On May 11, 2017, the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha (AIKS) held an ‘Aasood’ (Whipcord) State Convention followed by an ‘Aasood’ State Rally to the house of the BJP’s state agriculture minister Pandurang Fundkar at Khamgaon in Buldana district of Vidarbha region. Mahatma Jotirao Phule had written a celebrated book that was aptly called “Shetkaryacha Aasood” (Whipcord of the Farmer). It was from this that the AIKS coined the name.
Khamgaon town had been decorated with hundreds of AIKS flags. Thousands of peasants from 21 districts of the state, braving the scorching summer heat and surmounting the marriage season, converged here. They were mobilised by the AIKS from all the five regions, viz. Vidarbha, Marathwada, North Maharashtra, Western Maharashtra and Konkan.
Vidarbha region has gained notoriety as a graveyard of farmers, for it is here that the largest number of suicides of debt-ridden farmers has taken place in Maharashtra. Both the central and state BJP-Shiv Sena governments are clearly responsible for this. 12,602 farmers committed suicide in our country in the year 2015. Compared to 2014, this is a massive 42 percent increase. With 4,291 farmer suicides in 2015, Maharashtra under the BJP-Shiv Sena regime has the dubious distinction of topping all states in peasant suicides in the country.
In preparation for this convention and rally, the AIKS had begun an Aasood Yatra throughout the state from April 11. Several district conventions, meetings and demonstrations were held. The date was historic for three reasons: it was the 190th birth anniversary of Mahatma Phule; it was the death anniversary of Chhatrapati Shivaji, whom Phule had hailed as the King of the Peasantry; and it was the 81st foundation day of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS).
After the massive one lakh strong AIKS sit-in satyagraha at Nashik in March 2016; the militant struggle on the issue of drought at the Aurangabad Divisional Commissioner’s office in May 2016; the impressive Coffin Rally to the Thane District Collector’s office to mark the AIKS state conference in June 2016; and the 50,000 strong siege of Adivasi Development Minister, Vishnu Savra's house at Wada in Palghar district in October 2016, which yielded concrete gains for the Adivasi peasantry; the AIKS now decided to take forward the farmers’ agitation straight to the state Agriculture Minister.
The presidium of the convention comprised AIKS state president Kisan Gujar, state vice presidents Udayan Sharma, Sidhappa Kalshetty, Barkya Mangat and Mumtaz Haider. Former AIKS state president Dada Raipure, while inaugurating the convention, placed the serious problems faced by the peasantry and called for a struggle to change ruling class policies.
The main resolution of the convention was placed by AIKS state general secretary Dr Ajit Nawale. Some of the major demands that he set out were: Give complete loan waiver to farmers who own less than 25 acres of dry land and less than 10 acres of irrigated land; Provide remunerative price to farmers as cost of production plus 50 percent profit; Procure all the tur of peasants at MSP rates; Implement all the recommendations in the interest of farmers made by the National Commission on Farmers headed by Dr M S Swaminathan; Immediately stop the conspiracy of snatching farmers’ lands in the name of the Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi Highway and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor; Hand over forest land, temple/shrine land, pasture land with pattas to the cultivating peasants; Scrap the pro-corporate Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and provide comprehensive insurance security to all farmers; Provide pension of Rs 3000 per month to poor and middle peasants and agricultural workers aged 60 and above; Ensure at least 200 days of work and minimum wage of Rs 350 per day to agricultural workers under MNREGA; Scrap the river-joining project signed by the Maharashtra and Gujarat state governments, and instead conserve the water of the West-flowing rivers and devise schemes to give it to Thane, Palghar, Nashik and other drought-prone districts; Give priority to local peasants while distributing water from the several dams built in Adivasi areas; Make adequate financial provision for irrigation and power; and Start MIDCs for industrial development to ensure employment to youth.
The resolution was ably seconded by AIKS state office bearers Yashwant Zade, Arjun Adey, Savliram Pawar, Radka Kalangda, Shankarrao Danav, Umesh Deshmukh, Vilas Babar, Shankar Sidam, Uddhav Poul, Mohan Lamb and Sunil Malusare, after which it was adopted unanimously. The convention was greeted by AIDWA state vice president Lahani Dauda, SFI state president Mohan Jadhav and SFI state general secretary Balaji Kaletwad.
AIKS national joint secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale delivered the concluding address. He lashed out at the anti-peasant, pro-corporate, communal and fascistic character of the RSS-BJP regimes in the centre and the state. Just the day before the convention, BJP state president Raosaheb Danve had publicly insulted the peasants who were demanding a just price for their tur and this had become a major issue in the state. He castigated Danve for his thoroughly insensitive and callous remarks and the BJP mindset and policies that lay behind it. While calling for a sustained struggle for the realisation of the demands of this convention, he stressed that this can only be done by mobilising the peasant masses in a much bigger numbers and by further strengthening our organisation.
Kisan Gujar in his presidential remarks said that the peasant struggle is reaching a decisive stage from where it must be taken forward with all our strength. He congratulated the AIKS Buldana district activists for making excellent arrangements. AIKS leaders from Buldana Dr Viplav Kavishwar and Jitendra Chopde made the introductory speech and the vote of thanks.
One of the highlights of the convention was the on the spot collection of over Rs 10,000 from delegates for the Pehlu Khan Family Relief Fund. A resolution condemning the RSS-BJP cow vigilantes who had killed the dairy farmer from Haryana Pehlu Khan at Alwar in Rajasthan and calling for fund collection was moved by Udayan Sharma and was seconded by Manik Avaghade and Mumtaz Hyder. Adding this to the collection made in the campaign in the districts, the AIKS Maharashtra state council has sent a cheque of Rs 25,000 to the AIKS Centre as part of the All India fund call.
The statewide Whipcord Rally began in Khamgaon directly after the convention. Brandishing two large whipcords, giving resounding slogans and carrying red AIKS flags, the rally of thousands of peasants marched towards the house of the agriculture minister. As was to be expected, the minister had fled, and was this time on a foreign jaunt. This only angered the rallyists and increased their determination to reach his house. Police had been requisitioned in strength to stop the rallyists from reaching the house. The rally became a focal point of attraction for the ordinary peasants and people of Khamgaon, and also for the entire media.
The rallyists broke two barricades set up by the police, with whom there was a fierce tussle. Eventually, AIKS leaders Dr Ashok Dhawale, Kisan Gujar, Dr Ajit Nawale, Dada Raipure, Arjun Adey, Umesh Deshmukh, Vilas Babar, Deepak Lipne, Dr Viplav Kavishwar, Jitendra Chopde and many others broke the last police cordon, rushed to the minister’s house and stuck the demands charter there, amidst resonant slogans. The government authorities agreed to arrange a meeting of AIKS leaders with the minister and other officials in Mumbai to discuss the demands charter. The rally then concluded with tremendous enthusiasm.
Almost the entire print and electronic media in the state was present in strength to cover both these novel actions - the Whipcord Convention and the Whipcord Rally of the AIKS.