Onion farmers for change, grape growers whining for status quo

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This constituency in Nashik district does not occupy a particularly significant spot on the election map, but it presents a neat battle of “status quo vs. change” between its elite wine-grape farmers and onion growers.

While onion farmers are rooting for change, grape growers are largely status-quoist, favouring the Congress for fear that a Bharatiya Janata Party–led government will not encourage the nascent wine industry in the country.

Dindori, which lends its name to Sula’s red wine, the Dindori Shiraz, has more than 30 of the 75 wineries in the State and over 1,000 acres of vineyard.

While the industry was given a boost in 2004, post-recession, only the big wineries have survived. Small farmers stripped their vineyards of grapes after the downturn. The wine industry in the country is valued at Rs. 2,000 crore and Maharashtra dominates with 80 per cent of the share, according to All India Wine Producers’ Association member Rajeev Jadhav.

Across Dindori, vineyards are now dominated by rich farmers, who have more than 10 acres of land and the capacity to bear huge risks. “If the weather is right, the grapes will be perfect and you can get almost a Rs.1-lakh profit per acre,” Manik Patil, director of ND Wines and grape grower himself, told this reporter.

Talking of Thursday’s polls, Mr Patil says he is aware of the anti-incumbency feeling among people, but for his industry, a BJP- led government will offer little respite.

“Mr. Sharad Pawar [Agriculture Minister in the UPA government] understands farming and the requirements of the industry. We have worked together with him for over a decade,” he said.

“There is very little political support for the industry. A change in government will halt whatever was being done till now,” said Raju Sonawane, who owns 20 acres of vineyard.

In stark contrast, onion farmers in the district seek change, maintaining that the incumbent regime has been unable to control prices. In the middle of auctions on Monday at the Lasalgaon Agricultural Produce Market Committee, the largest onion market in the country, farmers complained about the unpredictability of prices.

“Journalists report on the issue only when prices are as high as Rs.5,000 a quintal, once a year. But nobody comes to our help when we have to sell onions for Rs.500,” said Waman Wadje.

Asked about their richer, wine grape growing counterparts, the onion farmers’ anger is palpable. “Wine and wine grapes are for rich people. We find it difficult to break even most of the time,” another farmer Anil Mate told The Hindu.

As the conversation turned, inevitably, to the elections, Sandeep Aire, a young farmer, says: “I feel a change is necessary. When there was a drought, nobody came to our help. It’s time to give somebody else a chance.”

However, onion and grape farmers alike maintain that the sitting MP and BJP candidate Harishchandra Chavan’s contribution to their livelihood has been nil.

“We have not seen the MP in the constituency at all. How can he help us when he doesn’t know what our problems are? But we are putting our trust in a Narendra Modi government. Will fuel prices, at least, come down?” asked onion farmer Dilip Shirsath.

The contest in Dindori is among Mr. Chavan, Bharti Pawar of the Nationalist Congress Party, Dinkar Patil of the Bahujan Samaj Party and Dnyaneshwar Mali of the Aam Aadmi Party.

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