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‘I stand with farmers even today; sugar barons have now shifted to BJP’

Swabhimani Paksha chief Raju Shetti. File

Swabhimani Paksha chief Raju Shetti. File  

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People are watching how BJP is poaching leaders from other parties ... the young generation, does not like this ... they see it as a betrayal, says the SSS leader

After losing the Lok Sabha election, farmer leader and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana leader Raju Shetti is now geared up to take on the BJP and Shiv Sena government by allying with Congress and Nationalist Congress party (NCP). Even though he isn’t contesting, he wants to make sure his candidates win. In an interview with The Hindu in Abdul Lat village of Shirol tehsil in Kolhapur while campaigning, Mr. Shetti accepts that he is upset with opposition front, claims young and fresh faces in opposition are the future and how floods in the region may impact sugar industry next year.

You seem to be very upset with Congress and NCP despite being in an alliance. What is the reason?

Why shouldn’t I? We formed an alliance and seat distribution took place. But look at what they have done. Nandurbar was given to us and Congress has given AB form to its candidate. Similarly in Buldhana’s Khamgaon. In Shirol, the NCP candidate has rebelled against mine. None of the Congress-NCP workers and leaders are joining us in the campaign. When I met Sharad Pawar and other Congress leaders yesterday, I strongly registered my protest over such petty tactics. Our workers are honestly supporting them in other seats. I hope they will withdraw their candidature on Monday.

Do you feel joining the opposition front was a mistake?

No. I agree that there are flaws in both these parties, but look at whom are we fighting against. The Bharatiya Janata Party is destroying the basic foundation of this nation, its farmers and its value system. We are together because we firmly believe in secular and constitutional values and want to save them. We are with the opposition front for this sole reason. As far as problems within the opposition front are considered, do you think ruling coalition is working fine? BJP did not even allow a single candidate of the allies to contest on a different election symbol. They are all forced to fight on Lotus symbol. We have not lost our independent identity, like the smaller allies in ruling coalition.

But you lost the Lok Sabha election after joining them?

Yes, I paid the price. There are other reasons for my defeat. There was a bit of over-confidence. We have learned since then. Assembly will not be easy, but I am sure that we will make a comeback.

When Congress-NCP was in power, you aggressively attacked these parties for being pro-sugar factory owners. Now you are accused of going soft on them. What led to this change?

This is how BJP wants to defame me. Take Kolhapur for example. There are 23 sugar factories in this district. Except for two, all other owners have either joined the BJP or established close ties with BJP leaders. Whom am I supposed to target now? I am with sugarcane farmers and I continue to voice their demands against the sugar factories. But the sugar barons have switched to the BJP. What’s the point in slamming Congress now? I have to talk against the BJP.

Does that mean you have amended your differences with Sharad Pawar?

I never had personal animosity against Sharad Pawar. My problem was the way he handled co-operative sector, especially the sugar lobby. He may have his own political calculation of controlling sugar factory means controlling politics of the that region. But I always pointed out loopholes in that model. Now, when the exodus in NCP happened and people joined the BJP, the whole party collapsed in those areas. I was proven right. That’s it. I had problem with his way of doing politics.

With established leaders joining the BJP in hordes, do you see an opportunity for new, young leadership in Maharashtra?

Yes of course. It is extremely good that those old, traditional politicians are quitting the opposition to make way for the young leadership. There will be tough days for some time, but let me tell you one thing. The people are watching how BJP is poaching leaders from other parties. They, especially the young generation, does not like this. The young voters don’t like betrayal and these leaders joining the BJP is seen as betrayal in rural areas.

How important will be the issue of recent floods in western Maharashtra in this election?

My entire campaign is revolving around this issue. The administration totally failed to warn farmers about the calamity and when it happened, it again failed in disaster management. The warning of possible heavy rains was issued seven days earlier and still no preventive measures such as making dams half-empty, or warning Almatty in Karnataka were taken. The relief measures were nothing but disaster. Not a single elected representative could live up to the expectations. There’s been no talk of monetary help to farmers and those who lost their houses. The loan waiver scheme is flopped and since loans are not waived off banks are not ready to give more loans. There has to be a committee of elected representatives of Maharashtra and Karnataka along with government officials to avoid such future incidents.

Will floods impact sugarcane production next year as well?

May be not the production, but surely the fair and remunerative price for it. The floods have affected sugarcane production. The living crop may not yield enough weight. Sugar production will drop. It will affect next year’s FRP. There is a possibility that FRP may drop by around ₹500-550 per tonne next year.

You have been leading farmer struggles nationally. But farmers seem to be voting for the BJP despite all your allegations of the government being anti-farmers. Why is it so?

Maharashtra has seen over 16,000 farmers suicides. These are not my numbers. The MSP issue is not my creation. Poor yield, government apathy are not my creations. These are real issues and farmers are really affected by it. But whenever elections come, this government cleverly rakes up issues of patriotism, nationalist, Pakistan or terrorism and successfully diverts the attention. Yes, I accept that as an opposition we are lacking. We are failing to give a counter-narrative to government’s propaganda and credible alternative. We need to work on that.

You challenged Chandrakant Patil [State BJP president] for electoral fight and instead of accepting, he shifted to Pune. What’s your message to him?

The most powerful BJP minister in State cabinet could not nurture a single Assembly seat out of 10 in Kolhapur district. This speaks volumes about himself and his failure as the guardian minister of this district. He ran away and chose safest of seats for himself. He could have lost. This is how BJP worked in last five years. It is all talk, nothing on ground.

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Printable version | Dec 15, 2019 7:26:54 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/other-states/i-stand-with-farmers-even-today-sugar-barons-have-now-shifted-to-bjp/article29613078.ece

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