Farmers' anger likely to sear BJP-led alliance in Vidarbha, Marathwada

In the first phase of the Lok Sabha polls, the rural areas recorded higher turnout than the urban areas of Maharashtra

Representative image: A farmer pulls up dead plants from a dried-up, cracked field (photo: PTI)
Representative image: A farmer pulls up dead plants from a dried-up, cracked field (photo: PTI)

Naveen Kumar/ Mumbai

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Maharashtra is having to do all the heavy lifting, in the absence of much on-ground support from its allies in the state.

Worried after the low polling rates in the first phase of the Lok Sabha elections on 19 April, instructions have gone out to the BJP and RSS workers to mobilise voters in larger numbers for the second round of polling on Friday, 26 April. Eight more constituencies are due for polling in this round; but it is by no means certain that a higher turnout will necessarily go in favour of the BJP or the Mahayuti, as the BJP-led alliance is known in the state.

In the first phase of polling on 19 April, the rural areas recorded higher polling than in the urban areas of the state; but there was still a 3 per cent decline in polling compared to 2019 (61.06 per cent compared to 64.1).

On Friday, 26 April, electors will vote to choose their representatives in Akola, Amaravati, Wardha, Yavatmal and Buldhana in Vidarbha, and Nanded, Parvani and Hingoli in the Marathwada region.

The region is infamous for farmers’ suicides, and successive governments have failed to address the farmers’ issues.

The grandiose promise to rid Maharashtra of farmers’ suicides made by chief minister Eknath Shinde has returned to haunt him.

The founder of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan, Kishor Tiwari claims the number of suicides have increased during the Modi years. Between April 2014 and December 2023, he claims, as many as 32,000 farmers died by suicide compared to 26,000 during the 10 UPA years from 2004 to 2014. The shocking figures indicate the seriousness of the farm crisis and is once again a major election issue.

The farmers do receive Rs 1 lakh each from the state and the central government every year, besides other benefits. These benefits and assistance, however, have not been able to address the challenges related to climate change, unseasonal rain and hailstorms and periodic droughts.

Cotton and soyabean farmers in Vidarbha have been clamouring for cheaper seeds and fertiliser. High input costs of diesel and electricity, uncertainties related to irrigation and water have added to their woes. They accuse the BJP government of not fulfilling the promise of a loan waiver made in 2014. 

The changed political scenario in the state following the break-up of the Shiv Sena and the NCP has added to the uncertainties. On his traditional turf of Nanded, former chief minister Ashok Chavan, who joined the BJP, is entrusted with the task of ensuring the victory of the sitting BJP MP who defeated him in 2019! Small wonder he is looking vulnerable in the triangular contest with Chikhlikar Patil of the BJP, Vasantrao Patil of the Congress and Avinash Bhosikar of the Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA) led by Prakash Ambedkar.

Such awkward situations can be seen in several other constituencies too. In Parvani, the sitting Shiv Sena (UBT) MP Sanjay Jadhav, having served for two terms, is contesting on a new symbol of a traditional torch (mashal). His challenger Mahadev Jankar from the Ajit Pawar faction has been allotted a whistle for his symbol—is he missing the clock symbol of the NCP and the BJP’s lotus in bloom?

The battle in Hingoli is between the two Shiv Sena factions, with Nagesh Patil fielded by the UBT against Baburao Kadam of the Shinde faction. The sitting Shiv Sena (Shinde) MP, Hemant Patil, was dropped because of opposition from the BJP. Infighting within the Shinde group is high here and is working against Kadam.

Hemant Patil’s wife has been fielded from Yavatmal–Washim to appease a miffed Eknath Shinde and Patil himself. Bhavna Gavli of the Shinde faction, who had won the seat five times, was dropped to make away for Rajshree Patil. A VBA candidate here has made it another triangular contest.

In Amravati, there is resentment within the Mahayuti over the candidature of BJP’s Navneet Rana against the wishes of Eknath Shinde. Shinde associates Anand Andsul and son Abhijit are making their unhappiness known, making it tougher for Rana in this reserved constituency—which gives the Congress' Balwant Wankhede an edge.

Three-term MP, twice over Lok Sabha member, Prakash Ambedkar of the VBA is trying his own luck from Akola, where he is pitted against the sitting BJP MP Sanjay Dhoutre’s son Anoop and an orthopaedic surgeon, Avay Patil, fielded by the Congress.

And yes, they must all reckon with the wave of rural anger, which is also driven by young voters facing the brunt of unemployment, unbridled privatisation and outsourcing of government contracts.

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