Maratha-OBC vs fundamental issues: Parbhani's dilemma

Parbhani voted on Friday, in phase 2 of Lok Sabha elections.

Credit : Indie Journal


As one drives from Parbhani to Gangakhed, a taluka place nearly 40 kms away from the city, all you can see on both sides of the road are dried up, almost burned, empty fields. There are a few Cotton fields, but the produce looks sparse. The Banana farms, that were promising until a couple of months ago, have now fallen, due to the unseasonal rainfall and gusty winds that lashed the drought-struck district in Maharashtra since the past two weeks.

Parbhani constituency, one of the major constituency in Maharashtra’s Marathwada region, that is grappled by drought, erratic extreme weather events, agricultural losses, water scarcity and unemployment among other issues, went to poll today, in the second phase of Lok Sabha polls 2024. Parbhani is also the district from where the movement for Maratha reservation led by Manoj Jarange took force last year. His village Antarvali Sarati, where Maratha protesters faced lathi charge from the police, falls in this district itself. Thus, while the huge agricultural losses and the lack of employment opportunities and infrastructure are definitely on people’s minds, the discourse around the election in the constituency has shifted towards the political happenings and the caste dynamics.

“It’s going to be Jadhav vs Jankar,” says Suresh Ikhe, resident of Gangakhed who is involved in the town’s socio-political activities, pointing to the contest between two of the major parties fighting for the crucial Marathwada seat. The ‘Jadhav vs Jankar’ also points to the prominent caste angle that is said to be one of the major factors determining the result for Parbhani. While Jadhav comes from the Maratha community, Jankar belongs to the Dhangar community.

Among the major candidates in the constituency, the Maha Vikas Aghadi (MVA), which is part of the larger INDIA bloc, has fielded the incumbent Sanjay (Bandu) Jadhav from Shiv Sena (UBT). The Mahayuti, which is a coalition of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Ajit Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and CM Eknath Shinde’s Shiv Sena, has backed Mahadev Jankar, who is from Rashtriya Samaj Party (RSP). The Communist Party of India (CPI) has fielded Rajan Kshirsagar, who is contesting a friendly fight with Jadhav. Self-proclaimed weather expert Panjabrao Dakh is contesting the election on Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi’s (VBA’s) ticket.



However, while caste polarisation seemed to be a prominent factor in Parbhani’s election campaigning, the ‘Modi charisma’, that the BJP uses widely to seek votes seemed to hold very little significance in Parbhani this time.

“We will vote for anybody, but Modi,” said Shivaji Kundge from Dongarpimpla, while walking through Gngakhed’s marketplace, where farmers from the villages in surrounding areas come twice a week to sell their produce and buy their necessities.

“There is no rainfall, no water to drink. The cost of fertilisers and pesticides has increased tremendously. But we are not getting enough returns for our produce. They have reduced the prices of Cotton and Soybean so much, we are barely earning anything. We are not getting crop insurance against the losses that we are facing due to weather. And none of these big parties are talking about this,” Kundge said.

Most farmers in Parbhani’s villages are small landholders, with barely 4-5 acres of land. Most of them cultivate Cotton, Soybean and Sugarcane, along with Jowar. This time, with the rainfall deficit in monsoon last year, farmers faced huge losses due to lack of water. Many could not sow any Rabi crops due to lack of alternate irrigation facilities. The increased input cost and the declined returns are affecting the farmers drastically, especially in the year of drought.

The farmers also said that they do not have any alternative means of livelihood if their crops fail due to weather.

“We lost most of our Kharif crops, we could not sow anything in the Rabi season as there was no water for irrigation. But we do not have any alternative. We did not even get any work through Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS),” Kundge added.



While Indie Journal tried to speak with many women while walking through Gangakhed’s markets, several said that they voted as per their family’s preferences, an unfortunate situation observed in several Indian villages. However, many who work as farm labourers said that their work had also dwindled this time due to the drought.

“We work as labourers in factories or on farms and barely get Rs 200 per day. It is not enough, but there is no other work. What else can we do. There are no schemes to help us. The government gave us a cylinder through schemes, now it costs Rs 1,000. How are we supposed to manage? This year, there was barely anything in people’s fields,so we did not even get much work. And nobody bothered to ask us how we are managing to fill our stomachs,” said ….. from Kanegaon.

Lack of employment opportunities has been a big talking point for the candidates as well as voters of Parbhani, however, everyone has been looking at it from different angles.

Sonu Eshwante, a 17-year-old from Bramhapuri village gave an interesting perspective on this. “I cannot vote yet, but I hope those who do will vote to bring a change in the current government in the country,”Eshwante said. 

The reason why she felt so was the rising unemployment in the country. “There is no recruitment. They are not opening any vacancies for government jobs. There are no jobs. This affects girls the most. When we do not get jobs, our parents marry us off. Once we get married, our lives are over,” she exasperated.

She added, “All that the politicians talk about is votes. Once the elections are over, they care about nothing”

“The government needs to start recruitments for government posts soon, so that farmers’ children could get jobs there. The farmer is suffering today, the weather is not supporting him, neither is the government. How long do you think he will sustain?” questions Limbaji Mhalgi from Gangakhed.

He hoped that voting for a different candidate could help change their situation and said that he and many like him are thinking of giving Jankar a chance.

When asked about the other candidates in the constituency, they said that it made more sense to vote for those in the ‘race’.

The discontent against the incumbent Jadhav was expressed by many in Gangakhed.

“He just got elected on Shiv Sena’s name, but has not done any work. We have no water, we are facing a severe water scarcity this year. All he did was promise, but never actually brought any basic amenities to the villages in the constituency. Even for healthcare, we have to go to private hospitals, government hospitals are not equipped. For surgeries, people have to travel to the neighbouring Beed district, such is the situation,” Digambar Kale from Ilegaon in Parbhani’s Gangakhed taluka.



“Only Rajan Kshirsagar works for all these issues, he gets on the streets and fights for our issues. We are with him,” Kale added.

However, he also said that with a large OBC population in the district, many people would vote for Jankar, and forget about the things that they actually need.

“In the last 10 years, there has been no development in Parbhani district. There are no companies here, no job opportunities. Our district has no identity. We feel that Jankar will make a difference in this situation,” Lakhan Bhale from Anandwadi in Palam taluka said.

But he added that along with employment, Maratha reservation was also a very important issue in the district. 

“Maratha reservation would bring jobs to the youth in the district, we are sure of that,” Bhale said.

“Parbhani has so many problems. We do not have adequate healthcare facilities, you have seen how bad the roads here are. While we have the Godavari river running on one side of the district, the other side faces severe water scarcity. Parbhani is at least 50 years behind the rest of Maharashtra,” Ikhe said.

However, he said that despite the people facing all these issues on a daily basis, most of the people will still vote on the basis of caste.

“Jankar comes from the Dhangar community. Parbhani has a substantial voter base from the OBC community, they will vote for him,” Ikhe added.

However, some other voters in the constituency also said that the Maratha voters in the constituency will vote for Jadhav.

“Parbhani has traditionally voted on the basis of caste. Many voters in the constituency are unhappy with the incumbent Jadhav. However, as Mahayuti has fielded Jankar, who is not only a non-Maratha candidate, but has also made statements against Maratha reservation in the past. So the Maratha voter in the constituency will stick with Jadhav now,” a banking professional from Parbhani city said.

He said that if BJP had fielded Rajesh Vitekar, who contested against Jadhav last time, it would have a chance this time.



When interviewed about these issues, however, Jadhav said that it is the BJP that is making the caste a big issue.

“This is what BJP does. In 2014, it was Hindu-Muslim, in 2019, it was the Bhima-Koregaon violence. This time, they are trying to create OBC vs Open polarisation,” Jadhav said.

Apart from the Maratha votes, the Muslim voters in Parbhani are also extending their support to Jadhav.

“What has Modi done in the last 10 years? We need the government in the Centre to change. We will vote for Jadhav,” Kureshi, a shop owner in Parbhani city’s Khandoba Bazaar said.

When asked about people’s discontent against Jadhav, another shopkeeper in the region, Mohammad Mujahid said, “Although Jadhav was our MP, the government in the Centre did not support him. But this time, we are voting for a change in the Centre itself,” he said.

He however did feel that the national issues and the issues of Parbhani were being shadowed by the Maratha vs OBC conflict in the district.

Parbhani, along with several other districts in Marathwada, voted for Lok Sabha elections on Friday, April 26. However, voting was underwhelming till afternoon, with just 31.77 percent voter turnout till 1 pm. Till 3 pm, just about 44.49 percent of the voters in Parbhani had voted.