The Swabhimani Shektari Sanghatana (SSS) has been mounting pressure on its ally BJP to organise a rally to be addressed by its prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi at Hathkanangale and Madha in western Maharashtra, the two Lok Sabha constituencies where the SSS has put up its candidates.
The repeated pleas by the SSS for Modi’s rallies has come as a major surprise for the BJP, which was planning to exploit the outfit’s strong agitation for farmers to its own advantage in at least five of the 10 Lok Sabha seats in the sugar belt, a region that is considered to be NCP’s stronghold. The SSS factor that the grand alliance was banking on is present in Kolhapur, Sholapur, Hathkanangale, Madha and Sangli.
Highly placed sources in the BJP said, “Time is running out and demands for Modi’s rallies are coming from not only the 24 constituencies where BJP candidates are in the fray, but also from 22 constituencies being fought by the Shiv Sena, two by the SSS, and one each Rashtriya Samaj Party and Republican Party of India.”
A detailed note requesting for rallies in Hathkanangale and Madha, where SSS has fielded its candidates, has been sent by the state BJP to Modi’s office in Gandhinagar.
Interestingly, SSS chief Raju Shetty is the sitting MP from Hathkanangale. In the last five years, he has established himself as a leader of farmers following agitation in the sugar belt against the alleged government failure to enhance the minimum support price for sugar cane.
The other SSS candidate is Sadabhau Khot, who is in the fray from Madha.
In 2014, Congress and NCP has joined hands to give a tough fight to Shetty in his home turf. This time, Congress candidate Kallappa Awade is contesting against Shetty in Hathkanangale. MPCC chief Manikrao Thakre said, “In this constituency, we have put up a united front. Both parties are determined to give a big fight to Shetty. The top leadership of NCP and Congress have played a significant role to unite their workers against Shetty.”
Earlier, there was a perception that Congress leaders in the western region were promoting Shetty by supporting his agitation to undermine the NCP. But in a tactical move this time, NCP president Sharad Pawar handed the Hathkanangale seat from his party’s quota to the Congress. The decision was taken after Kallappa Awade, who was the identified candidate, indicated that he would contest the elections from Hathkanangale provided it was given to Congress. The NCP’s generosity paved the way for greater bonding within the Congress and NCP.
Though Shetty is now seeking Modi’s help, he officially maintained that farmers would work against Congress and NCP. “Farmers are not going to forgive the Congress-NCP government’s apathy towards them in the last 10 years. The agrarian crisis in western Maharashtra is an outcome of the government’s mismanagement.”
Another BJP ally Rashtriya Samaj Party’s candidate Mahadeo Jhankar, who is contesting from Baramati against Supriya Sule of the NCP, has also sought Modi’s rally in his constituency.