Bharat Mata Vs Drought

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Drought and farmer suicides continue to ravage Maharashtra but Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis seems clueless about how to tackle it. Rather the Bharat Mata Ki Jai controversy seems designed to divert public attention BY VIJAY NAIK

As summer temperatures rise, Maharashtra is a hot mix of anger, intolerance, frustration, callousness and political chicanery. Mumbai may reflect the glitter of a million lights and boast of being India’s most sophisticated, businesslike and forward looking city, but this pales in comparison to the drought baking large parts of the state.

Add to that Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis, tilting at windmills in an effort to divert public attention from the crisis in his backyard. Bharat Mata Ki Jai was the windmill with the chief minister delivering a rather theatrical warning: ’’Some people say, we will not say Bharat Mata Ki Jai. Then what? Pakistan ki jai or China ki jai? If you want to live in this country then you have to say Bharat Mata Ki Jai, otherwise you have no right to live here.’’ Emboldened by the silence of the BJP brass, the chief minister of one of India’s most wealthy and progressive states, said he would not take back what he said or apologize for it.

The question being asked is what happened to the young man, who less than two years ago, taking over as chief minister conveyed dynamism and political maturity. A largely irrelevant debate on Bharat Mata appears to have consumed him, making him lose every sense of proportion. Today, Fadnavis is seen as just one step behind Baba Ramdev, a pro-BJP spiritual guru-turned industrialist cum politician. Ramdev of course controversially promised to have beheaded those who refused to chant ‘Bharat Mata...’ were it not for the law of the land. It begged the question whether Ramdev desired anarchy to prevail. The ultra-nationalism is echoing in the state assembly, where even secular parties like the Congress and NCP, backed the BJP and Shiv Sena’s suspension of Waris Pathan, All India Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen member and MLA. It begged another question: if these parties could support the BJP-Shiv Sena in the assembly, why are they now accusing Fadnavis of threatening Muslims? Clearly, there is no end to politicians and their double games.

DROUGHT & DEATH

It does seem, however, that the chief minister’s public fulminations could be intended to blur the distress caused by drought gripping parts of Maharashtra. Latur district in the Marathwada region figures on international maps for acute water scarcity. Pictures of parched farmland, reports of dying cattle and farmers who have given up on life, fill the pages of newspapers every day. The case of 55 year old Natabai Tenkale, who died of sheer exhaustion after standing in queue for hours to fill a pot of water, was widely reported. Although trains carrying water have reached the district, a broader long term plan is not discernible and politicians across the board, have no solutions to offer.

Over a 10 month period beginning in January last year, 2590 farmers across the state committed suicide, the highest number since 2001

The distress in Marathwada coincides with the resurgence of the movement for a Vidarbha state carved out of Maharashtra. Ironically, the man behind the resurgence is Shrihari Ane, in whose law firm Fadnavis had worked. It’s no secret that the latter regards Ane as his guru and his appointment as state attorney general was the chief minister’s dakshina to his guru. But when Ane got too vocal about Vidarbha, Fadnavis had to ask him to quit. Ane has taken his pitch to Delhi where at Janta Mantar, he organized a pro-Vidarbha rally.

The BJP finds itself in a fix over this demand. Having created Uttarakhand, Chattisgarh and Jharkhand, it is morally bound to create Vidarbha. This view was further bolstered by BJP leader and Union Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari, who three years ago promised that if his party came to power at the Centre, it would create Vidarbha. The RSS too seems in favour of Vidarbha, witness MG Vaidya, the group’s former spokesman, demanding that three states be carved out of Maharashtra: Marathwada, Konkan and Vidarbha. All three regions have lagged far behind over the years despite provincial development boards being set up. The boards were supposed to make up the accumulated financial backlog amounting to Rs.30,000 crore but it remains a task half done.

Noted economist and former finance secretary Vijay Kelkar’s report on regional imbalances in Maharashtra, had suggested region specific growth strategies drawing on their “dynamic comparative advantage anchored in their resource endowment, locational advantage” and so on.

The bigger question is why Vidarbha remained backward and under developed even when it had stalwarts like the late Vasantrao Naik as chief minister for 11 years. Naik was from Vidarbha, yet development never picked up. Marotrao Kannamwar was another former CM from the same region, add to that former central ministers Vasant Sathe and NKP Salve.

The suspicion is funds are being diverted to sustain the prosperity of western Maharashtra, which was endorsed by a Planning Commission report in 2006. In fact, Nitin Gadkari, then an opposition leader, was quoted as saying that funds for Vidarbha and other backward regions are released only towards the end of the year when they cannot be fully utilized, so the money is spent on projects outside the region.

Result: Distress and death. A report in The Hindu dated Dec. 2015, listed more than 17,000 farmer suicides over a 14 year period beginning in 2001, most of them in Vidarbha. Over a 10 month period beginning in January last year, 2590 farmers across the state committed suicide, the highest number since 2001. The pundits say if the stalwarts of that era could not help Vidarbha, why blame a relative newcomer like Fadanvis. But that’s small comfort for the CM.

BMC, CORRUPTION

If the countryside is baking, the Mumbai pot is simmering. BJP-Shiv Sena suspicion and antagonism, fuelled by Uddhav Thackeray’s threats of walking out of the coalition, has another point of contention: The elections to the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) due early next year. The corporation is India’s richest with an annual budget of Rs.30,000 crore and has been controlled by the Shiv Sena for the last two decades.

Latur district in the Marathwada region figures on international maps for acute water scarcity. Pictures of parched farmland, reports of dying cattle and farmers who have given up on life

BJP president Amit Shah has set his sights on taking control of the body while Thackeray is equally determined to remain in control. But the Sena is not the only opponent. In the 227 member BMC, the Sena has 75 seats, Congress 50 and BJP 32. The NCP has 14 seats and Raj Thackeray’s MNS has 28. With the BJP-Sena regarded as highly unlikely to fight together, it will be a tough, multi-cornered contest.

Those politics aside, Fadnavis faces another challenge in the corruption case involving former state deputy chief minister Chagan Bhujbal. He was arrested by the Enforcement Directorate in a scam of several hundred crores concerning the construction of Maharashtra Sadan in Delhi. Bhujbal’s nephew Samir has been in jail since February and son Pankaj has already been questioned.

The point is whether former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar (or former minister Sunil Tatkare) could get dragged in. Given the reported relationship between Narendra Modi and NCP chief Sharad Pawar, it’s not clear if the investigation will proceed to its logical conclusion. Either way Fadnavis will take the flak.

The CM’s conduct will be closely watched in some other cases including that of former NCP minister Babanrao Pachpute, who is in a soup over non-payment of Rs.288 crore by his sugar mill Saikrupa. His assets were attached by the Punjab National Bank. There’s another case known as the 6000 crore ‘tribal scheme scam’ where Pachpute’s predecessor Vijaykumar Gavit, is accused of massive corruption.

The only silver lining is the revolution the women of Maharashtra have set in motion, by breaking the 400-year-old tradition banning women’s entry into the Shani Shingnapur temple. Trupti Desai and women of the Bhumata Brigade later headed for Trimbakeshwar temple in Nasik, and although they were stopped and detained by police, their march will continue. This is one campaign where Fadnavis can make his mark.

Summary

  • Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis is under pressure as drought and farmer suicides ravage his state
  • Rather than prioritizing the war on drought, he appears to be tilting at windmills in an effort to divert public attention
  • His conduct on several corruption scandals will be closely watched including those that could touch Sharad Pawar’s family
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