Immense curiosity has arisen after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s plans were made known to address a pre-election rally on February 16 in the small village of Pandharkawada in Yavatmal district, one of the poorest in Vidarbha.
Twenty-five years ago, this was from where the tragic story of farmers’ suicides was first brought to the global stage. Yavatmal district is considered the place where farmer suicides have been the highest. It is here that local engineer-turned-farmers leader Kishore Tiwari set the proverbial cat among the pigeons by demanding that Union Shipping Minister Nitin Gadkari replace Modi if the party was to survive the 2019 elections. He also said that Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President Amit Shah should be replaced.
It is from this very Pandharkawada village that Modi had in March 2014 promised to implement a 2006 report by eminent scientist M.S. Swaminathan on improving the lot of farmers if the BJP was elected to power at the Centre.
On March 20, 2014, Modi had organised a special, high-profile “Kisanon ke Saath, Chai Pe Charcha’ with the farmers of Vidarbha, including from Pandharkawada. It was at that meeting Modi suddenly pulled out the long-forgotten M.S. Swaminathan Commission Report and promised to implement it – if voted to power – something that later proved to be easier said than done, Tiwari recalled.
Tiwari, who is the Chairman of the Vasantrao Naik Sheti Swavalamban Mission (VNSSM) with ministerial status, had categorically demanded that the BJP “get rid of both Modi and Shah” for their “anti-farmer and anti-people policies”.
As the entire direction of national political debate changed, Shah was forced to make a statement in Mumbai stating “there would be no leadership change”.
A week later, Tiwari dropped another bombshell by writing to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on the same issue. Significantly, Tiwari, Gadkari and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis are all stalwarts from the Vidarbha region of eastern Maharashtra, and coincidentally, the RSS is headquartered in Nagpur, the state’s second capital.
All this was crowned by appreciation from none other than UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi and Congress President Rahul Gandhi. Party sources reveal that Tiwari’s suggestions on Gadkari were reportedly “received positively” both in the BJP, RSS and other sections of the saffron parivar.
When asked, Tiwari sought to downplay the issue, saying: “The PM’s visit to Pandharkawada is indeed a very welcome development and has raised the aspirations of the local farmers, tribals and women’s organisations, all reeling under huge debts.
“Sentiment is running high that the PM may announce a package to provide relief even to the tribals and women’s groups and his visit may spur the farmers’ aid to be released on priority before the elections,” Tiwari told IANS.
“No, there are no attempts to gag me. I am merely highlighting the private opinions of many in the BJP,” Tiwari claimed to a direct query on whether he encountered problems after his December assertions.
A BJP source said this time, five years later after becoming the Prime Minister, Modi was expected to “provide a convincing account” of what exactly the NDA government has done for the farmers and the future plans for the still-distressed farmlands across the country.
With a population of around 40,000 tribals-farmers, Pandharkawada has another distinction. It was the first tribal village in the country selected under the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s historic Integrated Tribal Development Plan of 1976.
Modi will become only the second Prime Minister to visit Pandharkawada. Manmohan Singh come calling in 2006 when he spent two full days in Vidarbha. Former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam had received a delegation of Pandharkavada’s farmers in 2009 in Nagpur.
Then a young leader, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi visited the place in 2008, besides Nationalist Congress Party President Sharad Pawar and many other dignitaries. Vowing to make “an everlasting, vote-catching impression” in the suicide-sullied soil of Vidarbha and rest of India, the BJP is chalking out massive plans to get farmers from adjoining districts like Wardha, Chandrapur, Nanded and even neighbouring Telangana, which ranks high on farmland suicides.