Known as the epicentre of the agrarian crises in Vidarbha, Yavatmal has seen the highest number of farmer suicides in the past few years. The district came under the spotlight in 2008 when Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi walked into the hut of Kalawati, the widow of a distressed farmer. Of the 35 farmers’ suicides reported in Vidarbha after the recent hailstorms, 17 were reported from here while the heavy rains last year had led to over 145 suicides. The BJP’s prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, too, highlighted this at his chai pe charcha session with the widows of the farmers here on March 20.
However, when the Yavatmal-Washim Lok Sabha constituency goes to polls on April 10, caste loyalties are likely to trump farmers’ resentment against the government. Sitting Shiv Sena MP and two-time MP of the erstwhile Washim Lok Sabha constituency, Bhawna Gawli, is expected to fight a close battle with Congress candidate Shivaji Moghe, five-time MLA and at present the minister of social justice in the Maharashtra government.
Even as Gawli, perceived to be a non-performer, faces anti-incumbency, she hopes to ride the ‘Modi wave’ coupled with the traditional vote bank of over four lakh Marathas. The Marathas are a politically dominant caste in Maharashtra that constitutes a major chunk of the 17.41 lakh voters here. Her rival Moghe belongs to a scheduled tribe and will seek to draw from other groups such as STs, SCs, OBCs (Banjara, Mali) and Muslims. Votes from the backward classes are likely to be divided amongst candidates from the AAP, Bharip Bahujan Mahasangh and independents from the Banjara community.
“Her traditional voters are aware that Gawli has not worked here or done anything to change the industrially backward face of this area. But they will still vote for her because she belongs to the Maratha community. She might also benefit from the Modi factor, especially among the 1.75 lakh new voters registered here,” said a BJP office-bearer.
Kishor Tiwari of the Vidarbha Jan Andolan Samiti said that farmers are unhappy with Gawli but they will cast an anti-Congress vote. “The Rs 4,000 crore relief announced by the state for the hailstorm-affected has still not reached the farmers. There is high resentment against the Congress and the NCP for this, and they are likely to vote against them,” he said.
Gawli secured 3.84 lakh votes in 2009, when he defeated Congress Haribhau Rathod with a margin of over 56,000 votes. Gawli, however, has reason to worry with the MNS’s only candidate from Vidarbha Raju Patil Raje, a Maratha, likely to eat into her vote base. Moreover, her estranged husband Prashant Gawli is also in the fray as an Independent.
Many believe that Moghe is at a disadvantage since his assembly segment, Arni, is part of the adjoining parliamentary constituency of Chandrapur.
Moreover, infighting in the Congress may further hurt his prospects. While state Congress president ManikraoThakre had wanted his son Rahul to be nominated, the Congress leadership was not in favour of Rahul and wanted Thakre to contest himself. The MPCC chief, who is known not to get along with the chief minister, was reluctant as he wanted to retain the post. The reason the Congress’s Rathod, a Banjara, is believed to have been defeated in 2009 is that seven-time Congress MP from Yavatmal Uttarmrao Patil (a Maratha) refused to work for him.