Two of the most iconic agrarian movements against the Fadnavis-led ruling government in the last four years, indicated by striking images of farmers upturning milk cans on the roads and of callused, bleeding feet of the tribal cultivators, marching into Mumbai, were from the state’s north Maharashtra region.
As the region spread across six Parliamentary constituencies goes to polls in less than a month, much water has flown under the Godavari River, after the strike in 2017 and the Long March in 2018. But the agrarian discontent and the dissatisfaction among tribals is still simmering. These are among the two central poll issues for the region that voted entirely saffron in 2014 polls.
The BJP has five sitting MPs here, while one constituency, Nashik, is with the Shiv Sena. Beyond agrarian distress and drought that has affected all five districts here, caste calculations in individual seats, Maratha vs OBC vs Scheduled Tribes polarisation will also have an impact on the outcomes. Aware of the potential losses from the region, the BJP has turned down candidature for two of its sitting MPs from the region, three-term MP from Dindori Harishchandra Chavan and two-term MP from Jalgaon AT Patil. But this has, in turn, led to internal factionalism in the BJP. The Congress-NCP has an opportunity to improve their tally here, but it remains to be seen whether these parties can actually make use of an opportunity. While the Congress could win back the tribal Nandurbar belt, party bastion where it had lost no election until 2014; the NCP could potentially win Dindori or even Nashik due to local demographics and internal rivalries.
AGRARIAN DISTRESS AND DROUGHT
Despite the loan waiver announced by the Fadnavis government after the farmers’ strike in 2017, a majority of farmers are dissatisfied with the ruling government. The goodwill of the loan waiver granted to as many as 30lakh-plus farmers is not seen on ground zero.
And even those who got the benefit now stand at the threshold of debt, thanks to the drought. The drought this year has aggravated the disquiet, with farmers failing to recover, in many cases, even the production cost of crops. “This year, I couldn’t even recover the production cost of planting tomatoes over my two acres. I don’t have the money to sow in June,” said Kailash Kandbahale, a farmer from Nashik district.
Despite this, Kandbahale may vote for the Shiv Sena’s Nashik candidate Hemant Godse and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. “No government is good for farmers. The previous government was full of thieves and this one is made up of bandits. But Modi is good for the country’s security. This is an urban constituency, which will anyway vote for the Sena, then why should I waste my vote,” Kandbahale asked.
He said that there was no Modi wave like in 2014, but the PM continued to have a favorable image and was a deciding factor in urban areas. His extended family in Dinodri, a largely rural constituency, however, will be backing Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) candidate Dhanraj Mahale.