HATKANANGALE (KOLHAPUR): From being a marginal farmer in Shirol village in Kolhapur to a Member of Parliament (MP) in the 15th Lok Sabha, Raju Shetty has surely come a long way in politics. Now, the activist politician is all set to change the political equations in the sugar belt where the NCP, and its leader Sharad Pawar, rule the roost.
A mechanical engineer by profession, Shetty started as an activist with the Shetkari Sanghatana. He left the organisation when its founder Sharad Joshi decided to join hands with the BJP. Later, he floated his own organisation Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, under which he fought the polls.
Known for his oratory and organisational skills, Shetty was targeted several times by the sugar barons in the region after he initiated an agitation for payment of statutory minimum price (SMP) for sugarcane.
Notwithstanding the strong opposition from the sugar lobby, he was elected to Kolhapur zilla parishad in 2001. In 2004 assembly elections he defeated Rajanitai Magdum, who was heading the Ratnnappa Kumbhar cooperative sugar factory.
In the current elections, he stood against two-time NCP MP Nivedita Mane. In his campaign, Shetty had appealed to the farmers under the One vote and one note' banner to collect election funds and collected approximately Rs 6 lakh. Though the entire sugar lobby, ministers, MLAs and MPs were on the NCP side, Shetty managed to defeat Mane with a massive margin of 95,000 votes.
"It's the beginning of a new era in politics. Earlier, people voted for a person just because the leaders wanted them to. But now, the new generation will oppose dynastic politics and elect a person who is sincere and works for them," says Shetty, who along with rebel NCP leader and newly-elected Kolhapur MP Sadashivrao Mandlik (independent), wants to spread sanghatana out of Kolhapur district.
He says people in the sugar belt are tired of corruption and the leaders who live in ivory towers. "The time has come to throw away the leaders who feel that money and muscle power could win them elections and power."
Talking about money, Shetty added that the remaining amount of the Rs 6 lakh election funds will be used for the farmers' cause.
Now, Shetty-Mandlik duo are getting ready for a tough battle in the forthcoming assembly elections.
"We did not take his candidature seriously. But he has proved us wrong. Now, we should make efforts to keep our assembly seats intact," said a senior NCP leader in Kolhapur.
NCP president Sharad Pawar has described the results in Kolhapur and Hatkanangale as a surprise'. But for farmers in Kolhapur-Hatkanangale, the result was expected'.
"He has done a lot for us. He was attacked by the musclemen of sugar factory owners many times and at one time, he even lost his consciousness after he was hit by lathis. We could never forget the picture of Raju Shetty covered in blood during the agitation, and later, fighting for his life in the hospital. He has emerged as a new leader for the farmers in the state," says Bassappa Patil, a farmer.