As Swabhimani Paksha MP Raju Shetti prepares to officially part ways with the ruling National Democratic Alliance (NDA), the focus has shifted on his erstwhile bête noire Sadashiv Khot. Khot, who is a minister for state in the Devendra Fadnavis-led government, has become the target of ire of many for his alleged role in trying to break the ongoing farmers’ strike.
Shetti’s Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) has a strong presence in the sugar belt of western Maharashtra. The farmers’ body had allied with the BJP both for the union and state elections of 2014. While the party itself could not better its previous performance, its alliance with the BJP had helped the party make inroads in the rural parts of western Maharashtra. Party leaders Ravikant Tupkar and Khot were accommodated in the state cabinet. Khot was made the minister of state for agriculture and marketing while Tupkar was made the chairman of the state textile corporation.
Differences between Khot and Shetti started cropping up since the recently concluded zilla parishad elections. Khot’s son, Sagar Khot, had stood for elections which had not gone down well with the rank and file of the farmers’ body. Shetti had openly expressed his displeasure about the matter and when Sagar lost the polls, his father was quick to blame the MP for it. The rank and file of SSS were also not comfortable about the apparent closeness of Khot with the BJP. Murmurs of protest were heard from various factions of the Sanghatana, but Shetti had not taken a public stance about it. The complex caste equations in the sugar belt and Khot being the Maratha face of the party was one of the reasons for Shetti’s vacillation.
As the demand for loan waiver gained ground, Shetti had launched a padyatra from Pune to Mumbai to do the same. The padyatra was called a Walk of Repentance, with Shetti expressing regret over his decision to go with the BJP in the polls. Khot was conspicuous by his absence from the walk and cited health issues when asked. The padyatara had received unprecedented support from farmers.
After the padyatra, Shetti had announced that a large section of farmers wants him to severe his ties with the NDA and the ongoing farmers’ strike has upped the decibel level of the same. “My supporters want me to severe tie with the BJP and I will put the matter before the executive council of the party,” he said. Asked about Khot, Shetti said as the former was a disciplined party worker, he will abide by the party’s decision. Tupkar told The Indian Express he would resign from his position if asked by the party. “My alliance is with the movement not with the government,” he said.
While Khot remained unreachable for his quote, party workers said the farmers’ strike and his supposed role in trying to scuttle the same has maligned his image. Khot was the government’s face for negotiation and it is alleged that he had planted his supporters in the now disbanded core committee to break the protest. In the sugar belt of Sangli, rumours are rife that Khot and his son will both join the BJP. As the farmers’ strike continues, Shetti has been nominated into the core committee, along with other leaders. Shetti’s direct involvement with the strike and Khot’s stance of trying to broker peace has presented the clearest picture of an imminent divorce between the two.