In the arid expanses of Maharashtra’s Marathwada region, a looming drought casts a long shadow over the parched fields and dry riverbeds. The dams stand eerily quiet and their reserves nearly empty with just 15.55 per cent water left in reservoirs.

As the grim tableau heralds another impending crisis and amidst this escalating plight, the ₹70,000- crore irrigation scam, which once dominated the political discourse during the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, has all but evaporated from the public debate and political campaign.

The scam — a glaring example of alleged financial mismanagement and corruption — shockingly revealed in 2012 that despite an astronomical investment in various irrigation projects, Maharashtra’s ability to harness water had improved only 0.1 per cent over a decade.

Later, the Maharashtra Anti-Corruption Bureau (ACB) informed the Bombay High Court about major lapses on the part of politicos and government officials.

Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, along with other NCP ministers, was in charge of the irrigation department between 1999 and 2014 under the Congress-NCP regime in Maharashtra.

The scandal implicated several high-profile leaders, including Pawar, who now, in a twist of political fate, finds shelter within the ranks of the BJP — the very party that once vociferously attacked him on this issue.

Silent waters

Last year in June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi while speaking in Bhopal had said NCP faces allegations of scams of nearly ₹70,000 crore along with other scams.

The very next month, Ajit Pawar split the NCP and took oath as Deputy Chief Minister in the BJP-supported Eknath Shinde government in Maharashtra. Today, an uncomfortable silence envelops the scam in the election campaign. The BJP-led alliance, which includes Pawar, strategically steers clear of the topic, perhaps wary of opening old wounds that might bleed into new alliances.

Meanwhile, Sharad Pawar’s NCP, is conspicuously silent, choosing political expediency over electoral confrontation.

Even the Congress and the Shiv Sena tread lightly around the issue, reluctant to stir the political pot that involves the powerful Pawar clan.

This collective muteness among the political elite stands in stark contrast to the desperation of the people in the State, who watch helplessly as their lifeline dwindles with each passing day and their plight ignored in the corridors of power where once fiery debates raged over the very water they now so desperately lack.

Mob Mentality

Activists like Vishwambhar Choudhary — spearheading the ‘Nirbhay Bano’ campaign across the State — express concerns that leaders embroiled in corruption might soon be exonerated due to their new alliances with the ruling party, effectively shielding them from any investigative scrutiny.

Farmer leader Amar Habib criticises the prevailing “mob mentality” during elections, often overshadowing critical issues and debates.

He points out that while the electorate may be captivated by stories like Ajit Pawar’s political manoeuvring against his uncle to ally with the BJP — a narrative that resonates emotionally with voters — the grave implications of the irrigation scam and its impact on their lives remain largely ignored.

“It’s these emotional and irrational campaign themes that dominate, leading voters away from substantive issues that directly affect them,” said Habib.