While the police firing on farmers have pushed the ruling coalition into a corner, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) president Sharad Pawar casteist remarks have added fuel to the raging controversy.
While reacting to the ongoing agitation by sugarcane farmers over rates given to them by sugar factories for their produce, Pawar asked the audience while speaking in Baramati, "Why don't the agitators go and protest at Warna factory in Kolhapur. Check which community does he [independent MP Raju Shetty who has been spearheading the movement] and the members of Warna factory belong to. It is not fair to
target other community's [Marathas] factories and leave one's own."
While the Warna cooperative industry is controlled by Vinay Kore, who is a Lingayat, Shetty is Jain. Pawar has been critical of Shetty ever since the latter went on fast unto death last year at his home turf Baramati.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader Gopinath Munde criticised Pawar and said the NCP leader is trying to digress from the issue.
Condemning the firing incident, in which a farmer was killed on Monday, the Shiv Sena has announced a bandh at Sangli, Satara, and Kolhapur on November 14.
NCP leader Ajit Pawar also criticised Shetty and said, "Some people are deliberately fuelling the agitation."
Shetty has increased the influence of his farmers' organisation Swabhimani Shetakari Sanghatana (SSS) among farmers by successfully spearheading agitations for getting higher prices for farm produce in the last few years. This year, due to the spreading agitation, many sugar industries have yet to begin their crushing season.
The sugar industry in Maharashtra is mostly controlled by politicians from the NCP and Congress, though leaders from opposition parties such as Gopinath Munde also control sugar factories. NCP-Congress politicians, who run their politics through sugar factories, feel that any further hike in the price of sugarcane will make the sugar business unviable.