It won’t be a surprise if Raju Shetti, the first to part ways with the National Democratic Alliance, citing agrarian distress, joins hands with the Congress and becomes part of the UPA, reports Sunil Gatade.
IMAGE: Raju Shetti, the Lok Sabha MP from Hatkanangle, along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during a rally in 2014. A former NDA ally, Shetti now views the current dispensation as one that doesn't understand the plight of the farmers, and those taking decisions as unapproachable. Photograph: @rajushetti/Twitter
Raju Shetti, the Lok Sabha MP from Hatkanangle in Maharashtra, has many firsts to his credit. His first election to the assembly from Shirol in 2004 was fought through the campaign of “one note, one vote” by supporters in the sugar belt of Kolhapur, Sangli and Satara in western Maharashtra.
It was possibly the first instance of a farmer leader making an entry into the state politics by raising donations -- from Re 1 to Rs 100 -- showing his links with the grassroots.
Ten years later, his aligning with the Bharatiya Janata Party in the Lok Sabha polls in 2014 helped the saffron party make inroads into the bastion of Nationalist Congress Party supremo Sharad Pawar, thanks to a grand alliance stitched by the late Gopinath Munde, former deputy chief minister and Union minister.
Munde’s confidence was not misplaced as Shetti had caused an upset for the NCP in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls by defeating its sitting member Nivedita Mane from Hathkangale constituency, thereby making a major breach in the Pawar bastion.
A detractor of Pawar, Munde saw in leaders like Shetti and Mahadev Jankar the key to challenge the Maratha strongman in the prosperous sugar belt. Jankar is a minister in the Maharashtra government and had narrowly lost the Lok Sabha poll from Pawar’s pocket borough of Baramati in 2014.
Last year, the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, led by Shetti, became the first National Democratic Alliance constituent to part ways, citing agrarian distress and the government’s lacklustre approach towards farmer issues.
Earlier, despite being part of the NDA, he was in the forefront of the protest in the Lok Sabha after police firing on agitating farmers in Mandsaur district of the BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh in June 2017.
He along with some other constituents of the NDA, including the Shiv Sena and the Akali Dal, in 2015 objected to the controversial land acquisition bill that finally did not see the light of the day.
The parting of ways with the NDA was painful for Shetti as after the sudden death of Munde, he had no one to look forward to for resolving his grievances.
Shetti had lamented that there was no one in the Bharatiya Janata Party who understood problems of the farmers and those taking decisions were not approachable. His complaint appeared genuine when Nana Patole resigned from the BJP and the Lok Sabha membership soon after targeting the Centre and the Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra for “neglect” of the cause of farmers.
The rise of the 50-year-old farmer leader in the sugar belt was itself because of his rebellion against Shetkari Sanghatana leader the late Sharad Joshi after he became a Rajya Sabha member with the BJP’s support in 2004. Shetti formed the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana.
Joshi, however, remained a “father figure” for Shetti whom he had often consulted.
BJP did not take kindly to Shetti’s departure from the NDA and attempted to drive a wedge in his organisation by propping up his associate Sadabhau Khot, who is the minister of state for agriculture in Maharashtra. Khot was expelled from the organisation, and he has declared his intention to challenge Shetti in the next Lok Sabha polls.
According to Shetti, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is leading an “anti-farmer regime” and a national agitation is needed to oust it.
It would not be a surprise if he joins hands with the Congress and becomes part of the UPA. He had recently met Congress president Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi.
Having fought many battles for cane growers in the state, Shetti now appears to be eyeing a larger role at the national level. But it is not an easy road.