The complete rout of the opposition from the rural heartland of Maharashtra may force Congress and NCP leaders to review their strategy for the region. With rural distress failing to be a rallying point for voters, a question mark now hangs over the political fight for issues such as better price realisation for farmers and timely payment of sugarcane prices.
On Thursday, as Lok Sabha election results were declared, it became clear by the evening that barring two seats, the opposition alliance had lost all other seats in Vidarbha and Marathwada. Even former chief minister and Maharashtra Congress chief Ashok Chavan was defeated on his home turf Nanded.
Chavan was one of the only two Congress leaders who had managed to win from the state in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections, despite the Modi wave. Another surprising electoral loss was that of two-term MP and Swabhimani Paksha chief Raju Shetti, from his stronghold of Hatkanangale in Kolhapur district.
The results from rural Maharashtra have shocked the opposition alliance, which had not really expected windfall gains but at least a decently modest performance. Issues such as agrarian distress, non-realisation of Minimum Support Price, the drought and the state government’s alleged failure to take corrective measures were repeatedly raised by Congress and NCP leaders during their campaign. Shetti himself had attacked the BJP-Shiv Sena government for its failure to implement the recommendations of the M S Swaminathan Committee’s report.
As Lok Sabha elections took place in multiple phases, the opposition remained hopeful about winning quite a few seats in rural Maharashtra, with many leaders claiming they would cross the 20-mark figure in the state.
The only two seats the alliance won in the rural belt were Chandrapur — where Shiv Sena rebel turned Congress candidate Suresh Dhanorkar won — and Amravati, where Independent candidate Navneet Rana Kaur, who was supported by NCP, won. The results may have a lasting impact on politics in this region, which has traditionally revolved around farm pricing and other rural issues. Most leaders said the results call for some serious soul-searching on why such issues failed to click with the voters.
The more pressing issue now is whether and how such issues will continue to be part of the political discourse. Maharashtra’s agricultural belt is battling multiple hurdles — drought-like conditions in several talukas, fodder and water crisis and cane dues worth crores. But these issues, responsible for the deep distress in the farm belt, failed to affect the voters’ choice.
Leaders like Shetti, who have consistently been elected on agrarian issues, will now have to decide whether they will continue to raise these issues or change their narrative to conform to the current political narrative.
Shetti has promised to keep raising these issues, but not everyone agrees with him. “Maybe we will have to think of a different strategy and for that, we need to go back to the drawing board,” said another leader.
With assembly elections just a few months away, the results have thrown a new set of challenges in the Swabhimani Paksha’s way. During the seat-sharing talk with the NCP and Congress, Shetti’s close aide Ravikant Tupkar was promised an MLA ticket by NCP supremo Sharad Pawar. Now, the NCP may find it difficult to fulfill even this promise.
Incidentally, Shetti had walked out of the NDA in 2018 over the “non-fulfillment” of the ruling alliance’s promises about farmers’ issues.