It was a shot in the arm for Shiv Sena and BJP after Lok Sabha MP from Hatkanangale Raju Shetti, 46, decided to join hands with the saffron alliance, boosting its fortunes in Maharashtra’s rural areas. However, from snapping ties with mentor and farmer leader Sharad Joshi in 2004 over joining hands with “casteist vultures” Shiv Sena and BJP to allying with them a decade later, life may have turned a full circle for Shetti.
The Sena-BJP believe that the alliance with Shetti’s Swabhimani Paksha, the political arm of his Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, will be a game changer in the sugar belt of Western Maharashtra and regions with sugar co-operatives, where he has emerged as a strong anti-establishment force with a support base in sugarcane cultivators and milk producers. The saffron alliance is traditionally weaker in Western Maharashtra, which accounts for 12 seats and is a Congress- NCP stronghold.
“We have almost won the Sangli, Kolhapur, Hatkanangale, Madha Lok Sabha seats,” said BJP MLC Chandrakant Patil, adding that the tie-up would positively impact fortunes of the Mahayuti —the grand opposition alliance to sink the Congress-NCP armada — in at least 30 assembly segments where Shetti has a committed vote base.
Indicating that the NCP – Shetti’s traditional foe – may be jittery, deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar is said to have raised the issue of the SSS-Sena-BJP tie-up in the cabinet and urged chief minister Prithviraj Chavan to ensure speedy decision-making for electoral victory.
Shetti was elected to the state legislative assembly in 2004 from Shirol in Kolhapur in a campaign which saw him collecting money from people to contest polls. “Our alliance is issue-based.
People feel that these ministers are drunk on power... and want the opposition to unite to trounce them,” Shetti told dna. “A lot of water has flown under the bridge, the BJP and Sena have softened their stance on Hindutva,” said Shetti about his political turnaround. He also enjoys support in parts of north Maharashtra and Marathwada.
All about the farmer leader
Raju Shetti, who has acted in a Marathi film and belongs to the Jain community, which has a sizeable presence in Kolhapur and Sangli, cut his teeth in politics, leading agitations against local sugar barons for farmers’ remunerative prices. He was even beaten to an inch of his life as retribution in the 1990s
In 2009, Shetti, a mechanical engineer contested the Lok Sabha polls as a third front nominee, defeating incumbent NCP MP Nivedita Mane.