The month-long political roller-coaster ride in Maharashtra, at least till the wee hours of this morning, had Uddhav Thackeray in the driver's seat with Sharad Pawar riding shotgun, appearing to be controlling the navigation. The Congress, it seemed, was reluctantly sitting on the back seat, preparing to go on a possible ride to power in the country's richest state.
At 7:30 AM this morning, it came to a screeching halt. Enter, Devendra Fadnavis and Sharad Pawar's nephew Ajit Pawar. Amidst the several protagonists, there was someone else also looming in the background. Someone who has always been there. Someone who always appears in every speech given by every single Indian politician since time immemorial. The Indian farmer.
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"We formed a government to resolve farmers' issues,” said Ajit Pawar after taking oath as the second-in-command to Devendra Fadnavis. The same Fadnavis who sanctioned an investigation against him in 2014 over alleged irregularities in irrigation contracts soon after his debut as chief minister in 2014. The irrigation scam accused Ajit Pawar also famously had to issue a public apology in April 2013 during his first stint as deputy chief minister for ridiculing Bhaiya Deshmukh, a farmer from then drought-hit Solapur who had been on a hunger strike.
"He (Bhaiya Deshmukh) has been fasting for 55 days,” said Ajit Pawar at a public meeting in Pune's Indapur village, and asked, "If there is no water in the dam how can we release it? Should we urinate into it?." Sensing a few applause and giggles in the crowd, Ajit Pawar delivered the punchline, "If there is no water to drink, even urination is not possible." Today, in the name of the farmer, Ajit Pawar is back in the saddle.
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Ajit Pawar's uncle, even as he was in thick of the action cobbling together an alliance of strange bedfellows, did not forget the farmer. Sharad Pawar met Prime Minister Narendra Modi for 40 minutes just a few days back to submit a letter seeking "urgent intervention" to provide relief to the distressed farmers in the state.
Shiv Sena did not forget the farmers either. A few days back, a delegation from the party led by Aaditya Thackeray met Maharashtra governor Bhagat Singh Koshiyari to "discuss the issues of farmers." Even Sonia Gandhi's top political aide and Congress leader Ahmed Patel met union minister Nitin Gadkari to discuss issues related to the farmers of Maharashtra just a few days back. Essentially, everybody who is anybody in politics must keep the farmer in mind, all the time. The unwritten first rule in manual of Indian politics.
The farmers know this. On February 20, 2019, with the general elections looming, 50,000 farmers from Maharashtra began a march to the state's power centre and the country's financial capital, Mumbai. They knew the TV cameras and photographers will be covering them. It was election time, after all. Every five years, those few months before the votes are cast, farmers are front-page news. They find room in TV debates where twitter "warriors" & political "experts" are forced to share the air time. The Congress party was promising Rs 6,000 straight to their bank account every month if voted to power. The BJP had to respond.
Demonetisation was launched bang in the middle of the harvest season. The ban on slaughtering cattle dealt another blow to the rural economy. The National Crime Records Bureau had stopped publishing farmer suicide data. The last available data is from 2016. It must have been hard to look at. With the government finances under strain, the BJP announced the PM-KISAN scheme. Eligible farmers were promised Rs 6,000 every year. PM-KISAN and surgical strikes became the two mantras that would catapult the party from state election losses in Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan in December 2018, to a thumping majority in after the general elections in May 2014.BJP had promised to disburse Rs 75,000 crore through the PM-KISAN scheme from April 2019 to March 2020. In the first seven months until October 2019, Rs 29,397.26 crore has been disbursed, said agriculture minister Narendra Singh Tomar to the Lok Sabha last week. That's just 37 percent of the amount disbursed in the first seven months. With five months to go, there is a real possibility that a large amount may remain unspent. And the farmer probably knows this. Nobody knows the agony and irony of being omnipresent and irrelevant better than the Indian farmer.