Amreli, Gujarat: Dhiru Vara, a 45-year-old farmer from Savarkundla, is clear which way he would vote in the coming assembly elections. In Amreli and Bhavnagar - located in the politically important Saurashtra region -- farmers like him, most of them Patidars, are visibly upset with the government. And the face of Patidar agitation, 24-year-old Hardik Patel, has raised the issue at almost every meeting.
In 2012, the BJP had swept the elections in this cotton and groundnut belt, which contributes to as much as 35 per cent of the state's production. In Amreli, it won five of the six seats. In Bhavnagar, it won eight of the nine seats.
But this year, the situation is different, say locals.
"The hardship faced by the farmers is the biggest political issue... The government will have to pay for its anti-farmer policies," said Mr Vara, as he waited for his leftover stock of cotton to be sold at Savarkundla market in Amreli district. Farmers, he said, are facing tough times and even making ends meet is becoming difficult.
Poor rain and bollworm attack has taken a heavy toll on the cotton crop this year. On top of it, the minimum support price or MSP for cotton and groundnut has resulted in huge losses, farmers say.
The BJP government has announced an MSP of Rs 954 per 20 kg of cotton - Rs 200 less than last year. Even for groundnut an MSP of Rs 900.
"At the present rate, the returns we are getting are inadequate to cover our costs. The minimum support price should be between 1,200 and 1,500 rupees," Mr Vara fumed. Facing a loss of at least Rs 20,000 on his Rs 1 lakh investment, he has been forced to send his two sons to work as daily wagers in faraway Surat.
Farmers say despite MSP there are delays in selling their crop.
"The crops have been affected by worms and due to inadequate rain, the produce hasn't been good. There are hardly any buyers. There are delays in getting it sold at the inadequate MSP which hardly covers our cost," said another farmer, Navnit Patel.
The BJP candidate from Amreli's Dhari constituency is Dilip Sanghani. A former agriculture minister, Mr Sanghani says the reduced MSP is adequate as the market rates are not more than Rs 700. "It is a misinformation campaign launched by some farmers backed by Congress... the revised MSP is adequate and most of the farmers are happy,'' he added.
Sitting Congress legislator from Amreli Paresh Dhanani claimed that the farmers were suffering in the area because of the government's indifference. Even Patidar Anamat Andolan Samiti (PAAS) convenor Hardik Patel targeted the government over its alleged anti-farmer policies. "Because of government's indifference, farmers are being forced to leave farming and go into small daily wage jobs.''