Agri Business

One note, one vote: How farmers in Maharashtra are funding a poll campaign

Radheshyam Jadhav Kolhapur | Updated on March 21, 2019

Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana Lok Sabha MP Raju Shetti (second right) receives election funds from farmers in Kolhapur district

Ryots in the sugar belt use their own money, shun funding from mill owners

“I have money to contribute to your election fund,” says a man in tattered clothes, taking out a soiled ₹10 note from his pocket. He hands over the note with a broad smile and a promise: “I have given a note, and now I will vote.”

It’s a sunny afternoon in a tiny hamlet in the remote Shahuwadi taluka of Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district. Small farmers and farm labourers have gathered to donate election funds to the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghtana (SSS), the leading farmers’ organisation in the State.

Since 2001, when the SSS decided to enter electoral politics, farmers in the sugar belt have been shouldering the responsibility of election funds. The organisation does not accept money from corporate houses or sugar barons.

“One note, one vote” is the tagline of the SSS campaign. Two time Lok Sabha MP and SSS president Raju Shetti believes it is best for farmers if they, along with common people, fund elections.

Rising collections

Having gathered ₹44 lakh and ₹64 lakh, respectively, in the last two Lok Sabha polls, farmers in the sugar belt of Maharashtra are hoping to collect ₹75 lakh this time.

Shetti won the 2009 and 2014 general elections from Hatkanangale constituency, defeating sugar barons Nivedita Mane and Kallappa Awade, respectively, by over 1 lakh votes each. Hatkanangale is part of the sugar-rich Kolhapur district in western Maharashtra.

SSS has launched several agitations against the sugar mills that dot the region, demanding better returns for farm produce and a fair and remunerative price (FRP).

“Now we are receiving election funds from educated people and those living abroad,” says Shetti. “We are getting anything from ₹10 to ₹1 lakh, and we ensure that every single rupee is spent judiciously, as it is hard-earned money.”

The funds are used for campaigns and advertising. Party workers use their own vehicles for the campaign, bringing food packed from home for rallies.

Clear priorities

In 2014, the SSS had joined hands with the BJP and the Shiv Sena. This time around, the NCP and the Congress have offered it support. For Shetti, a new alliance is just an electoral equation.

“We are going to fight with anyone who is against farmers’ interests,” he says. He points out that though his party has allied with the NCP and Congress, it had recently agitated against senior members from those parties who control sugar mills and had refused to pay FRP arrears.

“We get our dues because of our organisation and once in five years we are more than happy to donate funds to our party. But it is not just funds, but also a vote,” says Baba Patil, a farmer.

Over the past 10 years, sugar mill owners in the region have not been able to suppress the farmers’ movement only because the movement stands on its own money and power, he adds.

Published on March 21, 2019

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