ON SUNDAY, 9 March, bad weather forced a helicopter carrying the union agriculture minister, Sharad Pawar, to make an emergency landing in Beed district, Maharashtra. Since the last week of February, central India had been battered by unseasonably strong storms—the worst in possibly a hundred years. Hail and heavy rains had fallen across eight-tenths of the districts in the state, destroying roughly 1,400,000 hectares of crops, and killing twenty-eight people.
Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party, which has ruled Maharashtra for nearly fifteen years in an alliance with the Congress, had planned to hold its first official campaign rally for the general elections in Beed the following day. The event was cancelled; instead, Pawar toured storm-wasted areas across the state. So did the Congress chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, and politicians from Maharashtra’s major opposition parties—the Bharatiya Janata Party, the Shiv Sena and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena. The opposition accused the ruling alliance of failing to act quickly to address the damage, and all the leaders called for exceptions to the election campaign code of conduct so that substantial relief funds could be distributed directly to farmers. Pawar urged farmers not to commit suicide as they waited for the aid. By the last week of March, more than thirty had taken their own lives.