One way to guage public sentiment would be to think of issues that may influence voter behaviour in the general election. In Maharashtra, there are several state-centric problems that are likely to be talking points in the battle for the 48 Lok Sabha seats. Here’s a rundown for readers
In 2016 and 2017, the Marathas, estimated to constitute 31% of the state’s population, took out 50 silent marches across Maharashtra.
The main demand was for reservation, and the pitch was so strident that
The move has been challenged in Bombay high court as overall quotas now go beyond 50%, shrinking opportunities in the open category. The OBCs, too, are feeling insecure following the move. Besides, there are fears that it may have opened a Pandora’s box, provoking other communities to make similar demands. The Dhangar community, to start with, feels betrayed that it did not get Scheduled Tribe status. To boot, there is the 10% quota for the economically weak, to further expand the quota pie
For several years, Maharashtra has topped the country in farmer suicides. It’s also seen many agrarian agitations. In last five years, reverses in rural sector have included pest attacks on cotton and a crash in onion and sugar prices due to a glut. The crash resulted in unpaid dues to cane farmers. In 2017, calls for higher prices for produce led to declaration of a loan waiver. Then in 2018, the Kisan Sabha carried out a march from Nashik to Mumbai, demanding that loan waiver terms be expanded and community rights granted to tribals tilling forest land.
So far, a loan waiver of Rs 34,022 crore has been promised to 89 lakh farmers, of which the state has transferred Rs 18,036 crore to 43 lakh farmers. In addition, there are subsidies to dairy and onion farmers and compensation for pest attacks. But opposition parties say government measures are too little and too late.
The drought that has set in across 42% of Maharashtra’s talukas and deepened rural distress is a major challenge for the BJP-led government. The crisis has affected 60% of the state’s 1.4 crore farmers and impacted 54% of the kharif crop. In Marathwada, this is the third drought in five years. Activists say it has resulted in a spike in migration of farmers and farmhands in search of work.
The state has declared drought in 151 talukasthese will be eligible for Central aid. It has also declared a ‘drought-like’ condition in 931 villages and 50 revenue circles.
In all, the state has sought assistance of Rs 7,962 crore from the Centre, of which Rs 4714 crore has been approved. The state has also made a separate provision for drought relief from its own funds.
It says its water conservation scheme Jalyukta Shivar has blunted the worst impact of the drought. However, the opposition has termed the scheme not only a failure, but also a big scam
Tribal land rights
Maharashtra government has been under fire from tribal farmers and activists over implementation of the Forest Right Act, 2006.
There have been three marches to Mumbai in the last two years demanding that landless tribals who have been tilling the land for decades be given ownership of those strips. Nearly 1 lakh applications under FRA are pending with the state, said an activist. This issue could add to pressure on the BJP regime.
The government, however, says it has set up a cell to ensure that applications are tackled swiftly.
On January 1, 2018, Dalit groups were attacked when they gathered near the Koregaon Bhima victory tower near Pune to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the battle in which Dalits fought for British troops against the Peshwas; they celebrate the day as ‘Shaurya Divas’. This led to more violence resulting in deaths and damage to property worth crores. More importantly, the role of upper caste, right-wing outfits came under focus for allegedly fomenting trouble
Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on February 9, 2018, set up a two-member commission led by Justice J N Patel to probe the entire Koregaon-Bhima episode. Former chief secretary Sumit Mullick is also on the panel. Both Justice Patel and Mullick visited Koregaon-Bhima to study the situation. The statements of a few witnesses have been recorded.
Since coming to power, the BJP’s biggest priority has been infrastructure, particularly transport. This has translated into projects such as new metro lines for Mumbai, Pune, Nagpur, Mumbai Trans-Harbour Link and the Mumbai Nagpur Samruddhi Expressway, besides the Centre’s ambitious bullet train. Besides several state highways have been upgraded as national highways and expanded into four-lanes.
With both Gadkari and Fadnavis hailing from Nagpur, infrastructure work in Nagpur is seen as benefiting the Vidarbha region.
While BJP harps on these developments, the opposition is hoping to tap into resentment among those directly affected by the projects, which includes farmers, tribals and in some cases, urban residents over land acquisition and pollution.
In January this year, BJP leader and Union minister Nitin Gadkari said unemployment is the biggest problem facing the country, adding that there’s a “difference” between employment and jobs. The next month saw Maharashtra government receiving nearly 8 lakh applications for around 4,400 jobs. The jobs on offer were part of the 72,000 posts for which the state government, two years ago, had planned a mega-recruitment drive; the process has finally commenced after a long delay owing to a lack of decision on the Maratha quota. On the private sector front too, the government similarly hopes to redeem itself by improving its ease of doing business ranking, which is expected to make the state a more investmentfriendly destination.
However, lack of jobs remains a sticky point. The unemployment rate in India is at its highest since September 2016—it rose to 7.2% in February this year, from 5.9 percent in February 2018, according to data compiled by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE).
*Govt’s claim citing EPFO data
On the day the LS poll schedule was announced, South Mumbai residents were on the streets protesting construction of the coastal road. Mumbaikars see environment as an issue for the poll amid rising air pollution and cutting of trees for Metro. Similarly in Vidarbha, barring increase in relief for relocation from tiger reserves, government’s record on conservation has been dismal. State’s forest cover has dipped. In Congress-NCP rule, 7 new protected areas (PAs) were notified, while only 1 was notified in BJP-Sena term, prompting charges of overexploitation of natural resources