Experts say farmers in Vidarbha region are more disappointed with the BJP government, as their hopes were really high in 2014.(HT File Photo)
Experts say farmers in Vidarbha region are more disappointed with the BJP government, as their hopes were really high in 2014.(HT File Photo)

Maharashtra Assembly Election 2019: Will dry Vidarbha again support BJP-Shiv Sena?

After five years of the BJP-Sena rule in Maharashtra, people in Vidarbha are not excited about the ruling parties. Farmers are grappling with agrarian crisis, with drought aggravating it.
By Faisal Malik | Hindustan Times, Mumbai, Mumbai
UPDATED ON OCT 13, 2019 08:14 AM IST

In the 2014 Assembly elections, Vidarbha played an important role in making the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) the single-largest party, with 44 of the total seats 62 seats from the region. Its resurgence was attributed to the resentment among farmers, anti-incumbency against the Congress-NCP government, irrigation scam, caste combination and statehood for Vidarbha.

In return, the party gave heavy representation to the region, with six ministers, including chief minister Devendra Fadnavis and finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar. The subsequent local polls also saw the party doing well here.

The BJP-Sena alliance, however, could not repeat the clean sweep of the 2014 Lok Sabha elections in the 2019 general polls. BJP heavyweight and Union minister Hansraj Ahir lost to Congress’s Suresh Dhanorkar by a margin of 11,000 votes in Chandrapur. Sena MP Anandrao Adsul lost to Congress-NCP supported candidate Navneet Rana in Amravati. Is this an indication that all is not well for the saffron combine in Vidarbha?

GROUND REALITY

After five years of the BJP-Sena rule in Maharashtra, people in Vidarbha are not excited about the ruling parties. Farmers are grappling with agrarian crisis, with drought aggravating it. Farm loan waiver should have brought relief to farmers, but they are not happy with the implementation. Non-repayment of farm loans has made a large number of farmers ineligible for more borrowing. There have been questions over implementation of the Rs 34,000-crore loan waiver scheme, as thousands of farmers could not get its benefit. The agrarian community is still not getting proper remuneration for their produce. The probe into the irrigation scam is yet to be completed. There has not been significant improvement in the industries and employment.

Vijay Jawandhia, Vidarbha-based agriculture expert, said farmers are more disappointed with the BJP government, as their hopes were really high in 2014.

“At least 80% of the agricultural land in the region comes under rainfed areas and the crop production was badly impacted owing to drought and deficient rainfall. The government has done nothing to mitigate it. The help from the loan waiver scheme launched in 2017 is yet to reach farmers. Now, the banks are asking for two years’ interest on the loan amount, making farmers ineligible for fresh loans,” Jawandhia said.

Chandrakant Wankhede, another agriculture expert from the region, said the rising number of farmer suicides in the past five years is a clear indication that farmers are frustrated and disheartened.

“They have not got 50% more than the cost of production. The government hasn’t stopped the rising input cost. In contrast, whenever there is any rise in commodity prices such as sugar and onion, the government intervenes and adopts certain measures,” he said.

This year till August, the state has recorded 1,799 cases of farmer suicides. Of them, 822 are from Vidarbha alone. Last year till August end, 1,715 cases of farmer suicides were registered across the state. Of them, 808 were from Vidarbha region.

Vidarbha is also known for rampant caste politics. In many of its constituencies, it is caste and not merit, which plays major role in deciding a candidate’s fate. The outcome of many seats in the region will be decided by how Kunbi-Maratha, Teli and some other communities vote. The minority community, too, can influence the outcome. Nagpur, the capital of the region, also happens to be the home turf of the chief minister. The headquarters of Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideologue of the BJP, is also situated there.

THE CONTEST

Will the Opposition take advantage of this?

Senior BJP leader and finance minister Sudhir Mungantiwar insisted they have done more than the erstwhile Congress and NCP in 15 years.

“People can see the development in the past five years. From building new roads to completing long-pending irrigation projects such as Bhembla in Yavatmal district, we have changed the reality of Vidarbha. In education sector, we have succeeded in bringing Symbiosis Institute, a law university and Indian Institute of Information Technology in Nagpur. Special subsidy in power tariff to industries in Vidarbha has helped the sector grow,” he said.

He also said the BJP-Sena alliance will do better than 2014. This time, the BJP is contesting 50 seats and Shiv Sena 12 seats in the region.

On the other hand, the Congress and NCP have also joined hands to contest the Assembly elections and are fighting as a joint force.

In 2014, both the parties contested on their own, which led to drubbing in the Assembly elections that cost them 17 seats. Both the parties could win a meagre 11 seats (Congress 10 and NCP 1).

The Congress had considerable presence in Vidarbha and was enjoying good support of the people a decade ago. In 2009, it was considered as an emerging force as the Congress won 24 seats (three more than 2004), but in 2014, the party strength came down to 10 seats. (NCP has won four seats in 2009).

In this election, the Congress is contesting 47 seats and NCP 14 seats, whereas in one seat — Aheri of Gadchiroli district — both the parties are contesting against each other. The Congress has fielded former MLA Deepak Atram and NCP has pitted former minister Dharmarao Atram. Both are contesting against sitting BJP MLA and former minister Ambarishraje Atram, who is also Dharmarao’s nephew.

Although the Congress is hoping for a revival in its old bastion, it has already lost an MLA Gopaldas Agrawal, who defected to BJP in the run-up to the polls. He was a three-term MLA from Gondia.

Senior Congress leaders said the Fadnavis government fell flat on its poll promises. “Starting from separate Vidarbha to double income for farmers, the BJP failed to bring change in the lives of people despite being in government both in the state and at Centre,” said Manikrao Thakre, former state Congress president, who hails from Yavatmal district of the region.

“Raising the issue of Article 370 in Maharashtra polls clearly indicates the government has nothing to show,” Thakre said, adding, “The economy of Vidarbha is based on agriculture, but farmers here are in big trouble. There is unrest against this government especially in rural areas.”

“With their drastic moves such as demonetisation and GST, industries in the region too have been hit. Many industries in the MIDC area have shut down in the past five years. Now, recession has doubled their trouble, people are losing jobs leading to more unemployment. They are also not talking about separate Vidarbha,” he said.

In response, Mungantiwar said they have never left the statehood issue and are waiting for an appropriate time. “Our stand is always clear. The day we get majority in the state Assembly, we will come out with a proposal for separate Vidarbha,” he said.

CHANGE IN PERCEPTION?

Vidarbha was considered neglected during the erstwhile Congress-NCP government owing to irrigation backlog, providing less funds for completing pending irrigation projects compared to other regions of the state, especially western Maharashtra, load shedding and poor infrastructure.

Has the BJP government succeeded in doing away with the perception?

Political experts say the state BJP government could have done better to resolve major issues of the region.

“The government would have performed better than what it has done so far. It could have done extraordinary work on issues such as farmer suicide, irrigation potential or Maoism. It has failed to bring any significant change,” said Shailesh Pande, editor of a Marathi daily.

“However, this time, the BJP will contest the elections on Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a national hero and development. In contrast, the Congress and NCP have no plank. The Congress and NCP leaders are already labelled as non-performers, as they didn’t do anything in the past 15 years. They have also failed to create a narrative which can be used to counter the aggressive propaganda of the government and BJP,” he said.

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