Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis should watch out. NCP chief Sharad Pawar is on the prowl and his gloves are off. And Pawar is likely to hurt the BJP where it is most vulnerable — farmers’ issues.
I noticed that Pawar has lost no time in taking both the Union and state governments to task over the fair and remunerative prices (FRP) to sugarcane farmers — this is as good as it gets for the Maratha strongman. I was amused to note that Pawar can make an issue of both situations: A shortfall in production as well as a bountiful one, which is the case at the moment. I do not blame most people for thinking that a plentiful harvest should be good news for the farmers but they have been spoon-fed all their lives and cannot really deal with or compete openly with market forces.
That, too, however might have a solution but then what Fadnavis must beware of is Pawar’s penchant for always driving a wedge between the rural and urban. The biggest handicap would be the fact that farmers in Maharashtra have always associated Pawar with a good harvest. It is obviously a myth but they believe that every time Pawar is either a CM or a minister, the state receives good rainfall and they generate a good crop. I am sure Pawar does not believe in all this himself but he has not been above putting that to good use.
I recall his campaign speeches while combating the BJP during the 2004 and 2009 elections: He pulled out every stop to bring home to the farmers that every leader of consequence in the BJP from then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee down to the likes of Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley had no rural background. Indeed, they all belonged to urban constituencies.
“How much can any of them be expected to understand your issues?’’ he would ask the farmers. “Do they know at all what a remunerative price is or how a failed monsoon could destroy the lives of farmers?’’
By contrast, every Congress or NCP leader of consequence has a rural constituency and understands farmers, he would stress. They bought into his rhetoric but it did not work for Pawar this time. First, farmers facing successive droughts in the state were already annoyed with the shenanigans of the NCP over the last decade and, in addition, Narendra Modi’s charisma was such at the time that everyone wilted before that onslaught.
But that charisma is now on the wane and central policies, including those with regard to land acquisition, indicate that Modi is prioritising industry over agriculture. The Congress has got hold of that particular stick to beat the BJP with and the FRP issue has come as a boon to Pawar to revive the NCP’s fortunes.
Fadnavis’ additional drawback is that he comes from a starkly urban constituency, the double jeopardy being that he hails from Vidarbha where farmers’ suicides are showing no signs of abating.
It is not an issue that can be sorted out swiftly for in addition to banking reforms, socio-political ones will also have to be undertaken. In the absence of reforms in rural banking, I do not quite advocate the abolition of moneylenders for they do fulfil a financial need of the farmer. When banks embroil the farmer in enormous amounts of paperwork, the sahukars lend swiftly and without collateral but that’s why they should be licensed and regulated to prevent them from grabbing the lands of the farmers and taking them to the cleaners.
It might be unfashionable and politically incorrect to say this but having travelled extensively in ‘suicide land’, I believe there is dire need for social reform as farmers do not always use the money they borrow for sowing crops: It often goes for paying dowry and some of them blow it all up drinking.
Fadnavis has his task cut out. No matter how steady or not the government, just with one bad monsoon, Pawar may not even need a five-year term to turn the tide in his favour.