ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Political Devaluation

The spate of farmer suicides in Vidarbha last month has been callously disregarded.

In the run-up to the Maharashtra assembly elections, held in October 2009, it was clear that, despite its two earlier lacklustre terms, the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party’s Democratic Front was not facing an anti-incumbency wave. Despite this, the fact that the Congress won 24 seats in Vidarbha, which had seen 7,234 farmer suicides since 2004, and that the combine captured six of the seven seats in Yavatmal district, which was among the worst affected by the agrarian crisis, came as a shock to many. In the Lok Sabha elections held earlier in the year, western Vidarbha had voted overwhelmingly for the Shiv Sena-Bharatiya Janata Party combine but the horrific number of farmer suicides due to indebtedness did not figure prominently as an election issue in the assembly polls. Political workers had told journalists in private that since farmers vote largely according to caste loyalty irrespective of political affiliation, the parties who put up the “right caste” candidate did not have to fear any backlash.

Now, in the last week of March, according to media reports and the opposition’s statements in the state legislature, 25 farmers in Vidarbha committed suicide with 11 of them dying over a span of just 48 hours. This news was overshadowed by the “free-for-all” media coverage of Sania Mirza and Shoaib Malik’s woes; it got a mere single-column coverage in the inside pages of most newspapers. The assembly proceedings were adjourned twice amidst noisy scenes. The state government stuck to its stand that while the issue was “serious” it was not the subject of an adjournment notice and would be discussed in the House later. That was enough to stall further public debate or agitation on the issue.

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