Raju Shetti, milk and the politics of Western Maharashtra

This is the second time since 2007 that the MP has taken up the issue of milk pricing but this time Shetti has more than just pricing on his mind.

Milk is again on the boil in Maharashtra especially in Western Maharashtra, where MP Raju Shetti is leading the statewide call for supply stoppage of milk to urban areas of the state. This is the second time since 2007 that the MP has taken up the issue of milk pricing but this time Shetti has more than just pricing on his mind. With the 2019 elections fast approaching the agitation, which has got enough traction, is a clear message to his foes as well as to allies of his political relevance and the role he wishes to play in the polls.

The politics of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana and its founder’s politics has revolved around pricing of sugarcane and other agrarian issues. Cane, with its fixed method of payment has allowed the sanghtana to carve out a distinct niche for itself in the sugar belt. While Shetti has managed to be get elected twice from the constituency of Hathkhanagale in Kolhapur district, other leaders have not been that lucky in their electoral battles. Barring some seats in the local self government bodies the sanghtana leaders have not been successful in their electoral battles.

Shetti, whose political career has been marked by opposing the sugar millers who invariably were from either the Congress or Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), had sided with the BJP in 2014 polls. However the farmers leader had parted with the NDA last year claiming the failure of the BJP to protect the interest of farmers. Since parting ways with the NDA, Shetti has become one of the bitterest critic of the central government and has spent considerable time in building up a nationwide consensus among farmers body.

Christened All India Kisan Sangharsha Coordination Committee (AIKSCC), this body has over 190 farmers bodies and have drafted two legislations which talk of a complete loan waivers for farmers as well a mechanism to ensure assured payment for the farmers. The coordination committee has canvassed the support of almost all opposition parties for the Bills and Shetti along with another MP will be introducing the same in monsoon session of the Parliament.

With just nine months left for the general elections, Shetti’s agitation has a dual edge. While highlighting the issue of low realisations of milk farmers, he also wishes to reinstate his political significance as a mass leader among farmers. The later will come in use while bargaining for seats in case an united opposition decides to take on the BJP for the general elections. In the past Shetti has not ruled out his willingness to be part of such an alliance provided his demands are met. The present agitation which has seen the government getting on the back foot in regards to the question of a direct subsidy for dairy farmers, is his message to his future allies about his political significance.

The question of milk pricing assumes importance in the western part of the state which accounts for almost 60 per cent of the milk collection in Maharashtra. Given the magnitude of agrarian distress the country is facing, leaders like Shetti whose support base can swing the balance between victory and defeat in a dozen or so constituencies. Also given the emotive appeal of the issue in the rural heartland, Shetti hopes to not only strengthen his base but also ensure a lion’s share in any future alliance before the polls.

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