Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) president and MP Raju Shetti Monday hinted that his party was rethinking about its alliance with BJP. Shetti, who kicked off his Atmaklesh Yatra (Repentance March) — a statewide campaign against the BJP government’s “anti-farmer” policies — in Pune on May 22, reached Mumbai on Monday. “The BJP used us to pocket farmers’ vote and later deceived them. Now, we will bring this government down on its knees,” said Shetti. Shetti openly registered his protest against the government over the land acquisition process for Samruddhi (Nagpur-Mumbai Super communication Highway) project. He said, “If officials come and try to acquire farmers’ land without their consent, we will not hesitate in shedding blood.”
Talking about the BJP-led government’s alleged neglect of farmers’ issues, Shetti said that “cheating” farmers will now lead to the downfall of the BJP. “It’s been three years since the BJP came to power at the Centre. Still, the government has failed to take any concrete step to ease the woes of farmers. It has deceived farmers who voted for the party (in the Assembly polls),” Shetti told The Indian Express. Shetti, whose party is a constituent of the NDA as well as a part of the BJP-led Maharashtra government, said he had undertaken the Atmaklesh Padyatra to “repent for supporting the BJP and PM Narendra Modi.”
He added, “Today, after three years, I feel miserable and cheated as it was me who convinced our farmer brothers to vote for the BJP, vote for Modi. It was a big mistake that we asked the farmers to vote for the BJP. Hence, as a matter of repentance, we have undertaken this Atmaklesh Yatra. Before starting the march, I apologised to our farmers for this mistake. We have brought the issue to the notice of the Maharashtra chief minister as well as PM Narendra Modi. However, we always received vague replies. This prompted us to start our march against the government.”
Quoting geneticist M S Swaminathan, Shetti said, “The situation has worsened so much that everybody has started demanding for farm loan waiver which is a short-term solution. Minimum support price (MSP) for crops is the long-term solution for the crises faced by farmers. This was suggested in the report by M S Swaminathan, founder, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation.”
Shetti said that before the polls, the BJP had approached them through their senior leader Gopinath Munde for an alliance. “I had placed demands before them, which included implementation of Swaminathan report and a national-level irrigation project fully funded by the Centre. Only because they accepted my demands did we agree to form the alliance. None of our demands have been met, while the number of farmers committing suicide continues to rise. We see no point in supporting such a government.”
While Shetti is busy leading a march of close to 15,000 farmers and party workers to Mumbai, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis was in Shetti’s constituency in Kolhapur to address a Shetkari Melava (Farmer’s meet). “Farmers have shown him his place by not attending the melava. This is just the beginning. the Chief minister is yet to see the farmer’s wrath,” said Shetti.
Meanwhile, a close aide and Minister of State (MoS) for agriculture Sadabhau Khot’s absence in the march has led to speculation that he may quit the “farmers’ party” to formally join the BJP. Relations between Shetti and Khot had been strained following the recent Kolhapur Zilla Parishad elections. Khot was said to be disgruntled after Shetti objected to giving his son, Sagar Khot, a nomination to contest the polls.
When approached, Khot said, “MP Shetti’s demands are genuine and farmer-centric. However, I believe in resolving the issue while being a part of the government. When Shetti’s march is leading towards Mumbai, mine is towards the farms. The government is putting in all efforts to end the farmers’ crisis.”