On 21 October this year, the state of Maharashtra voted to elect its fourteenth legislative assembly. The incumbent Bharatiya Janata Party and Shiv Sena alliance was voted back to power. However, their respective tally for these elections was lower than the previous assembly—the BJP won 105 seats, as opposed to 122 seats in 2014, while the Shiv Sena clocked 56 seats, compared to the previous number of 63.The BJP’s vote share dropped to 25.75 percent from the 2014 figure of 31.15 percent, while the Shiv Sena bagged 16.41 percent votes this year compared to 19.8 percent in the previous election. The BJP leader Devendra Fadnavis served as the state’s chief minister from 2014 till 2019, and his tenure witnessed successive droughts, and large-scale farmers’ unrest.
Raju Shetti is a farmers’ rights activist and a politician from Kolhapur in Maharashtra. In 2002, he formed the Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathana, a farmers’ organisation. Two years later, he won the Shirol assembly seat as an independent candidate. He contested the Lok Sabha elections in 2009 and 2014, and won from Hatkanangle as a candidate of the Swabhimani Paksha, the political arm of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sangathana. He aligned with the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in 2014, but parted ways in 2017. In the 2019 assembly elections, his party contested four seats, and won the Morshi seat in Vidarbha. In an interview with Tushar Dhara, a reporting fellow with The Caravan, Shetti said that agrarian distress was the reason for the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance’s reduced tally.
Tushar Dhara: What are the reasons for the reduction of seats won by the BJP and Shiv Sena alliance in the recently concluded state elections?
Raju Shetti: Maharashtra has been reeling from agrarian distress for many years. On the one hand, there is drought. The Marathwada and western Vidarbha regions have been experiencing drought for the past two years, which the Fadnavis government ignored. The BJP’s seats have reduced in Vidarbha. Conversely, there were floods in western Maharashtra, which was handled indifferently by the government. Another issue is crop insurance. Farmers did not benefit from the prime minister’s crop-insurance scheme, the insurance companies did. [The Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana, launched in 2016, provides uniform premiums for specific categories of farm produce.] Despite repeated complaints from farmers, the government ignored the problem. The crop-insurance scheme turned into a corporate-benefits scheme. The third reason is that cotton farmers who were affected by the pink-worm pest did not get relief. The fourth issue is minimum support prices for crops like chana, arhar and soya bean. Farmers had difficulty selling their crop to the government, and payments were delayed by six months. Farmers were also angry with the government’s farm-loan waivers. There was so much publicity by the government and little benefit that accrued to farmers.
Even the opposition did not raise these issues during the election campaign. But there was a lot of anger among farmers. These people [the BJP and the Shiv Sena] just make grand speeches. People saw through that. The elections are happening in Maharashtra and the issues being raised are Article 370. [On 5 August, the BJP-led government at the centre read down Article 370 and revoked the special status of the state of Jammu and Kashmir.]
TD: So the BJP’s campaign, which was centred around Article 370 and Kashmir, failed?
RS: It clicked during the Lok Sabha polls, but failed in the Vidhan Sabha elections.