Senior journalist Kumar Ketkar is very acerbic in his dismissal of the current dispensation in Maharashtra — Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis knows only to hobnob with the bold and beautiful, he says, and attends just fashion shows and beauty pageants “sponsored by creams and coloured cosmetics”.
Ajit Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party, on the other hand, “wouldn’t be seen dead at any of these events”. He is quietly touring the drought prone areas of Maharashtra and staying connected with the people. So is Congress’ Ashok Chavan. These are the only two leaders visiting the distressed people in the rural areas.
So when Fadnavis travelled to New Delhi last week to seek a `10,000 crore relief package for the state — which has not yet been granted — it was but natural that both Ajit and Chavan should dismiss this as mere theatrics and, even if the package was forthcoming, a case of too little too late.
I hate to admit this — in view of Ajit’s previous fascination for urinating into dams to irrigate the fields — he is today more connected with farmers and their distress, and they are looking up to him anxiously for solutions. “The NCP and the Congress got majorly voted out of power because it was this section of people — farmers along with OBCs — who had been sick of the rural elite (synonymous with Marathas and the Pawars particularly), who had voted for Narendra Modi during the Lok Sabha elections. But now they are swinging back to them because in the last two years there is an understanding among the people that the current government has no measure of their distress,” says professor Prakash Pawar of the Shivaji University at Kolhapur.
The Shiv Sena’s opposition to the BJP keeps it relevant among the urban masses but, says Ketkar, even that party’s understanding of production and productivity is limited to the tertiary sector — builders and real estate. That farmers in the hinterland are facing double jeopardy — of drought and a beef ban — escapes everybody’s attention. The ban on cow slaughter may be disputed in various ways but it remains a fact that including bulls and male calves within its ambit has contributed to farmers’ distress — in times such as these they were used to selling just one or two animals for `1 lakh or more and tiding the bad season. Now they have no water and no food for themselves — let alone for animals, and these are being abandoned by the dozens.
So it is not surprising that farmers, having heard of the `10,000 crore package, are demanding maintenance cost for each animal they are forced to keep on their farm. Else, they say, in a startling recall, they will do what Ajit’s uncle Sharad Pawar had advised them two decades back when the first Shiv Sena-BJP government had come to power in Maharashtra. Without such a drought in existence then, they had still not understood farmers’ distress and Pawar had given them the example of the ‘useless bull’. “When he refuses to get up, you first kick him, then beat him with a kathi. Then you stick a pin into him. When he still refuses to work, you push a rope through his nose and drag him to the cattle market and sell him off.”
An enraged chief minister Manohar Joshi had then responded, “Send your cow to us and we will show you what our bull can really do.”
The farmers had not taken Joshi up on his offer then. I do not think even Fadnavis has that luxury today.