Tribune News Service
Mumbai, April 7
Maharashtra’s agrarian crisis has turned out to be the main election issue in the seven Lok Sabha seats where elections will be held in the first phase on Thursday.
While the BJP is understandably trying to play up national issues like the Pulwama terror attack and the Balakot air strikes, the opposition parties have managed to turn the heat on the government by raising issues related to agriculture.
Farm leader and Congress candidate Nana Patole, who is taking on Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari from Nagpur, is playing a major role in raising the matter of the severe drought that presently afflicts the state.
Several farmer bodies are also backing Patole, though there is acknowledgement among a section of voters that neither of the mainstream parties can do anything to combat the agrarian crisis.
“Around 12,000 farmers have committed suicide between January 2015 and January 2019,” says farm leader Vijay Jawandia. He points out that the number of farmers committing suicide was 6,268 between 2011 and 2014. The increasing number of suicides has resulted in large-scale disillusionment towards mainstream political parties, Jawandia points out.
Local legislator Omprakash alias Bachu Kadu, who fronts an organisation called the Prahar Sanghatana, has fielded the widow of a farmer from the Yavatmal-Washim constituency. The woman, Vaishali Sudhakar Yede (28), is receiving good response from the rural areas much to the discomfiture of Shiv Sena’s sitting MP Bhavna Gawli and her challenger Manikrao Thakre of the Congress.
“Both these leaders have assets worth crores of rupees but have done nothing for farmers. On the other hand, Vaishali has just three acres of land which she had to give on lease and works as an anganwadi worker,” says Kadu in one of his campaign speeches for the candidate.
According to Kadu, the Maharashtra government’s farm loan waiver keeps out a large number of farmers in Vidarbha who have large land holdings. The farmers live in poverty because most of them cultivate a single crop due to the absence of irrigation facilities in the region. Attempts by successive governments to push the cultivation of the BT cotton crop is also a major issue since the crops have been destroyed by pests despite claims by transnational seed companies.
The Narendra Modi government’s attempt to disburse Rs 6,000 to small farmers before the elections have not had the desired impact amidst claims that the first installment of Rs 2,000 was not credited to the farmers’ accounts.
Farmers organised by the Congress are showing up at meetings to complain that they have been shooed away by bank managers when they went to collect the promised Rs 2,000.
On the other hand, the ruling front in Maharashtra is playing up the huge investments made in irrigation projects in the region. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis, who hails from the region, says the government has earmarked Rs 38,000 crore for irrigation projects in Vidarbha and Marathwada, the most drought-affected regions of the state.
Fadnavis even lists the 26 irrigation projects for which work has been fast-tracked and further adds that all pending projects would be completed by 2022. However with the monsoons failing last year, there is simply no water.
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