Attributing his startling defeat in the Hatkanangale Lok Sabha constituency to Prakash Ambedkar’s Vanchit Bahujan Aghadi (VBA), Swabhimani Paksha chief Raju Shetti on Monday said that vital issues affecting farmers and their future were all swept aside in the recently concluded general election.He further urged Mr. Ambedkar, whose front severely undercut the chances of the NCP-Congress and their allies in this Parliamentary election, to look “beyond personal political gain” in the upcoming Maharashtra Assembly election to be held later this year.“I concur with Mr. Ambedkar’s sentiments about the need to fight Mr. Modi and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in order to save the Constitution. But if that indeed was his intent, then why is it today that his vote-splitting tactics have ended up benefitting the BJP-Sena in Maharashtra?” Mr. Shetti said, speaking toThe Hindu.A two-time MP from Hatkanangale in Kolhapur, Mr. Shetti, who secured 4.87 lakhs votes, lost to the Shiv Sena’s Dhairyasheel Mane (who polled 5.82 lakh votes) by a margin of 96,000 votes in what turned out to be one of the biggest upsets in the State and certainly the biggest in the ‘sugar heartland’ of western Maharashtra.The key factor here proved to be the VBA’s presence, with its candidate Sayyad Aslam securing 1.23 lakh votes and thus depriving Mr. Shetti, an important farmers’ leader, of the crucial support of the backward castes.Mr. Shetti, who severed ties with the BJP-led NDA in 2017, observed that the VBA’s candidates, by cannibalising the Congress-NCP’s traditional vote bases had indirectly helped the BJP-Sena to win on at least eight or nine crucial Lok Sabha seats including Hatkanangale.The VBA’s candidate Gopichand Padalkar also played spoilsport to the Swabhimani Paksha’s Vishal Patil in the Sangli Lok Sabha seat. Mr. Shetti’s loss is being viewed by his supporters and well-wishers as being detrimental to the interests of the farmers as they have now lost an ‘authentic’ farmers leader in the Parliament who could take up their cause. “A number of factors contributed to my defeat, not least the entry of the VBA which only queered my pitch and benefited the BJP. The other factor was that while the farmers in this region voted for me, their children veered towards Mr. Modi, chiefly owing to the aura of hyper-patriotism conjured by the PM and the BJP, post the Balakot airstrikes,” said Mr. Shetti.He, however, stressed that while he had lost an election, he was far from not defeated and that he would resolutely continue to fight for farmers and address their problems.He said his immediate objective was to ameliorate the plight of the farmers and their families in the drought-afflicted hinterland.“I am going to visit every fodder camp in the State and take stock of the situation. This government [BJP-Sena] was not sensitive about farmers’ issues in the past and will be even more apathetic in the coming term, now that they have secured absolute majority. The reports of a deficient rainfall this time means that farmers’ problems will only multiply and they will have a hard time securing fair prices for their produce,” Mr. Shetti said.Some observers opine that Mr. Shetti’s alliance with Sharad Pawar’s Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) and the Congress cost him the Hatkanangale seat as he was, until recently, the avowed nemesis of Mr. Pawar and the ‘sugar lobby’ in western Maharashtra headed by NCP and Congress politicos.But Swabhimani Paksha leaders and workers attribute Mr. Shetti’s defeat to the fact that the Hatkanangale seat was fought on caste factors.“The BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) indulged in vicious campaigning, particularly on social media. Right from spreading canards that Mr. Shetti was partial towards the Jain community in the Sangli-Kolhapur belt to projecting him as an ‘arrogant’ and ‘privileged’ leader, they completely diverted issues plaguing farmers,” said Swabhimani Paksha leader Anil Pawar.Mr. Pawar further said that despite the Swabhimani Paksha having a stronger ground-level organisation owing to Mr. Shetti’s origins as a grassroots leader, the BJP shrewdly manoeuvred the campaign with their ‘negative’ propaganda of Mr. Shetti via social media. “In the end, the Hatkanangale contest witnessed something unprecedented in the past 15 years in that it was fought entirely on caste lines and not on farmers’ issues,” said Mr. Shetti.He further said that Raj Thackeray’s Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) should be accommodated into the Congress-NCP coalition and that he would be meeting MNS chief on Tuesday to discuss preparations for the Assembly elections.