There is clear and present anger among farmers in Vidarbha against the inability of the Congress-NCP coalition to provide tangible relief in the face of agricultural distress.
As the number of farmers committing suicides grows by the day, and the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance makes it an electoral issue, there could be huge political costs for the ruling coalition in Maharashtra’s 48 Lok Sabha seats.
On March 20, The Hindu reported that as many as 38 farmers had committed suicide in the past month alone.
“We want to punish the Congress and the NCP this time and give a chance to others,” Bhimrao Andhkiti, a resident of Asola village, just off National Highway 7, on the road to Wardha, told The Hindu.
Soon, a reasonable crowd gathers and all of them begin talking at the same time. Their anger is evident — that the government has done precious little to address their problems.
“I lost Rs. 50,000 in what I sowed and already have a debt of Rs. 3 lakh incurred by my father. What should I do? Commit suicide? That seems to be the only option left,” a very vocal Bhimrao said.
Gangadhar Shivsagar (60), sitting next to Bhimrao, said he sowed six thailis (packets) of seed but just got two bags of soyabean in return. Others tell similar tales.
“My crop of Toor dal was consumed by the hail and rain,” Kailash, who owns four acres of land, stated.
In Wardha and Yavatmal, BJP’s prime ministerial hopeful Narendra Modi went all out to attack the Central government and Union Agricultural Minister Sharad Pawar for farmer suicides on Thursday.
That he devoted his Wardha rally speech and his interaction in Yavatmal on the issue of farmers’ distress only goes to show that this is a political stick which Mr. Modi used to politically beat up the Congress party.
“Yes, there is anger, but this is only to be expected. After all, people will vent their anger against the government, but every effort is being made to address issues,” Hussain Dalwai, Rajya Sabha MP from the Congress, told The Hindu.
The farmers’ anger is not restricted to the absence of relief even though the State Government informed the Bombay High Court on Friday that it had disbursed Rs. 260 crore to relieve distress and would release another Rs. 600 crore in the next two days.
It was only on Wednesday that the Maharashtra government came out with a Rs. 4,000-crore relief package, whose disbursement has now begun.
“How come there are so many government schemes but very little reaches us? Those who get do not need and those who need do not get,” Vasudev Dambare (60), another Asola villager, told The Hindu.
Reflecting the mood of the farmers, Dr. Vikas Jambhulkar, who teaches political science at Nagpur University, said: “The Congress has taken a lot of beating recently and there is a new energy in the BJP.”
However, Dr. Jambhulkar was of the opinion that the “new element called the Aam Aadmi Party” was going to make some headway in the State. “It may not culminate in seats for AAP, but across the State they will get votes,” he added. In a Lok Sabha battle where every seat counts, especially in a politically-significant state like Maharashtra, the Congress-NCP combination appears to be on the back-foot as far as the farming community goes.