Reasserting his commitment to the farmers’ cause, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana president, Raju Shetti, in an interview with Shubhangi Khapre says the Nationalist Congress Party’s (NCP) offer of one seat on the Maharashtra Legislative Council (MLC) cannot undermine his political identity.
NCP offered you an MLC seat? Has it led to a revolt within the party?
The NCP offered me a seat in the Legislative Council through the Governor’s quota. I have accepted the offer. It was a part of the deal we had discussed during the 2019 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. At that time, the Congress and the NCP had promised us just two Lok Sabha seats, but we wanted four. Now, the NCP has promised us a seat in state legislative council. The alliance with our party helped them win at least 10 to 14 Assembly seats. So, it’s a promise which they have kept.
I admit there were some apprehensions within my party over my nomination. Some members suggested I should give it to some other worker. But norms for the Governor’s nomination are very strict and I am the only candidate who can conform to the required norms.
Your entire politics has been against the NCP. Even the area of your operation in western Maharashtra is an NCP stronghold. How do you reconcile?
It is a fact that we have always fought against the NCP. That was also because its leaders have played a greater role in the sugar belt. They own and operate the sugar mills.
Our party represents the sugarcane farmers. Therefore, whenever there were issues related to farmers’ rights, like higher remuneration or Minimum Support Price (MSP), we launched agitations. My commitment to the farmers’ cause will continue even after I become an MLC.
There will be no compromise on that front. We will continue to take to the streets if the government fails to address their problems. The NCP cannot undermine my political identity.
Is conflict with the alliance partners practical politics?
I am not bound to any individual or alliance. In 2019, I decided to quit the NDA because they failed to deliver on the agriculture sector. The BJP-led NDA’s priority was Ram temple, Article 370 etc. Their divisive politics was not something we could subscribe or support. We may have had differences with the NCP, but then we cannot forget that our common ideology is based on the teachings of Jyotiba Phule, Babasaheb Ambedkar and Shahu Maharaj.
I was an MP in the recent past and got to closely compare the NDA and the UPA governments. Whether it is agricultural growth or the overall GDP, growth during Manmohan Singh-led government was much higher than the Modi regime.
How do you rate the performance of the three-party coalition in state?
I think we have to give them some more time before making any assessment. In the first two months, they took the decision to give crop loan waiver. But in the last three to four months, the government has been battling the Covid-19 pandemic. It will be unfair to make any comments at this moment.
What are the challenges confronting farmers in the ongoing kharif season?
The supply of duplicate seeds by companies has resulted in a lot of anger and frustration in farmers… The seed companies played dirty. They not only extracted a higher price for seeds from farmers but also cheated them by selling fake seeds.
The agriculture department has promised to compensate farmers and give quality seeds.
In the rural belt, the process of perni (sowing) is sacrosanct. Farmers set aside everything and focus for eight to 10 days on sowing. Today, the government says it will provide them fresh seeds. What about the eight to 10 days labour that was lost? Can they compensate for their hard work with money? Small and marginal farmers are wrecked and will not be able to bear the burden of second sowing.
How has lockdown impacted the agriculture sector?
Although the agriculture sector was exempted from the lockdown, it would be incorrect to presume it wasn’t affected. Take dairy for example.
Normally, summer is a lean season and so there is always a shortage of milk between March and June. But due to the lockdown, there is 40 per cent surplus milk supply. Farmers who earned Rs 35 per litre for quality milk are now getting Rs 18-19. The surplus milk is due to the closure of hotels, sweet shops, and tea stalls. The demand for milk products spikes in summer due to the wedding season, but this year it has been hit.
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