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What led to UPA’s downfall in Maharashtra

Issue Date:
2014-10-19

Besides high profile scams that dented the image of the Congress-NCP alliance, their government failed to reach welfare benefits to the poor and mishandled farmers’ woes

Farmers are anguished as officials assess crop damage in Nagpur after  
unseasonal hailstorms in February-March this year(photo by Aparna Pallavi)

The Congress-led UPA government in Maharashtra has fallen after ruling for 15 consecutive years. The poll results declared on Sunday for the state Assembly elections showed Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) emerging as the single largest party.

There are a good many reasons for UPA’s downfall in the state which include highly publicised scams like Adarsh housing  [2] and serious discontent within party ranks, particularly the Congress that led to large-scale defection to the opposition BJP; the switch continued till a few days before the polls.

But the major factor for the drubbing of the Congress and Sharad Pawar-led NCP is the alliance’s critical failure to deliver on matters concerning the poorest. The poor voter in the state has voted as much against the UPA’s failure to reach the benefits of welfare legislation to them as in favour of Modi’s high-flown “development” jargon.

Irrigation: only potential, no water

The Rs 70,000 crore irrigation scam [3]  can safely be said to have taken the wind out of NCP’s sail in its stronghold in western Maharastra. Vidarbha, where irrigation is a strong political issue and one of the major factors behind the demand for a separate state, has been simmering with discontent over decades.

The surfacing of the scam, involving a whopping Rs 70,000 to Rs 1,00,000 crore, with just 0.1 per cent increase in actual irrigated area, finally burst the bubble of hope that dam water will ever reach the poor farmers. Large-scale discontent over water allocations following the 2013 drought [4]  have not helped matters.

Inept handling of farmers’ woes

The UPA has failed woefully in addressing the plight of the state’s farmers despite crores of rupees released as farm-relief packages, disaster packages and as part of budget. Starting 2009 close to 50,000 farmers in Maharashtra have committed suicide. While the bulk of these farmers were from Vidarbha region, the number of suicide cases rose in western Maharashtra region as a consequence of UPA’s inept handling of farm distress following the February-March 2014 hailstorms which devastated crops in close to 500,000 ha in the state [5].  (See ‘560 farmers committed suicide in Maharashtra after hailstorms[6]’).

The droughts and floods of 2013, and the second drought of 2014, delivered virtual death blows to the agriculture economy in the state. At the same time it also exposed the state government’s lack of preparedness to mitigate the impacts of natural disasters. (See ‘As drought looms, Maharashtra refuses to extend insurance deadline for farmers’  [7] and ‘Drinking water shortage to hit Maharashtra as drought worsens’ [8]).

Disasters apart, the UPA has over successive budgets failed to address the politically volatile issues of cotton and sugarcane prices. In the national elections, the BJP benefitted from Narendra Modi’s promise to fix the minimum support price (MSP) but his failure to do so has done nothing to assuage the farming community’s anger against the UPA.

Work for the rural poor

The UPA’s flagship social welfare programme, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA), has failed to perform on all counts in Maharastra. The report of the MGNREGA financial advisor Sunil Mone hints at Rs 20 crore worth irregularities in the form of withdrawals with documentary support in the year 2012-13 alone. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report of April 2013 pointed out that projects worth Rs 4,070 crore, which were aimed at building durable assets for the rural areas, are lying incomplete, while another Rs 2,252 crore were spent on projects not sanctioned at all.

All in all, there is no doubt that the current verdict reflects the disillusionment of the rural poor. While the UPA had certainly been punished for its failures, the BJP, which is showing all signs of emerging as the single largest parties, will have to learn the lessons from its predecessor’s fall, if it wants to retain its new-found power for long.


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