Sugar-coated offensive against big daddies
Batting for the sugar cooperatives before the party bosses in Delhi, Devendra Fadnavis intensifies further the BJP's effort to weaken the NCP-Congress dominance over the sector
Opposition leader Devendra Fadnavis may have said that his recent visit to New Delhi was devoid of any political agenda against the backdrop of the Rajasthan crisis, but leaders across the parties, including his own clan, will not buy this explanation.
His visit did serve the purpose of creating political perceptions, based on which the unfolding of events could be speculated. Fadnavis talked a lot about the issues that have been dogging the sugar industry and the cooperatives that have shaped up the rich sugar belt and political hotbed of the western and southern Maharashtra, and partly Marathwada. The leaders from these areas have ruled the state for most of the period, thanks to the committed vote banks and the money power they built through the cooperatives sector. Sharad Pawar has been lording over the sector, but the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) first dented his fiefdom in 2014. It started making inroads by disrupting the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and Congress-controlled sugar lobby and the farmers, who are equally interested in cooperative politics.
The BJP’s disruptions came through the induction of sugar barons in its fold. Before that happened at a bigger scale, some influential BJP leaders had made a mark in the sugar industry by setting up cooperative sugar factories. Some of them chose to own private units (the greenfield projects as well as the defunct cooperatives they bought in government auctions).
It was an all-party bonhomie that helped the BJP (then in opposition), and Shiv Sena leaders, in creating a footprint in the cash-rich agro industry sector. They also entered the business of breweries, ethanol plants and cogeneration (sugar factories use by-products to generate power and supply it to the electricity grid). However, since the NCP and Congresspersons continued to dominate the field, it became pertinent for the BJP to break the monopoly. And when it assumed undisputed power in 2014, Fadnavis ensured that the opposition loosened the grip and approached him for the support to sustain.
The crisis in cooperative banking had deepened, thanks to previous chief minister Prithviraj Chavan’s corrective action in the apex state bank and its allied district units, that were accused of catering to the needs of their political bosses. After RBI intervention, the state cooperative bank did recover in three-four years, but nearly 50 per cent of the allied district banks (their attachments such as credit societies) couldn’t recover, because of deep rot. It was time, Fadnavis tried appropriating the cooperative sugar and banking sectors. The process started with powerful NCP and Congress leaders defecting to the BJP between 2015 and 2019. Some had sensed the power-shift and made BJP their home ahead of the 2014 Lok Sabha and Assembly polls. The delegation Fadnavis led to Delhi comprised only such imports from the NCP and Congress, who should get due credit in their respective fiefdoms, once the Centre offered the farmers and sugar industry – both cooperative and private – financial assistance and national package.
Efforts continue post-MVA
Fadnavis’ move is politically significant because the MVA experiment had stalled an action-plan that he had charted out for the cooperative sector for the next five years. Sharad Pawar has got into the driver’s seat again. One of the proposals that came up in the initial cabinet meetings from the NCP was about giving sugar factories financial respite.
CM Uddhav Thackeray relented after a couple of meetings, but not before asking the NCP some uncomfortable questions to the finance and cooperation departments that are held by Pawar’s appointees. But the 100-days of a pandemic-induced financial crisis has brought the state coffers to such a stage that the government is not able to make salaries in time, forget other essential expenses. The MVA has blamed the Modi Sarkar for not releasing the due grants and tax share, the charge Fadnavis has denied time and again and presented to the state how it could raise the capital by sending proper proposals to the Centre which has announced different packages. The former CM has also toured the entire COVID-infected state to gather the information that he has shared with both the state as the opposition leader, and the Centre as the BJP’s point person, in Maharashtra. In his meetings with PM Modi and Minister of Home Amit Shah he has shared vital inputs that should be complementary to the top leaders’ independent information gathering.
Of late, it has become a straight fight between ‘old horse’ Sharad Pawar and ‘young Turk’ Fadnavis. They have called out each other and claimed to have made stunning exposures over disintegrating the Fadnavis-Ajit Pawar government and the making of MVA, which the BJP’s former CM is confident of breaking up due to internal contradictions and without his party’s machinations.
In lobbying for the cooperative sector with the PM and others in the Centre, the sugar sector in particular, Fadnavis may have given Pawar some new ideas to approach the area of interest the former union agriculture minister loves dearly.
Dharmendra Jore is political editor, mid-day. He tweets @dharmendrajore Send your feedback to email@example.com
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