Once the stronghold of the Congress and NCP, the sugar sector in Maharashtra has changed hues, with the saffron alliance in the state making its mark firmly on the sector — the BJP-Shiv Sena alliance has sent more sugar barons as MPs to the Lok Sabha than the Congress-NCP combine.
Farmers who deal with sugar mills form an almost ready-made vote-base for millers. Thanks to the financial control they yield — whether directly or indirectly — a foray into the electoral arena is easy for the millers, given the almost assured vote bank of their member farmers.
Of the 48 MPs whom Maharashtra has sent to the 17th Lok Sabha, six MPs have direct connection with the sugar sector and five of them are from BJP, with the sixth from the Shiv Sena. Meanwhile, all four NCP MPs do not have any connection with the sugar sector, which also holds true for the lone Congress MP from the state.
In comparison, after the 2014 general elections, the NCP had two sugar millers as MPs, and of the two Congress MPs, one had direct connections to the industry. The BJP had two MPs with connections to the sugar mills, while the Shiv Sena had none.
This may be the first time that the Congress and NCP does not have any representatives from the sugar sectors as MPs, speaking volumes about the changing scenario in the industry.
Traditionally, sugar millers have aligned with the party in power, given the perks which come with it.
During the first stint of the BJP-Shiv Sena government in the state in 1995, some millers shifted allegiance to the saffron fold to ensure continued government largesse for their operation.
The countdown to the 2019 general elections for Maharashtra was marked by high-profile defections from both Congress and NCP to the BJP: Dr Sujay Vikhe Patil — son of the then leader of opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil — and Ranjitsinh Naik Nimbalkar, the Congress leader from Phaltan in Satara, defected to BJP. Ranjitsinh Mohite Patil, the son of NCP’s sitting MP and former deputy chief minister Vijaysinh Mohite Patil, also crossed over to the BJP.
The Vikhe Patil family controls multiple cooperative sugar mills in Ahmednagar district, with Dr Sujay himself being the chairman of the Padmashri Dr Vitthalrao Vikhe Patil Cooperative sugar mills. Naik Nimbalkar’s family manages the Swaraj Agro company which runs a private sugar mill in Phaltan town, while the Mohite Patil family manages the Sahakar Maharashi Sankarrao Mohite Patil Cooperative Sugar mill in Solapur.
The other BJP MPs with sugar mill connections are Beed MP Dr Pritam Mahajan, whose sister Pankaja manages multiple cooperative and private mills in the district, and Sangli MP Sanjay Patil, who manages a private and a cooperative mill in the district.
Shiv Sena’s Kolhapur MP, Sanjay Mandalik, is the chairman of a cooperative mill in the district.
Asked about the possible gains for the BJP, a senior minister, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that it is the perfect example of the party slogan ‘Sabka Saath Sabka Vikas’.
“For us it means almost ready-made leaders and for them it means the much-needed financial support to maintain their business,” the leader said.