SOLAPUR/ AHMEDNAGAR/MADHA/ OSMANABAD: It is 2.15pm and the scorching sun makes Valsang village in Solapur district look even starker than it is. Ashabai Bhogappa Kamble, 45, is struggling to extract whatever little water is left at the bottom of a well in a bucket tied to a long rope. In the morning, a tanker contracted by the government had poured around 6,000 litres into the well. “That’s all we have for the day. The next tanker for this well will come tomorrow morning," Kamble says. Nearby, Siddharam Balshingkar, 30, is trying to balance two plastic pots on his bicycle.
Kamble and Balshingkar are landless labourers. For them, the drought means less opportunity to work as farm labourers. On 18 April, these victims of drought will vote, though they have little hope of a positive change irrespective of who wins the elections. “Kaahi farak padat nahi. Nivadnukaanchya veli nete lok khup aashwasana detat aani nivadnukinantar nete tyanchya ghari aani aamhi aamchya ghari (Elections do not matter. During elections, leaders make many promises but after elections, they are sitting comfortably in their homes and we are left to ourselves," Kamble says despondently.
Solapur, from where senior Congress leader Sushil Kumar Shinde is contesting what he has termed as his last election, goes to polls on Thursday along with nine other constituencies in Marathwada and Vidarbha, all ravaged by Maharashtra’s chronic droughts. In Latur, which in 2016 became the first city in India to be supplied drinking water by a specially commissioned train, has been the epicentre of this drought, along with Osmanabad in Marathwada. There are fodder camps for cattle where government-sourced tankers ferry water four or five times a day all along this long and contiguous trajectory in Vidarbha, Marathwada, and South Maharashtra that comprises parts of Ahmednagar and Madha constituencies too, which go to polls in the next phases.
One such fodder camp has been set up near Nimgaon-Daku village on the outskirts of Ahmednagar. “We are here for the last four weeks. The water situation is turning critical every passing day, though the government has done all it could. (Prime Minister Narendra) Modiji was right when he said yesterday that the next war will be fought over the water crisis," said Vijay Bhosle, a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporter and Nimgao-Daku native referring to the Modi rally in Ahmednagar on 12 April.
In Madha though, local journalist Pramod Gosavi, who calls himself an Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) sympathizer, said drought and agrarian issues are going to work against the BJP. “Modiji talked about a new jal niti (water policy) but it is all hogwash because little has been done to address drought and farm crisis in the last five years," Gosavi said.
Drought is a major issue here and its victims are convinced their vote will not bring about any change. However, they are still determined to exercise their franchise. Khandu Waghmare, 47, in Valsang, has 22 acres of farm land where he grows pulses and cereals. “I haven’t seen the situation change in the last 25 years here. Shinde was chief minister once and MP twice, but he hasn’t been able to make any change on the ground," Waghmare says. He blames Modi also for what he terms “restrictive schemes". “Now he has declared a monetary assistance scheme for farmers holding up to 5 acres of land. But are only those farmers in need of help? I own 22 acres but my farm productivity is low because of frequent droughts that have led to deterioration in the fertility of land," Waghmare says, adding that he favoured Prakash Ambedkar of the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh (BBM) who is contesting from Solapur. He is the candidate of Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi, an alliance between the BBM and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen.
At 4.30pm, another tanker brings water to a different locality in Valsang. Within moments, a serpentine queue of plastic containers appears, because water must be collected before the tanker runs dry. The excitement for water clearly trumps the enthusiasm for elections.
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