Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has managed an impossible feat: to make the Shiv Sena in the state look moderate. Fadnavis has banned meat for four days in Mumbai using a Jain festival as the pretext. Shiv Sena chief Uddhav Thackeray, despite being an ally in government, has strongly criticised the ban and said that his party will ensure that there is no ban on the sale of meat at all.
Maharashtra Navnirman Sena has also opposed the meat ban by selling chickens on the first day of its imposition.
Whatever be the end result, Fadnavis is racing to turn the clock for Maharashtra towards the extreme right. A RSS member, Fadnavis was the unanimous choice of PM Narendra Modi, BJP President Amit Shah and the RSS for the state chief minister and has shown the capability of taking decisions, hunkering down, and rarely retracting despite the flak. He has left for a four day visit to Japan while Mumbai rages over the meat ban, and the sudden removal of Mumbai Police Commissioner Rakesh Maria in the middle of the Indrani Mukherjea investigation.
CM Fadnavis is, thus on a roller coaster, bringing in one controversial decision after another, that are seen as intrusive and divisive as one, these interfere in the citizen’s right to choose even in what he eats, and two, target the minorities as a community. Five such decisions are:
1. Beef ban across Maharashtra. This has been made punishable by law. Met with general silence except from civil rights activists. President Pranab Mukherjee gave his assent to a bill 19 years after it was passed by the Shiv Sena Sena-BJP government in 1995. The Maharashtra Animal Preservation (Amendment) Bill, now an Act, bans the slaughter of cows in the state. It makes the sale and possession of beef illegal, punishable with 5 years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10,000.
2. Meat ban in Mumbai. Imposed for four days by civic order. This has created a major reaction in Mumbai amongst all sections of society as it is seen as an imposition by the state in determining a citizen’s right to choose what he eats. The silence that received the beef ban has been broken now with this, with even the Shiv Sena joining the opposition and declaring that it will oppose the meat ban and not allow it.
3. Sedition. A government circular in Maharashtra has reworded court guidelines stating, “words,signs or representations will be treated as seditious if they are against a representative of the government.” The term “representative of the government” will be misused, activists fear, to include politicians thereby ensuring that any criticism against them will lead to a jail term. The state government thus, has tried to assume wide ranging powers to crackdown on dissent and criticism.
4. Education quota for Muslims Removed.The Fadnavis-led Maharashtra government scrapped the ordinance providing reservation for Muslims in jobs and educational institutions by simply allowing it to lapse. The Congress-NCP government had provided 16% reservation for Marathas and 5% for Muslim in government jobs as well as government schools and colleges. This was challenged in court and the Bombay High Court scrapped the reservations in government jobs. but upheld the 5% reservation for Muslims in education. This has been scrapped now by the Fadnavis government. And if anyone had doubts that the decision came from extreme right ideology, the state government introduced a similar bill proposing 16% reservations for the economically and socially backward in the Maratha community.
5. Marathi films. The latest directive by the Fadnavis government asks all multiplexes in the state to screen a Marathi film in the prime slot of 6 to 9 pm every day. This is again an effort to determine a citizen’s right to choose.
The preoccupation of CM Fadnavis with these issues has led to complete neglect of the serious issue of agrarian distress, with farmers again committing suicide in the Marathwada region. Despite their cries for help there has been no response from the state government at all with agrarian organisations now busy recording the deaths in the villages of the region. At least 32 farmers from the Marathwada region have committed suicide in just seven days, with the 2015 death toll till now rising to 660. The reasons remain the same, debt and crop failure and losses, that have not been addressed by the state government despite tall promises when it came to power. Similar promises were made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the run up to the Lok Sabha elections last year.
Beed has registered the highest number of suicides, 179, followed by Nanded with 115 farmers deaths. Drought has impacted severely on agrarian livelihood in Nanded, and Aurangabad with distress levels peaking according to reports from the region. Significantly, psychiatrists in local hospitals have been quoted as saying that the farmers are suffering from acute depression.
Just a few weeks ago seven farmers, including three women, in Wardha district and submitted a letter to the authorities asking for their permission to commit suicide. Reports suggest some level of amusement amongst the officers, despite this being a tragic statement of the farmers plight. The seven were ridden with debts and had been running in circles trying to get the aid that the Maharashtra government had promised, but clearly done nothing about. n a bizarre development, seven debt-ridden farmers, among them three women, in Maharashtra’s Wardha district have sought the administration’s “permission” to commit suicide.
Tall promises on this issue of agrarian unrest by the Chief Minister continue, although he has not been heard on this for a while now. In May he claimed that in “the next two years” he would make Osmanabad and Yavatmal free of farmers suicides. He did not say how many farmers would have to die before that, with the statement itself reflecting a callousness towards agrarian life and distress. And how will he do it? “During my recent visit to Israel, I have sought the help of Shimon Peres Foundation in helping farmers in Maharashtra who are ending their lives in large numbers due to agrarian crisis,” Fadnavis said at the ‘Women Economic Forum’ here. And with Israel’s help he will handle the indigenous issue that just requires some sound decisions to help the farmers out of their misery, and quick implementation of this all across the region.