Mumbai: Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) veteran and former finance minister Yashwant Sinha, who has launched frequent broadsides against the Narendra Modi government, embarrassed the BJP yet again on Tuesday, staging a dharna (sit-in) at Akola in Maharashtra’s Vidarbha region over farm issues. Sinha also had a phone conversation with Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar over these issues.

The NCP is already conducting a protest named ‘Halla Bol’ across Maharashtra, demanding implementation of the farm loan waiver and direct financial assistance to cotton growers whose crop has been damaged by the pink bollworm infestation. Sinha started his protest in Akola, one of the cotton-growing districts in Maharashtra that has reported many farm suicides.

He was joined by the activists of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, a political party which left the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance in August over the NDA’s alleged failure to address farmers’ issues. The BJP leader was detained on Monday for some time but was released soon after. He resumed his protest on Tuesday morning. Later in the day, Sinha spoke with Pawar on the phone and expressed his resolve to continue the fight, said a Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana activist who requested anonymity.

Sinha was also joined by social activist and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson Tushar Gandhi. The BJP leader demanded that the National Agriculture Co-operative Marketing Federation of India, a government agency, purchase all farm produce at the government-declared Minimum Support Price (MSP). Nana Patole, BJP MP from Gondiya in Vidarbha, also joined Sinha later in the day. Like Sinha, Patole too has taken a critical position against the BJP leadership and Modi over the last six months.

The Devendra Fadnavis government in Maharashtra has attracted criticism over the tardy implementation of the Rs34,022 crore farm loan waiver. In addition, cotton farmers and farm labourers in Vidarbha have also been bit by the instances of pesticide poisoning. Senior NCP leaders like former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar and Baramati MP Supriya Sule are leading the NCP protest in Vidarbha, ahead of the winter session of the state legislature beginning 11 December in Nagpur.

On Monday, opposition political parties rushed to support Sinha. Maharashtra state Congress chief Ashok Chavan said by getting a party veteran like Sinha detained when he was protesting over genuine farm issues, the BJP had proved that it could not tolerate dissent and democratic modes of protest.

A state BJP functionary, who did not wish to be identified, however, dismissed Sinha’s protest as a “stunt" to get the party leadership to “sack" him. “All these leaders like Sinha, Shatrughan Sinha, and Patole are instigating the party leadership to sack them so that they look like martyrs. But the leadership has decided to ignore them. As regards the farm concerns, the government is doing all it can. It is ironical that Sinha has chosen to join those very political forces like the NCP which have pushed farmers into this agrarian crisis," said the BJP functionary.

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