Saif Momin, a 30-year-old software engineer at Hatkanangale in western Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district, would rather the government talked about development than issues that polarise voters.
Momin, like many others, has left his hometown for a job in Pune, where he works in a startup. “There are jobs here in the traditional sectors like education or home-grown sugar and milk industry. But for engineers like me, Hatkanangale or even the larger Kolhapur district does not offer opportunities in modern sectors like IT or telecom," says Momin.
He feels the election narrative should be focused solely on development. “This government actually has something to show in terms of development, like roads and connectivity. But it is focusing on polarization."
Hatkanangale votes along with 13 other constituencies in Maharashtra in the third phase of Lok Sabha elections on 23 April. Apart from jobs, Hatkanangale has long-running concerns like the farm crisis, something that it shares with nearly all other constituencies going to polls in this phase. The landscape is geographically diverse—Jalgaon and Raver in the Khandesh region; Aurangabad and Jalna in Marathwada; Raigad and Ratnagiri-Sindhudurg in Konkan; Madha in south Maharashtra; and Pune, Sangli, Satara, Kolhapur, Hatkanangale, Ahmednagar, and Baramati in western Maharashtra.
These constituencies comprise some of Maharashtra’s most prosperous pockets though there are a few economic laggards as well. For instance, Pune, according to the Directorate of Economics and Statistics, government of Maharashtra, added ₹2.25 trillion of gross district value at current prices in 2016-17, which was the highest after Mumbai and Thane districts. But Jalgaon and Jalna added much lower ₹40,391 crore and ₹16,920 crore respectively during the same period. Like the economic disparity, there is social disparity as well. Pune, again, has the highest human development index (HDI)—0.814—after Mumbai at 0.841, as per the state economic survey of 2017-18. In fact, Pune, Raigad, and Sindhudurg are in the “very high" HDI districts in Maharashtra. In contrast, Jalna is “low" with 0.663.
The constituencies going to polls have another claim to prosperity and represent the cream of Maharashtra’s rural political economy. This entire belt from Pune to Jalgaon is the hub of Maharashtra’s famed sugar industry. Of Maharashtra’s 170-odd sugar industries in the cooperative and private sectors, districts of Ahmednagar, Pune, Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara, Aurangabad, Jalna and Jalgaon account for nearly 100 units with Ahmednagar district alone housing 18.
Dinesh Gadekar, a 27-year-old farmer in Madha and activist of Swambhimani Shetkari Sanghatana which is part of the Congress-Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) alliance and which has fielded sitting MP Raju Shetty from Hatkanangale, says Madha tehsil alone has eight sugar factories. “We have always fought against the sugar factory owners for sugarcane growers’ dues and that is the reason why we went with the BJP (Bharatiya Janata Party) in 2014. But after the disappointment of 5 years, we have consciously allied with Congress-NCP to defeat the BJP. Diverse groups of farmers’ organizations have come together only to ensure that the farmers’ vote does not split," Gadekar said.
Abhijit Kadam, a 28-year-old voter in Shirur, agrees: “My maternal uncle owns irrigated farmland but he has not been getting the right remunerative prices for the farm produce in the last three years. He is thinking of quitting and getting into some other business but there are few options. There are many farmers like him," Kadam says. He says the Modi government has been the least transparent when it came to sharing data on government decisions or actions. “Be it demonetization, job data, or the Rafale deal, there is little transparency that would help voters decide," adds Kadam.
Among the first-time voters, there seems to be a concern that local and developmental issues are not topping the agenda. Shardul Deshpande, 20, and a student of Mumbai’s St. Xavier’s College, will vote for the first time in his hometown Aurangabad. “I am not excited about it because the entire discourse seems to be dominated by the national issues. I looked for local or developmental issues but unfortunately, couldn’t find any at least in the campaign. People to seem to have decided whom to vote for as per their national priorities and what has happened since 2014 at the constituency level hardly seems to matter," Deshpande said.
Mahesh Dangare, Momin’s colleague at the Pune startup, belongs to Ahmednagar where he says there is sympathy for the Modi government among the “educated middle and lower middle class". “This government has done well to better road and railway connectivity in Ahmednagar. But it hasn’t been able to address the farm crisis," Dangare says. He also thinks that “caste and clan affiliations" still determines the election outcome.
But Ankit Hegde in Pune, a 28-year-old IT professional, says national issues are bound to dominate the national elections. “I don’t see much of a positive difference in Pune between 2014 and 2019. But I guess there are issues linked to each election and local issues belong to the civic or assembly elections. This election is simply being fought on who will be the next prime minister of India and I don’t see any problem with that," Hegde says.
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