December 13, 2018 / 6:23 AM / a year ago

India's ruling party seeks to energise workers after state losses

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling BJP will try to canvass and galvanise its activists across India before a general election due next May, after losing power in three heartland rural states, senior leaders said after a meeting on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi walks to speak with the media after arriving at the Parliament on the first day of the winter session in New Delhi, India, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo

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, who attended the meeting. “They’ll have to be tackled, and we will take suggestions from wherever needed.”

The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) various wings - representing women, farmers, lower castes, Muslims and young members - will all hold deliberations after losses in the supposed stronghold states of Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh.

“These meetings are aimed at preparing for the 2019 election and spreading the party’s message in various sections of society,” Bhupender Yadav, a BJP national general secretary, said after the meeting, which he said had been scheduled before the state election results came out on Tuesday.

He also announced that a planned national convention would be held in New Delhi on Jan. 11 and 12.

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


Agarwal, a chartered accountant who is also a director in a state-run bank, 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 there are no distress sales.

The government announces so-called 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 percent of India’s 263 million farmers, according to various studies.

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

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

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

He also said there was a case for fiscal stimulus, given that inflation fell to a 17-month low in November. Food inflation sank to a negative 2.61 percent from a negative 0.86 percent in October, according to official data released on Wednesday.

Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Kevin Liffey

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