NARSINGH SHEVALI (80), a member of the Dhangar community from Kumta Budruk village in Latur’s Ahmedpur taluka, had earned only Rs 2,000 in August while working as a farm labourer in the drought-hit Marathwada. Bhalchandra Deshmukh (45) from Halni village in Ahmedpur owns eight acres. A Maratha, only half of his crops had survived the drought.
While between 2016 and 2018, the region was the epicentre of violent Maratha quota agitation, this year, issues of drought and water scarcity are going to decide how the people of Marathwada vote in the state polls. “The government has sanctioned Maratha quota. It is not the issue today. What matters to us is our livelihood. We are here as the chief minister is discussing our problems and providing solutions,” said Deshmukh.
On August 22, Fadnavis had started the second phase of the yatra from Marathwada. By September 1, he had passed through all the 48 Assembly constituencies in the district.
The river inter-linking project, the Marathwada Water Grid project and the government’s plan to provide filtered water in villages seem to have caught the imagination of the people here. At tea stalls, bus stands and village markets, the discussion centers around these projects.
How the elections pan out in Marathwada, which has 48 seats, will depend on how these projects are perceived by the people.
At Jawale Bazar in Hingoli, villager Saytabhama Gotekar said: “We hope the water projects become a reality and end the ordeal of women here, especially from distant villages and hamlets.” On an average, women here walk 10 to 15 miles a day to fill water for their household needs. In some cases, the male members of the family ferry the water-filled pitchers on two-wheelers.
Minister for Water and Sanitation Babanrao Lonikar, who hails from Marathwada, said, “It is a fact that Marathwada is worst hit by recurring drought. But people know that the Devendra Fadnavis government is making concerted efforts to help in way of higher compensation packages for crop loss and several water projects.”
Also, agro-industrial projects worth Rs 2.5 lakh crore have been sanctioned for Marathwada.
In the 2014 Assembly elections, of the 48 seats in Marathwada, BJP had won 16, Shiv Sena 11, Congress and NCP nine each, independents two and AIMIM one seat. However, the political equations have altered here as Congress and NCP leaders have publicly joined the CM’s yatra recently.
At Sillod, Congress MLA Abdul Sattar had joined the yatra during a roadshow. It was followed by Ranajagjit Sinha Patil, the MLA from Osmanabad, quitting NCP to join BJP last week at a rally in Solapur. The MLA from Barsi, Dilip Sopal, had joined BJP ally Shiv Sena last month. He was with NCP.
Independent MLAs Mohan Fad (Pathri) and Vinakay Jadhav Patil (Ahmedpur) have joined the BJP and taken the centrestage with Fadnavis at his rallies. Earlier, MLA Jaydutt Kshirsagar from Beed, had quit NCP to join Sena.
However, NCP leader Dhananjay Munde maintained that Marathwada would not be a cakewalk for the BJP. “The government is answerable to the people for the prevailing agriculture crisis. There are issues related to drought management. It cannot entirely put the blame on poor monsoon,” he said.