Mumbai, Feb. 26: Flowers from Munnabhai, money orders from Madhukarbhai.
Lage Raho Munnabhai appears to have sprouted to life in a parched Maharashtra pocket where farmers have resorted to Gandhigiri, sending money orders of Rs 11 to chief minister Prithviraj Chavan over the past week to try and get him to grant drought aid.
The protest by the villagers in Dhule seems inspired by Raju Hirani’s 2006 comedy in which Munnabhai (Sanjay Dutt) sends a sly builder (Boman Irani) flowers to shame him into changing his ways.
The first of Dhule’s money orders reached Varsha, Chavan’s home in Malabar Hill, on Friday but the chief minister was away in Delhi for his daughter’s engagement.
Architect Ankita, 28, got engaged in a quiet ceremony with just 30 family members attending — a no-frills affair rare among the state’s politicians known to be lavish and flashy on such occasions.
Sources close to Chavan said one of the reasons he wanted to keep the event simple was the drought in Maharashtra, where elections are lost and won on water issues. The state votes next year.
The chief minister was back in Mumbai on Monday but did not accept the payment from Dhule. “He was out of town (on Friday). We took it back to him today but he did not accept. Now it will be returned it to the sender,” an official of the Malabar Hill post office which delivers mail to some of India’s richest and powerful, said yesterday.
But Chavan’s snub has not ruffled Madhukar Patil, the farmer from Damane village in Dhule who is co-ordinating the money-order protest with support from local Shiv Sena MLA Sharad Patil.
“There are 77 drought-affected villages which have come together for this protest. Five families will come together and raise Rs 11 between them to send a money order everyday to the chief minister, so the payments will keep going to him. Let’s see how long he rejects them,” said Madhukar.
Sharad Patil, the legislator, has spied an opportunity in the discontent. “There is a fear psychosis here about drought and though we are marginally better than some other districts, the situation is not good overall and the government should not deny us the aid and packages earmarked for the drought-affected.”
In Mumbai to meet Uddhav Thackeray yesterday before the Sena chief’s upcoming visit to Dhule, Sharad Patil flagged drought and water scarcity as one of the biggest issues in next year’s Assembly polls that will be held around the time of the general elections.
NCP boss and Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, whose party is part of the ruling state coalition led by the Congress, has called the dry spell the “worst since 1972”, a year often called “the mother of all droughts”.
Dhule, though, is not as badly off as some districts of neighbouring Marathwada, which has 14 per cent of its required water reserves. “Dhule is a dry area as it falls in the rain shadow belt of the Western Ghats. Still we are much better off and have a water reserve of 55 per cent,” said district collector Prakash Mahajan.
But anger is running high and Dhule has seen the highest number of farmer suicides outside Vidarbha, dubbed the epicentre of such deaths in the country.
Mahajan said of the over 550 villages in the district, more than 200 have “some sort of a water crisis” but added they couldn’t be called “drought-stricken”. The current protests are focused on 77 of the hamlets. But Sharad Patil and Madhukar are still at work, Munnabhai-style.