At 11 am, Shaikh Firoz and over a hundred other men and women who have gathered at Ganj Golai in Latur are becoming increasingly restless. Ganj Golai, named after the huge oval-shaped market, has served as a pick-up point where Latur’s daily wage labourers assemble for being hired for work.
“At 11 am, my heart sinks because contractors have already picked up their workers for the day. Earlier we used to get work at least four times a week. Now, I feel lucky if I get hired twice or thrice a week,” says 28-year-old Firoz, who works as a mason.
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Firoz, who is planning to head home and try his luck the next day, blames his predicament on two factors — nature and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Latur, which falls in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region, has witnessed consistent rain deficit over the last five years. As of May this year, over 45 lakh residents, who constitute 24 per cent of the region’s population, are dependent on water tankers for their daily needs.
The region voted on April 18 and is now awaiting the results on May 23, “Due to water shortage, there is hardly any construction happening. That means there are no jobs for people like us. Also since Modi came to power, I believe my life has gone from bad to worse,” Firoz says.
The 28-year-old’s reference to Modi, however, brings a howl of protest from people standing nearby. Shaikh Gulrez, a rickshaw driver who does not remember the name of the BJP candidate whom he voted for, castigates Firoz for blaming Modi.
“Certain people in Latur have so much money that they can pave the streets of this city with marble and still have enough to lead a luxurious life. These people have made their fortunes by looting public money and Modi is now tightening the screws around him. I voted for him this time and I am sure we will see the results of his work in the next five years,” Gulrez says.
Latur is considered the bastion of the late Vilasrao Deshmukh, who served as the chief minister of Maharashtra for two terms, a tenure spanning over seven years.
The adjoining district of Nanded is seen as the bastion of Maharashtra state Congress president Ashok Chavan, who, along with his father Shankarrao Chavan, presided over as CM for three terms, stretching over seven years.
“For a region that has given the state three CMs, the area should have been prosperous. Apart from a few flyovers and underpasses, it has nothing. There are no industries where people like me can find work. I have faith that Modi will change all this,” says Rahul Yashwante, a 19-year-old first-time voter from Latur. Yashwante, a student of commerce, sells newspapers and works as a compounder for an Ayurvedic doctor to help his family.
This underlining angst against established politicians runs across the region with many like Yashwante believing that Modi can and will transform the way things are done.
“So many schemes have been launched by him. Earlier, I used to see my father stand for hours in a line to get an LPG cylinder. Now, we can do this online and the gas is delivered to our home in two days,” Yashwante says.
In Shirur Tajband, a village in Latur’s Ahmadpur taluka, Bhagwan More has recently opened a pakoda stall. A former tractor driver earning about Rs 8,000 a month, More opened the stall to supplement his family’s meagre income. He acknowledges that business is not as good as it should be but is betting on Modi to improve his plight.
“I have voted for Modi. I don’t care who the local candidate is. The business may not be great but I sense this government is working for the upliftment of people,” he says.
While many say that the region has not seen any job creation since Modi came to power, the heightened nationalistic fervour and surgical strikes have ensured that a large number of youngsters are now speaking of joining the army. In the Latur-Nanded stretch, several coaching institutes have opened up which are training prospective candidates wanting to join the army.
“Students come asking how they can join the Army. Most of them belong to poor agricultural families. With jobs missing, they feel that joining the army can give them a better life. Moreover, under Modi’s leadership, our Army and armymen have got so much respect,” says Yashwant Pikle, an operater of a training centre in Ahmadpur.
The BJP’s nationalism narrative has many takers. “In spite of my disliking for our sitting Shiv Sena MP Bhavana Gawali, I voted for her as I want Modi back in power,” says Ganesh Gheware, a Shiv Sena worker who works as a newspaper vendor at the Washim Bus Stand.
Gheware laments about the abject state of infrastructure in Washim and the lack of development in the region. Pointing to a rickshaw driver, he says, “He has not had a passenger in the last two hours. Does this place look like a district headquarter? No work has happened here in the last five years.”
In spite of this, Gheware says his vote was for Modi because of the honour that the Prime Minister has brought to the nation. “Earlier when Manmohan Singh used to visit foreign countries they used to make him sit on the last seat. Today, when Modi goes, he is asked to sit on the first seat. Foreign leaders like (US President Donald) Trump want to hug him and be friends with him,” Gheware says.