When Bebitai Bais Patil (45) addressed her first political rally at Wani, 140 km southwest of Nagpur, on Friday, she fumbled with the words. But her audience — farm widows and debt-ridden farmers — understood what she wanted to convey.
A frail Bebitai was draped in a white sari with a faded green floral print — perhaps the only one she has because she has not bought a new one since her husband, Chattarsingh, committed suicide two years ago.
She sat nervously clutching some pamphlets as other speakers appealed to voters to support her.
When she was called to speak, she finished in 30 seconds.
“You know our plight,” she said as the modest gathering applauded. “Farming has failed over the years and the government is doing nothing for us. I want to raise the suicide issue.” But she did not appeal for votes.
Bebitai is pitted against mighty candidates of the Congress and Shiv Sena in Wani.
She replaced the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti’s original candidate Kalawati Bandurkar who pulled out allegedly because sponsors who had committed to help her family after Congress General Secretary Rahul Gandhi visited her, threatened to withdraw.
An ailing Kalawati could not be contacted for a comment.
A Rajput, Bebitai said she was determined to take on her mighty opponents.
“I know why Kalawati did not contest,” she told Hindustan Times. “I will not buckle under pressure because the janata is with me.”
There are over 7,000 farm widows like Bebitai in Vidarbha alone. The widows and at least 35,000 orphans are in distress despite government relief packages.
Bebitai visited Bothbodan village where she met farm widows.
“We don’t have the money to aid Bebitai’s campaign but we’re fit to go campaigning with her,” said Sharad Thakare (22), a taxi driver from Wani.
Shetkari Sanghatana’s Sharad Joshi, a Rajya Sabha member, flew in from New Delhi to kick off Bebitai’s campaign.
“Bebitai’s poll symbol is a burning candle,” said Joshi, who led agitations for farmers two decades ago.
“And we have to keep that flame burning so that there will always be light.”