Not just nationalism, drought, roads key issues in Maharashtra polls
Many people in the sugar belt of western Maharashtra claim basic issues of “roti, kapda, makaan aur sadak” (food, clothing, shelter and roads) and not nationalism will be the deciding factors when they vote in the assembly elections on October 21.Updated: Oct 18, 2019 00:53 IST
Pratik Patil, 42, says nationalism is in his blood. For him, though, the standout issues in the October 21 Maharashtra assembly elections are employment, economic development and prosperity. Patil doesn’t understand the debate around nationalism, which has moved to the top of the political narrative since the Centre in August moved to divest Jammu and Kashmir of its special status.
“Maharashtra and nationalism are synonymous as we all know Maratha warriors did not bow down before the Mughals or the British,” said Patil, who works in an information technology (IT) company in Pune.
Like Patil, many people in the sugar belt of western Maharashtra, considered a stronghold of Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar, claim basic issues of “roti, kapda, makaan aur sadak” (food, clothing, shelter and roads) and not nationalism will be the deciding factors when they vote in the assembly elections on October 21.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has sharpened its narrative on nationalism in the campaign for Maharashtra polls with intense campaigning on the central government’s August 5 move to revoke Article 370 that conferred special status on Jammu and Kashmir. Prime Minister Narendra Modi as well as BJP chief and home minister Amit Shah have repeatedly spoken on Article 370 in their campaign speeches.
The Opposition has sought to corner the BJP on unemployment, an economic slowdown that pushed growth down to an over six-year low of 6% in the quarter ended June, farmers’ suicides and agrarian distress.
Maharashtra’s Marathwada and Vidarbha regions have been struck by drought and farmers’ debts that has led some overextended borrowers to commit suicide. The recent floods in western Maharashtra and Konkan have worsened rural distress.
“Nationalism is fine but I need cheaper fertilizer and 24x7 electricity for my farms to sustain my family,” said 80-year-old farmer Sanghdev Vithobha Jadhav, sitting on the premises of a Ganesha temple in Jalgaon village of Koregaon tehsil.
Uttam Anandrao Bhosale, also a farmer, interrupted Jadhav to join the conversation. “We are electing the chief minister of Maharashtra and not of any other state. So our local issues are important. Nationalism for us means sacrifice, and we are always ready to sacrifice our lives for the nation whenever there is an external threat,” he said.
Vishnu Tukaram and Mahesh Dhage, both in their early 50s and residents of Karjat-Jamkhed town in Ahmednagar district, are angry with their Lok Sabha MP Sujay Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil who, last week, triggered a controversy by asking people to return ₹2,000 that the Modi government deposited in the farmers’ accounts last month, if the lotus, the BJP symbol, was not acceptable to them.
Vikhe-Patil made the remark at an election rally in the Karjat Jamkhed assembly constituency, referring to the PM-Kisan scheme under which small and marginal farmers get income support of ₹6,000 per year. The amount is released in three instalments of ₹2,000 each directly to the bank accounts of the beneficiaries. Anguished over Sujay Vikhe-Patil’s remarks, some young people have returned ₹2,000 through cheque, according to media reports.
In the Karjat Jamkhed assembly constituency, the NCP chief’s grandnephew Rohit Pawar is confronting two-time BJP legislator and state minister Ram Shinde. The Pawars and the Vikhe-Patils share bitter relations. Sharad Pawar’s refusal to leave the Ahmednagar Lok Sabha seat for then senior Congress leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil’s son Sujay ahead of the April-May general elections was followed by the father-son duo joining the BJP.
“You came here by helicopter or by road? Didn’t you see the condition of roads,” shot back Mahadev Khandagale, a shopkeeper in Karjat town. “(Ram Shinde) has been repairing the roads for the last 10 years,” he said.
But Sanjay Tayade, a school teacher, countered him. “There has been some development in the area otherwise why would the voters re-elect Shinde?” he asked. A small crowd, including a local Shiv Sena office-bearer, gathered near a tea stall, insisted that this assembly elections are not about nationalism but local governance. While the BJP has centered its campaign on the “local versus outsider” theme, the NCP is banking on the anti-incumbency factor to win the seat.
Along with the assembly elections, Satara is also witnessing a battle of prestige in the Lok Sabha by-poll, in which BJP’s Udyanraje Bhosale is up against former Sikkim governor and NCP candidate Shriniwas Patil.
Udayanraje Bhosale, the 13th descendant of Maratha king Shivaji, had won the Satara Lok Sabha seat on an NCP ticket in the April-May national elections, but quit Pawar’s party last month to join the BJP. His cousin Shivendraraje Bhosale, who also quit the NCP recently, is contesting the assembly election from Satara on a BJP ticket.
There is visible anger against Udayanraje for forcing the by-elections within four months, say locals.
“Udyanraje claims he has joined BJP for ‘vikas [development]’. What has he done for Satara in the last 10 years? Why couldn’t he do vikas during this period when even the NCP was in power in both the Centre and the state,” said 28-year-old Deepak Dhurde, a Mumbai-based software engineer from Koregaon.
The Congress and the NCP jointly ruled Maharashtra for 15 years from 1999 and parted ways in 2014 when the BJP formed the government in alliance with the Shiv Sena despite the two fighting the polls separately.
“There is a difference between Shivaji maharaj and his kin. Even he wouldn’t have liked it,” shopkeeper Dashmath Jadhav replied when asked if Udyanraje’s royal lineage was enough for him to get re-elected.
Battle of Baramati
In Pawar’s citadel and birthplace Baramati, his nephew and former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar is facing a challenge from BJP’s Gopichand Padalkar who belongs to the Dhangar (shepherd) community.
The Dhangars have been agitating since the Congress-NCP government announced 16% reservation for Marathas in jobs and education in 2014. The move had angered them as a result of which they supported the BJP in the subsequent elections. The Dhangars, who are in the Other Backward Class (OBC) category, wield influence in Baramati, Satara, Sangli, Madha and Solapur.
Although the Pawars have not lost an election in Baramati for the past 50 years, a section of the people belonging to drought-hit villages is upset with the NCP for failing to provide drinking water.
Devastating floods wreaked havoc in many parts of Kolhapur and Sangli in August, killing nearly 50 people and hundreds of cattle, apart from causing damage to property and crops.
People here are upset with the state government for not providing promised flood relief, including immediate assistance of ₹15,000 to the residents affected by the floods. “We are yet to receive that amount and it’s already over two months now,” said farmer Ramesh Bapat of Ajara taluka.
“I call it political nationalism and this could influence merely 20% in Maharashtra assembly elections. Issues such as Article 370, Kashmir and Pakistan do not impact the remaining 80% which is divided into different groups. The poll outcome largely depends on which two groups among that 80% come together. Group politics largely dominate Maharashtra politics,” said Prakash Pawar, head of the political sciences department at Shivaji University in Kolhapur.