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Why the Shobhaa De-Shiv Sena row is a kick on Maharashtra’s stomach

 Shobhaa De
Even for the Devendra Fadnavis government in the state, protecting cows seems to be a bigger priority than saving farmers’ lives.

If Shobhaa De and the Shiv Sena are to be believed, the most important problem that the state of Maharashtra is facing is what snacks must be served in multiplexes during prime time shows. De cast the first stone by ridiculing the Maharashtra government‘s decision to make it mandatory for multiplexes to screen Marathi movies on at least one screen at prime time.

“No more pop corn at multiplexes in Mumbai? Dahi misal and vada pav only. To go better with the Marathi movies at prime time,” De tweeted.

Incensed at the insult at the two quintessentially Maharashtrian dishes, Shiv Sena organised protests outside De’s residence and gave her boxes of dahi misal and vada pav.

Of course there were the usual string of condemnations and calls for support, with some rallying behind De for the sake of freedom of speech and others backing Sena in the name of Marathi pride.

In Beed, about 380km away from south Mumbai where De would be mulling whether or not to eat the Vada Pav and Dahi Misal sent by the Shiv Sainiks, there is another woman named Shobha facing a dilemma of a very different kind. The challenge she faces is survival. How should she feed her one year old daughter and four year old son? Where will their next meal come from?

According to this report in Times of India, last month, Shobha’s husband Sandeep Shinde hung himself with a nylon rope from a tree in his field in Patoda Taluka in Beed district of Marathwada.

The unseasonal rain destroyed the cotton crop that Shinde had nurtured since last October. Reeling under repeated crop failures because of drought as well as untimely rain, Shinde was over Rs 1.2 lakh in debt. The destruction of his last crop broke his will and he decided to end his life.

Shobha has been reduced to penury after Shinde’s death. “I cannot even afford milk for the children,” Times of India quotes her as saying. Clearly, this Shobha doesn’t have the luxury to choose between popcorn and vada pav, or between watching a Hindi film or a Marathi film in a multiplex. In the last three months, over 200 farmers in the Marathwada region have committed suicide. Rendered bankrupt and hopeless because their crops were destroyed, these farmers were unable to repay the loans they had taken and took the extreme step of ending their lives.

In the last seven months, which also broadly corresponds to the months the Devendra Fadnavis government has been in power in Maharashtra, farmer suicides have risen by over 40 per cent. In Marathwada, the increase in the number of suicides has been 85 per cent.

This has largely to do with the drought that has afflicted the region since 2011, as well as the untimely rains. But the miserly approach of the Narendra Modi government towards raising the minimum support price (MSP) for crops has added to their woes.

Even for the Fadnavis government in the state, protecting cows seems to be a bigger priority than saving farmers’ lives. And for the Sena, jibes at Maharashtrian dishes are more insulting than farmers committing suicide.

Vada Pav, anyone?

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