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Punjab Elections 2017: Malwa poses big challenge to Akali Dal

“Spray pitti si, putt ne (son had consumed pesticide spray),” says Sukhdev Kaur, resident of Behni Bagga village in Mansa. Her son, Gurpreet, 29, had allegedly committed suicide two years ago leaving behind his wife and seven-year-old daughter, after he failed to repay a loan of Rs 4 lakh, due to crop failure.

Baljeet Kaur, 50, lives a few feet away from the house in the village. Her eyes welled up with tears when asked about her son, Kulwant Singh, 29, who had allegedly committed suicide by consuming Sulfas tablets four months ago, leaving behind his aging mother, wife and three children.

“Theke te zameen li si. Narme da rate theek nai aaya. Ta uss karke tractor bik gya. Fasl ho jandi, te utar jaanda loan. Bachhe massa paale. Hun o bhi chhad gya. (He took land on contract hoping for good cotton yield, but the crop failed. He had to sell the tractor and take loan. I have struggled to raise my son after his father died. Now he has also left me,” says Kaur, holding her son’s pass book in her hands as she pleads for help.

A state, which was once the food bowl of India, is now struggling with one of its worst agrarian crisis, with farmers pushed to brink of suicides, reeling under a debt of nearly Rs 70,000 crores, as per a recent survey.

Farmers in Malwa belt, which is also the cotton belt, comprising Mansa, Bathinda, Sangrur have been the worst hit, with at least every village reporting cases of farmer suicides. In Bheni Bagga village alone, there have been several cases of suicides by young farmers. The situation aggravated in 2015, when Whitefly attack on cotton crops spun out of control damaging two-third of the total crop.

With 69 of a total 117 assembly seats, Malwa region plays a decisive role in determining a party’s mandate in the Assembly elections. In 2012, Akali-BJP had won 35 seats, while Congress bagged 32 seats, but the dominance of Akali heavyweights in the region has now waned due to brewing resentment among farmers. The spurious pesticide scam which allegedly involved Agriculture Minister Tota Singh from ruling SAD-BJP government has left farmers seething in anguish.

Farmers allege that government had been allegedly minting money by taking contracts from factories owned by politicians and then selling spurious pesticides and substandard fertilizers to farmers at high costs. “The pesticides are so ineffective, that we have to spray it in the fields every five days. Farming is not bringing profits any more,” rues Sukhwinder, 34, farmer from Bheni Bagga, in Mansa.

It is this resentment that the new entrant AAP has been able to tap into in Malwa region, which has also become a base for the party to expand in the state. Shiromani Akali Dal President, Sukhbir Badal too admitted that AAP has gained base in Malwa with its star campaigner Bhagwant Mann leading the party campaign.