Farmer's suicide: Shiv Sena attacks ally BJP but it's just politicking
In opposition, the Shiv Sena and the BJP constantly attacked the coalition government of Congress-NCP over the issue of farmer suicides. In fact, it was anger over farm distress, especially in rural areas, that played a major role in Sena-BJP's victory in the 2014 assembly election.
Nearly two years and many promises of the Sena-BJP regime later, the situation of the farmers remains dire. This was made clear by the recent suicide of Vanmala Gaikwad, a farmer from Osmanabad in the drought-hit Marathwada region.
Vanmala had taken a Rs 5 lakh loan from a moneylender to cultivate her land. But despite paying back Rs 20 lakh she still owed money, so cruelly usurious was the loan. The moneylender had been constantly harassing her for the recovery of loan. Unable to take it anymore, she consumed poison Sunday night.
Vanmala was a member of Bhat Shivpura Gram Panchayat in Kalamb taluka, but that didn't save her from being inhumanely exploited by the moneylender mafia. This mafia has long been known for driving farmers to suicide in Maharashtra, yet it continues to thrive, not least because of political and bureaucratic patronage.
Vanmala's suicide is a tragic testament to the abject failure of successive governments to rein in private moneylenders. The Congress-NCP regime made tall claims, through its home minister RR Patil, that the moneylenders harassing farmers would be "severely punished". Of course, none was ever charged, let alone punished.
There seems to be a consensus among political parties in the state to let the moneylenders run rampant. Indeed, no party, even in the opposition, has so much as issued a strong statement on Vanmala's suicide. The Sena is talking about it, of course, but not out of concern for farmer welfare: it's just another opportunity for the party to show down its ruling partner, the BJP. That Vanmala was a Sena member of the gram panchayat is incidental to the party's politicking.
Turning up the heat
Attacking the BJP, an editorial in the Sena mouthpiece Saamna noted that even two years after the change of governments in Maharashtra and at the Centre, farmer suicides continue to take place, and for the same reasons as earlier - debt, drought, loss of crop, "cheating in the name of compensation".
"Will the government now attend to farmers and address their grievances," the editorial asked. Referring to Vanmala, the editorial said she "committed suicide due to harassment by a private moneylender despite repayment of the loan". "The moneylender wanted to grab her land apparently. If this allegation is true, it is high time the state government did some introspection. It's a serious problem that such incidents continue to happen despite stringent laws being in place to control the illegal business of moneylending."
Saamna claimed that more than 1,000 farmers have committed suicide in Vidarbha and Marathwada since the Devendra Fadnavis government took over in 2014. "There are estimates that three farmers commit suicide every day in Vidarbha and Marathwada. If this is the situation in the state even today, what is the difference between the previous government and the current one then? Both are going the same way to cheat poor farmers in the name of compensation."
The paper listed many farmer suicides that have taken place in Marathwada over the past two years, including one from Vanmala's Kalamb taluka itself. Sunil Mutkule, a farmer from Kalamb, had borrowed Rs 1,000 from a private moneylender. "He committed suicide after being harassed for money despite repaying around Rs 22,000 over a year. The moneylender forced him to drink gutter water, due to which he committed suicide," the editorial said. "There are several such stories in Marathwada and Vidarbha. Private moneylenders harass poor farmers every day. Some can't stand the harassment and commit suicide."
Saamna said the voters had elected a new government hoping the situation would "change for the better" once the "corrupt and insensitive government" of Congress-NCP was "buried". "But it seems the people will continue to reel under the same problems," the paper added. "Drought and flood are natural calamities. No one has control over them. But private moneylenders can very well be kept under check. However, this government has failed in its duty. As a result, poor farmers continue to end their lives. The government must take these incidents seriously if it wants to bring about the change it has promised to the people of Maharashtra."