Is the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana in talks with Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh president Prakash Ambedkar for forming a non-BJP alliance in Maharashtra?
Yes. I am going to meet Prakash Ambedkar on October 6. The growing unrest among people following rising caste and community conflicts do not auger well for any state. Maharashtra has always believed in Mahatma Phule, Shahu Maharaj and Babasaheb Ambedkar’s social reforms, progressive ideologies and work. Taking the overall sentiments of people into consideration, it is our effort to bring all like-minded secular organisations on a common platform to defeat the communal forces.
What will be your party’s political position with the Congress-NCP ahead of the 2019 polls?
Ideally, the Congress-NCP should have taken the lead to bring all the smaller groups and like-minded secular parties on a common forum. My party is willing to work with them provided they are accommodating and don’t take us for granted. While we always extend support in the name of secularism, the electoral prospects of every individual parties – big and small – have to be considered on equal terms for the alliance to work.
Are you speaking in terms of seat-sharing?
As a smaller party, we are reconciled about our limitations both in terms of seats and strength. But our past experience has shown that while bigger partners take the support of smaller groups, get elected and increase their own strength, they never show any concern for the smaller groups. In the past, great leaders like Madhu Dandavate or Bappu Kaldate were defeated. Now, the Congress should ensure the victory of at least stalwarts when they talk of alliances and defeating the communal BJP. The Congress has to ensure individuals of greater stature in public life should be accommodated in the Lok Sabha or Rajya Sabha. It is in the country’s interest.
In the recent past you met AICC president Rahul Gandhi…
It was in the month of March ahead of the farmers’ agitation. I had apprised him about the unrest and problems of farmers in rural areas. Even now, state Congress president Ashok Chavan and Opposition leader Radhakrishna Vikhe-Patil call and talk to me on some issues.
Are you hinting at a Mahagatbandhan (grand alliance) in Maharashtra?
We would like a grand alliance. But as I said, the Congress-NCP will have to show more seriousness to come forward and accommodate one and all. It will require taking a step backward to make space for new partners. After all, smaller groups also transfer their own vote share in favour of Congress-NCP candidates and get them elected. Therefore, the Congress-NCP also has to ensure, along with their own growth, small groups also grow. Moreover, there should be a concrete common minimum agenda. Which means even smaller groups will have to conform to the agenda. Take an example, MIM will have to change its aggressive posture on certain aspects.
Are you completely ruling out an alliance with the BJP?
Yes. In 2014, my party supported the BJP because they talked about development and farmers’ issues. The dictatorial style of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government and the BJP has totally disappointed us.
What about the Shiv Sena?
Let the Shiv Sena walk out of the government and become a part of the anti-BJP alliance. Unfortunately, the Sena supports us when we agitate on farmers’ issues. But it has continued to enjoy power in the government. They play a double role.
What about the reforms for farmers?
Implementation of the Swaminathan Commission report was their commitment in the 2014 elections. So implementation of MSP had to be done. But we demand higher remuneration for the farmers and have objections over the manner in which they have calculated the MSP. The Commission for Agriculture Costs and Prices, which decides the MSP, should be accorded autonomous status. It has become a government’s puppet.
How do you perceive reforms in the Agricultural Produce Market Committee?
We are not against online trading if it helps the farmers. But they should first ensure proper logistics and infrastructure in place. Majority of the farmers have small land holdings, ranging from half acre to two acres. Therefore, uniform quality of farm produce is not possible. It varies from one field to another impacting grading. Moreover, government should also initiate stern measures to weed out the manipulations in the agriculture commodities exchange which is detrimental to farmers.