The Pioneer : Life & Times of Vitthalrao Vikhe Patil

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Journalist Arun Sadhu’s voluminous biography of Vitthalrao Vikhe Patil, the founder of the cooperative movement in the Indian sugar industry, fills a huge gap in the socio-economic and political understanding of Maharashtra. As Kumar Ketkar says in his introduction, “It is rather strange and unfortunate that there is not much documentation in the English language about contemporary Maharashtra.”

Vikhe Patil, born in Loni in 1897, a year of great famine and raised in a farming family in Ahmednagar, saw at first hand the hardships of an agrarian life and had to drop out of school in class four. It was his own experiences which inspired him to sow the seeds of a cooperative movement for farmers, which is self- sustaining. While there may be several issues of corruption and mismanagement in the cooperatives today, the fact remains that western Maharashtra stood to gain immensely from his pioneering efforts and raised the bar for farmers who now form the bedrock of political power in the state, though that was not the desired outcome. You only have to look at other backward regions of the state like Vidarbha or Marathwada, mired in farm suicides and underdevelopment to appreciate what Vikhe Patil stands for and how his concern for the poor farmer led him to establish a network that would stand them in good stead.