Attributing his defeat in the Hatkanangale Lok Sabha constituency to Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), Swabhimani Paksha chief Raju Shetti on Monday said that vital issues affecting farmers and their future were all swept aside in this year’s general elections.
He said Mr. Ambedkar, whose front severely undercut the chances of NCP-Congress and their allies, should look “beyond personal political gain” in the Assembly elections due later this year.
“I concur with Mr. Ambedkar’s sentiments on the need to fight Mr. Modi and the ruling BJP to save the Constitution. But if that indeed was his intent, then why is it that his vote-splitting tactics have ended up benefiting the BJP-Sena in Maharashtra?” Mr. Shetti aked.
A two-time MP from Hatkanangale in Kolhapur, Mr. Shetti, who secured 4.87 lakhs votes, lost to the Shiv Sena’s Dhairyasheel Mane by a margin of 96,000 votes in what turned out to be one of the biggest upsets in the State and in the ‘sugar heartland’ of western Maharashtra.
The key factor here proved to be the presence of the VBA candidate Sayyad Aslam who secured 1.23 lakh votes, thus depriving Mr. Shetti of the crucial support of the backward castes.
Mr. Shetti, who severed ties with the BJP-led NDA in 2017, told The Hindu that the VBA’s candidates, by cannibalizing the Congress-NCP’s traditional vote bases had indirectly helped the BJP-Sena to win on at least eight or nine crucial Lok Sabha seats including Hatkanangale.
Gopichand Padalkar of VBA also played spoilsport to Swabhimani Paksha’s Vishal Patil in Sangli.
Mr. Shetti’s loss is being viewed by his supporters and well-wishers as being detrimental to the interests of the farmers as they have now lost an ‘authentic’ leader who could take up their cause in Parliament.
“A number of factors contributed to my defeat, not least the entry of the VBA which only queered my pitch and benefited the BJP. The other factor was that while the farmers in this region voted for me, their children veered towards Mr. Modi, chiefly owing to the aura of hyper-patriotism, post the Balakot airstrikes,” said Mr. Shetti.
He however stressed that while he had lost an election, he was far from defeated and would continue to fight for farmers and address their problems.
His immediate objective, he said, was to help the farmers and their families in the drought-afflicted hinterland.
“I am going to visit every fodder camp and take stock of the situation. This government [BJP-Sena govt.] was not sensitive about farmers’ issues in the past and will be even more apathetic in the coming term, now that they have secured absolute majority. The reports of a deficient rainfall this time means that farmers’ problems will only multiply and they will have a hard time securing a fair price for their produce,” Mr. Shetti said.
Some observers feel that Mr. Shetti’s alliance with Sharad Pawar’s NCP and the Congress cost him Hatkanangale as he was, until recently, the avowed nemesis of Mr. Pawar and the ‘sugar lobby’ in western Maharashtra headed by NCP and Congress politicians.
But Swabhimani Paksha leaders and workers say Mr. Shetti was defeated because the contest in Hatkanangale was fought on caste factors.
“The BJP and RSS indulged in vicious campaigning, particularly on social media. Right from spreading canards that Mr. Shetti was partial towards the Jain community in the Sangli-Kolhapur belt to projecting him as an ‘arrogant’ and ‘privileged’ leader, they completely diverted issues plaguing farmers,” said Swabhimani Paksha leader Anil Pawar.
Mr. Pawar further said despite the Paksha having a stronger ground-level organisation owing to Mr. Shetti’s origins as a grassroot leader, the BJP shrewdly manoeuvred the campaign with their ‘negative’ propaganda of Mr. Shetti via social media.
“In the end, Hatkanangale witnessed something unprecedented in the past 15 years in that it was fought entirely on caste lines and not on farmers’ issues,” said Mr. Shetti.
He further said that Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) should be accommodated into the Congress-NCP coalition and that he would be meeting MNS chief on Tuesday to discuss preparations for the Assembly elections.