The landscape reminded me of rural Palakkad when the car passed through the Hyderabad-Nagpur National Highway. Ripened paddy fields flanking the road radiated a golden hue, waiting to be harvested.
The narrow pathways in the fields widened as they neared residential buildings. The sudden braking of the car distracted the eyes from the vast expanse of the polders. Farmers have spread paddy on the road to sun-dry them before packing them off to the mandis—or markets.
The farmers in Telangana still sun-dry the paddy on the roads, even after the highways have widened into four lanes. Vehicles whizz past the free lanes, across stretches of drying paddy. When the traffic volume is high, the farmers shift the paddy to a lane with fewer vehicles. Paddy spread on the roads could be seen across rural Telangana. No one objects to the farmers since they make or mar the prospects of a party to come into power.
As many as 56 lakh farmers have registered themselves on the State Agriculture Department's Dharani portal, an integrated land records management system. Political formations know that 56 lakh farmers mean as many families and their importance in a state with 3.17 crore voters.
Realising that the farmers' welfare measures rolled out during his first term in 2014 helped him retain power in 2018, Chief Minister K. Chandrashekar Rao launched more initiatives for the welfare of the peasants. Rythu Bandhu, which provides an annual grant of Rs 10,000 per acre, and the group insurance scheme Rythu Bheema were some of them.
The Congress, too, is trying to woo the farmers. Two months ago, it announced the Rythu Bharosa scheme, envisaging providing Rs 15,000 per acre every year once it assumes power.
Noticing that the promise has touched a chord with the farmers, the ruling BRS announced that it would increase the KCR Rythu Bandhu financial assistance to Rs 16,000. It also announced a pension of Rs 15,000 for farmworkers.
The BRS countered the Congress's promise of 200 units of free electricity for agricultural purposes with 250 units of free power. Not to be left behind, the BJP promised to increase the financial benefit from the PM Kisan Yojana to Rs 10,000 from the current Rs 6,000.
But will the promises influence the farmers? "Neeru, current, pension," Balaiah, a farmer from Odyaram, flashed a toothless smile while listing out his priorities. "We will vote for whoever provides us with water, electricity, and a pension," he said.