The 22nd State Conference of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha was held from May 30 to June 1, 2016 in Thane-Palghar district, with 271 delegates from 23 districts who represented a membership of 2,60,423 - the highest AIKS membership recorded in the state so far.
NOVEL COFFIN RALLY
The conference began on May 30 with a novel 10,000-strong Coffin Rally in the heart of Thane city. The peasants carried bamboo frames (called tirdi in Marathi) covered with white cloth, on which dead bodies are carried. This dramatically highlighted the grave issue of suicides of debt-ridden peasants in Maharashtra, which have alarmingly increased due to the grim drought situation. There have been 3,228 peasant suicides in the state in 2015 and over 65,000 peasant suicides in the last 20 years since 1995 – a shameful national record.
This was the third large mass action by the AIKS in the state in the last two months on the four burning issues of peasant loan-waiver, remunerative prices, drought relief and land rights. On March 29-30, there was the unprecedented one lakh-strong state-wide rally and two-day siege of the main square in Nashik city by the AIKS, which forced the chief minister to concede some demands. The Nashik rally was addressed by CPI (M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, AIKS General Secretary Hannan Mollah, renowned journalist P Sainath and other AIKS state leaders. On May 3-4, there was the two-day AIKS-SFI siege of the Divisional Commissionerate in Aurangabad on the burning issue of drought relief in Marathwada.
With these effective mass actions on major peasant issues, which were widely covered by both the print and electronic media and were reported in earlier issues of People’s Democracy and Loklahar, the AIKS came into the mainstream of the peasant movement in the state for the first time. It was in this background that the Coffin Rally in Thane city was held to begin the AIKS state conference. This rally was also widely covered by the media, especially since it highlighted the grave issue of mounting peasant suicides.
The rally was led by AIKS President Amra Ram, AIKS Joint Secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale, CITU State President Narasayya Adam, AIKS State President Dada Raipure, General Secretary Kisan Gujar, Working President Arjun Adey, Joint Secretary Dr Ajit Nawale and other AIKS state office bearers. After a militant demonstration outside the Thane District Collectorate, the Resident Collector came down to accept the memorandum of demands addressed to the chief minister. After laying down the dozen tirdis at the gate of the Collectorate, to be sent to the chief minister as a symbol of the disastrous agrarian policies being pursued by the BJP-led central and state governments, the rally proceeded to the site of the public meeting.
The venue of the public meeting in Thane city was named after former AIKS president Harkishan Singh Surjeet to mark his birth centenary year. It was addressed by Amra Ram and other AIKS state leaders Dr Ashok Dhawale, Dada Raipure, Kisan Gujar, Arjun Adey, Udayan Sharma, Sidhappa Kalshetty, Dr Ajit Nawale, Barkya Mangat and Ratan Budhar.
Amra Ram congratulated the Maharashtra AIKS for its recent successful struggles and for the effective Coffin Rally that began this state conference. He severely attacked the anti-farmer and pro-corporate agrarian policies of the BJP-led central government. He said the government claims to have no money for agriculture and irrigation, but has tons of money to bestow on the rich. It claims to have no money for giving loan waiver to crores of farmers in distress, but it has lakhs of crores of rupees to shower on loan waivers and tax concessions to a few hundred corporates.
He said that the Modi regime has shamelessly reneged on its pre-election promise of implementing the Swaminathan Commission recommendation of giving MSP to farmers for all crops at cost of production plus fifty per cent profit. The drought situation in over a dozen states is grim to the extreme, but there is no help whatsoever from the government. To cover up all these failures, the BJP-RSS is unleashing communal hatred and polarisation throughout the country. He called for forging broad unity and massive struggles of the peasantry to defeat the anti-people policies and communal conspiracies of the Modi regime.
After the public meeting, all the delegates were taken by bus 125 Km away to Talasari in Palghar district, which was the venue of the delegate session of the state conference.
The inaugural session of the conference began at the Comrade Godavari Shamrao Parulekar College in Talasari on the morning of May 31 with the flag-hoisting by veteran 88-year old AIKS leader L B Dhangar, followed by floral tributes to martyrs. The conference venue had been named after Dasharath Deb to commemorate his birth centenary; the hall and the stage after departed former AIKS State Vice Presidents Gunaji Gavit and Shankar Chavan. Kisan Gujar placed the condolence resolution and Dada Raipure presided over the session.
Lahanu Kom, chairman of the reception committee, welcomed the delegates and spoke of the glorious traditions of the AIKS in Thane district (recently bifurcated into Thane and Palghar districts). He recalled the foundation conference of the state AIKS at Titwala in Thane district in January 1945, the historic and liberating Adivasi revolt that began in May 1945 under the leadership of Shamrao and Godavari Parulekar, the repression by successive regimes led by the British, the Congress and the BJP which have led to the martyrdom of 61 comrades so far, the struggle led by the red flag for the liberation of Dadra and Nagar Haveli from Portuguese rule in 1954, the AIKS 13th national conference at Dahanu in 1955 and the subsequent valiant struggles on many issues including the Forest Rights Act (FRA).
The conference was inaugurated by AIKS General Secretary Hannan Mollah. He warmly congratulated the delegates for the series of effective struggles led by the AIKS in Maharashtra for the last three years. After taking brief stock of the world capitalist crisis and the assaults of imperialism on the lives of the working people of the world, he came down heavily on the thoroughly reactionary two year old record of the Modi regime in all spheres.
He outlined its attacks on the peasantry, agricultural workers and the working class - the failed attempt to push through the draconian Land Acquisition Bill, the attempt to undermine MNREGA, the callous handling of the drought situation, the betrayal of its assurance on remunerative prices to the peasantry, the serious issue of peasant indebtedness which has led to an unprecedented number of peasant suicides in large parts of the country, and the attempt to make reactionary changes in labour laws. These were all parts of the neo-liberal policy trajectory of the BJP-led regime.
Hannan Mollah then warned against the grave communal danger posed by the BJP-RSS regime to the unity of the working people and the integrity of the country and called for a consistent battle in defence of secularism and social justice to defeat the forces of darkness. Finally, he called upon the delegates to bend their efforts for the further strengthening of the AIKS in Maharashtra together with an increase in its political influence. A strong Kisan Sabha is one that strikes fear in the heart of our enemies and that creates enthusiasm in the hearts of our friends. And that is what we must aim to build.
The conference was greeted by AIAWU State President Nathu Salve, AIDWA State President Mariam Dhawale, DYFI State President Sunil Dhanwa, SFI State Secretary Datta Chavan and CITU State Committee member Vinod Nikole. The inaugural session then concluded.
The delegate session began on the afternoon of May 31 in the Comrade Godavari Shamrao Parulekar Bhavan in Talasari. After the election of various committees, AIKS State General Secretary Kisan Gujar placed the report since the 21st State Conference at Amravati in July 2013. State treasurer Sanjay Thakur placed the accounts. The 116-page detailed report had the following major sections: 1. Current Political Challenges, 2. Serious Crisis in Indian Agriculture, 3. Rural Contradictions and New Directions for Struggle, 4. Agrarian Situation in Maharashtra, 5. Work Report, 6. Organisational Report, 7. Future Tasks.
The Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha has led a series of struggles on various peasant issues. The earlier struggles were mainly centred on tribal issues like the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and the issue of drought. It was after the hosting of the AIKS national council meeting at Wardha in July 2015 that the AIKS state council consciously decided to take up all burning peasant issues in the state and planned struggles on them. State office-bearers toured the state twice to galvanise all the district units and the activists. This led to the series of large peasant struggles led by the AIKS in 2016 mentioned above.
AIKS membership in the state has steadily increased from 1,92,121 in 2011-12 to 2,13,331 in 2012-13 to 2,25,978 in 2013-14 to 2,60,423 in 2015-16. Only in the Parliament and Assembly election year 2014-15 there was a drop. The current year’s membership is the highest achieved so far. 23 district conferences were held in February and March 2016 and these were preceded by tehsil and village unit conferences. The report, while dealing with the strengths of the organisation, also pinpoints the weaknesses and ends with concrete tasks.
49 delegates from all 23 districts spoke well on the report and they enriched it with their experiences, suggestions and criticisms. It was a lively discussion and it was aimed at intensifying struggles and strengthening the organisation. After the General Secretary’s reply the next day, the report and the accounts were unanimously adopted. Shankar Sidam placed the credentials report which had several interesting features.
On behalf of the resolutions committee AIKS State Vice President Yashwant Zade placed and AIKS State Joint Secretary Umesh Deshmukh seconded the resolutions of the conference which were unanimously adopted. These were as follows: Loan waiver for the peasantry; Remunerative prices as per the Swaminathan Commission recommendations; Immediate steps for curbing peasant suicides; Urgent steps for drought relief; Implementation of the FRA on a time-bound basis; Vesting temple lands and pasture lands in the names of the cultivating peasants; Pension for peasants and agricultural workers; Observance of the 125th birth anniversary year of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar to propagate social justice and the annihilation of caste; and Full support to the All India strike call for September 2, 2016.
The state conference elected 7 advisors and a 67-member state council, which elected 22 office bearers. The advisors are L B Dhangar, Lahanu Kom, Nanasaheb Pokale, Jaising Mali, Dr Vithal More, Ramkrishna Shere. The state office bearers are President – Kisan Gujar; General Secretary – Dr Ajit Nawale; Working President – Arjun Adey; Treasurer – Umesh Deshmukh; Vice Presidents – Dr Ashok Dhawale, J P Gavit, Dada Raipure, Udayan Sharma, Barkya Mangat, Ratan Budhar, Yashwant Zade, Uddhav Poul, Savliram Pawar; Joint Secretaries – Shankarrao Danav, Sidhappa Kalshetty, Irfan Shaikh, Radka Kalangada, Sunil Malusare, Shankar Sidam, Vilas Babar, Manik Avaghade, Mohan Lamb.
The outgoing State President Dada Raipure and new State President Kisan Gujar and new State General Secretary Dr Ajit Nawale addressed the conference with enthusiasm. Former State President and MLA J P Gavit and National Joint Secretary and former State General Secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale addressed the conference and suggested directions for future work. Hannan Mollah in his concluding speech succinctly summed up the conference.
On behalf of the presidium, Sidhappa Kalshetty thanked the AIKS Thane-Palghar district committee and activists of all the other mass fronts for the excellent organisation of the conference amidst cheers and resounding revolutionary slogans.