The dairy farmers’ unrest in Maharashtra due to depreciating milk prices has turned into a political battle between Raju Shetti-led Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana (SSS) and the Rayat Kranti Sanghatana (RKS), a farmers’ outfit headed by Sadabhau Khot.
While Shetti, an alliance partner of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi, has been demanding an increase in milk procurement prices and also staged a symbolic, day-long “milk agitation” in July, he has not been seen keen on antagonising the coalition government. But with Khot trying to make inroads into his political turf in western Maharashtra riding on the current crisis, Shetti has recently talked tough.
“Almost four months are over and there is no action from the state government. The dairy farmers receive only Rs 16 per litre for milk. Is the government waiting for the milk price to decline further to Rs 12 per litre?” Shetti said recently while warning to launch an indefinite agitation. “If there is an injustice to farmers, my party will have no option but to go against the government.”
Dairy farmers are demanding a higher price for milk as they are suffering loss due to depleting demand during the lockdown. The farmers want a minimum base price to increase from the present Rs 15 per litre to Rs 27 per litre.
On Friday, Khot, too, had threatened to intensify protests if the farmers’ demands were not met. “If the government fails to give a subsidy of Rs 10 per litre milk and Rs 50 per kg for skimmed milk powder by next week, dairy farmers will take to the streets. Dairy farmers will be forced to intensify their agitation. Don’t test their patience indefinitely,” he said.
The two farmers’ leaders, both founder members of SSS, had fought alongside till 2017 when Shetti, a former Lok Sabha member from Hathkanangle constituency in western Maharashtra, parted ways with the NDA. Khot, then a minister of state for agriculture in the BJP-led Maharashtra government, had disapproved of Shetti’s move and went on to launch a separate outfit, the RKP.
Khot, on Friday, also accused Shetti’s threats “as a ploy to help the government”. “He is using the farmers’ forum to help the government, thus misleading the farmers… First, Shetti announces a date for the agitation, and then the next day he goes to meet ministers for a discussion and gives an impression that he has solved their [the farmers’] problems. But where is the result? Why are milk rates still dropping?”
Shetti has not only dismissed the charges but also questioned the hold of the RKP leader among farmers.
Notwithstanding Shetti’s tough talk, the Maha Vikas Aghadi seems to be making an all-out effort to keep him by its side. “On the farmers’ crisis, we want to hold talks with all parties, including the Opposition. So, what is wrong if we talk to the SSS leader? If he has important suggestions, we will incorporate them in our policies for the dairy farmers,” A senior NCP leader and Cabinet minister said.
Shetti had earlier accepted the NCP’s offer of an MLC seat, thus binding him to the MVA government. The BJP, meanwhile, has lent support to the RKP in the sugarcane belt of western Maharashtra, also Shetti’s turf, sources said.