 April polls says the intention was to let the country know of the demand. With the purpose served, there was no need to contest in Varanasi, he says. Like Arvind, he too suspects political motive behind the decision. 

“Our purpose was served by the mass contestants. The focus in the run-up to the election was not so much on the official party candidates but on the farmer candidates. We hope they will work on setting up of the Board after the elections. We spend up to Rs 8000 to produce one quintal of turmeric but get just Rs 5000 per quintal,” says Anvesh Reddy, who was associated earlier with the Congress in Telangana. 

This is a huge drop from 2014 when turmeric rates in the wholesale market were Rs 12000 per quintal. Farmers are seeking a MSP of Rs 15000 per quintal for turmeric. 

P Ayyakannu with Vaiko during the protest in Delhi in 2017

Initially the plan was to field another set of farmers from Tamil Nadu led by P Ayyakannu against Modi. But Ayyakannu dropped the plan amidst allegations that he had been managed by the BJP.

“Ayyakannu got compromised after Amit Shah spoke to him,” alleges Sigamani.

Ayyakannu was in Trichy when this website got in touch with him for a reaction to Sigamani’s charge. He denied it explaining that Shah met a 9-member delegation of farmers on 7 April to promise that if the BJP returned to power, it will work on interlinking of rivers, give profitable prices for crops, say no to GM crops and provide pension to farmers above the age of 60.

“Yes, our initial plan was to field 111 farmers as candidates against Modi. But Shah agreed to meet all our demands. So where was the need to contest. We have not compromised. In fact, we are not asking any farmer to vote for the BJP, they can vote as they please,” says Ayyakannu. 

Ayyakannu had led the agitation by farmers from Tamil Nadu in Delhi in 2017, sitting in protest for 141 days in two phases. During this agitation, they posed with skulls of farmers who had committed suicide and rats in their mouths. But their desperate move did not evoke the desired response with no representative from the Union government meeting them. 

But will you stay in the contest against the PM or withdraw after filing nominations, I ask Sigamani.

“We are not looking for any benefits for ourselves. We will not take money and withdraw from the contest,” promises Sigamani.

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