Friday, May 12, 2017



Ashok Dhawale and Ajit Nawale

The historic one lakh-strong state-wide rally on March 29, 2016 and the unprecedented day and night sit-in satyagraha on March 29-30 in the heart of Nashik city, squarely placed the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha (AIKS) for the first time at the centre stage of the peasant movement in Maharashtra. The four main issues on which the Kisan Sabha launched this struggle were peasant loan waiver, remunerative prices, drought relief and land rights.

As a welcome change, this militant peasant action received massive and sustained coverage in both print and electronic media. Sections of the electronic media covered the rally and satyagraha live on both days and ran effective interviews not only with Kisan Sabha leaders but also with ordinary farmers who had come from all over Maharashtra. Almost all Marathi dailies covered the rally and the satyagraha with banner headlines and large pictures on their front pages for two days. Many English and Hindi dailies also covered the struggle well. 

Widely read Marathi dailies like the Maharashtra Times (Times of India group), Loksatta (Indian Express group) and the prestigious daily for farmers Agro One (Sakaal group) ran editorials and Op-Ed page articles on the AIKS struggle. The Agro One editorial was titled “Settle the Struggle, or Revolution Inevitable”. The Loksatta article was titled “Pendulum Swings to the Left”. The Maharashtra Times editorial was titled “Fury of the Adivasis”.

On March 29, tens of thousands of farmers from 25 districts of the state converged on the Golf Club Maidan at Nashik. They included thousands of peasant women. By far the largest contingents were Adivasi peasants from Nashik and Thane-Palghar districts. The huge mass from these two districts had come despite hundreds of crucial gram panchayat elections that had been hurriedly advanced by the powers that be with a view to mar this struggle. The first day for filing nominations was scheduled for March 29, the day of the rally itself!

These two districts were followed by impressive contingents of farmers from Ahmednagar, Wardha, Parbhani and 20 other districts from all the five regions of Vidarbha, Marathwada, Western Maharashtra, Northern Maharashtra and Konkan.  

The main speakers at the massive rally were CPI (M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, AIKS general secretary Hannan Mollah and renowned journalist P Sainath. The rally was also addressed by AIKS Joint Secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale, CPI (M) State Secretary Narasayya Adam, former AIKS state president J P Gavit MLA, State General Secretary Kisan Gujar, State President Dada Raipure and AIKS state office-bearers Arjun Adey, Dr Ajit Nawale, Savliram Pawar, Ratan Budhar, Yashwant Zade and Uddhav Poul. It was presided over by the 86-year old veteran leader of the AIKS in the state, L B Dhangar.

The rally was greeted by CITU State Vice president Mahendra Singh, AIDWA State President Mariam Dhawale, DYFI State President Sunil Dhanwa and SFI State Secretary Datta Chavan. The Praja Natya Mandal from Solapur regaled the audience with revolutionary songs. 

Sitaram Yechury congratulated the peasants who had come in such huge numbers for this struggle and assured them that the Red Flag will always be with them in all their joys and sorrows. When the farmer who feeds the country has to commit suicide, it is a symbol of the gravest crisis. He came down heavily on the government policies of denial of fair prices to farmers and the callousness in dealing with drought. On the issue of land, he said it was only the Left Front government of Tripura that had seriously and swiftly implemented the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and had vested land in the names of 99 per cent of Adivasi claimants.

As regards the question of peasant debt, Sitaram said that Rs 5.62 lakh crore of bank loans were outstanding with corporates and industrialists. Nothing was being done about this; on the contrary Vijay Mallya who had fleeced the banks was allowed to flee the country. In this union budget itself Rs 6.11 lakh crore of tax concessions were gifted to the rich. But the farmers’ lands and houses were taken away when they defaulted on even small sums of loans. Loan-waiver for peasants, he said, was the need of the hour.

Sitaram then squarely attacked the BJP-led Modi regime for trying to divert the attention of the people from its all-round bankruptcy on all fronts by raising emotional and divisive non-issues, as seen recently in the events in HCU which led to Rohith Vemula’s institutional murder, the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar and others in JNU on false charges of sedition, the jingoism let loose over the ‘Bharat Mata Ki Jai slogan’ and so on. He said the HRD Ministry was being turned from Human Resource Development to Hindu Rashtra Development under RSS-BJP dictates and this must be strongly resisted by the people, especially the youth.  

Recounting the string of electoral defeats faced by the BJP in the assembly elections in Delhi and Bihar and in the local body elections in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra and even in Gujarat, he said the BJP would meet the same fate in the ensuing elections in Kerala, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and Assam. Finally, he called for a sustained struggle for the rights of the working people and in defence of democracy, secularism, national unity and socio-economic justice.      

Hannan Mollah, in a spirited speech, recounted the glorious legacy of the AIKS in fighting against British imperialism and its struggles for land to the tiller and peasants’ rights. In line with this legacy, the AIKS was recently in the forefront of the victorious struggle against the draconian Land Acquisition Ordinance of the Modi-led BJP regime and also on the issue of suicides of 3,50,000 debt-ridden peasants in our country in the last 20 years. Recounting the big AIKS struggles in Rajasthan, Haryana and other parts of the country, he strongly supported the demands of the current struggle being waged in Maharashtra.
Hannan Mollah said that those who acted as agents of the British during our freedom struggle and those who assassinated Mahatma Gandhi then and Dabholkar-Pansare-Kalburgi now, have no right whatsoever to lecture anyone on patriotism. The RSS-BJP, who make one brother fight against another in the name of religion, are the real enemies of our country. He called upon the gathering to fight till the end until their demands are won. There was no other way except struggle, he concluded.

P Sainath, in an effective speech armed with facts and figures, tore apart the promises and performance of the Modi-led BJP regime vis-a-vis farmers and agriculture. He also dealt at length with the agrarian situation and concrete problems facing the peasantry in Maharashtra. He demanded a radical change in policies so that the peasantry is freed from both debt and drought and called for a sustained struggle towards this end.   

After the public meeting, the huge peasant mass marched with determination to the District Collector’s office, turned back, and in a move that stunned the police and the administration, it occupied the pivotal Central Bus Stand Square in the heart of Nashik city, disrupting all life in this major city of Maharashtra. Here the Kisan Sabha began a day and night sit-in satyagraha at the square. The leaders declared that this action would continue indefinitely until the major demands were conceded by the state government. All four major arteries of Nashik city leading to the square were blocked by tens of thousands of peasants.

The mood of the occupying peasants was infectiously vibrant. The farmers put up Kisan Sabha district and tehsil banners and hundreds of placards with the major demands of the struggle. They put up make-shift huts and shelters. They had brought three days chatni-bhakri to eat. Many had even brought grains, utensils and firewood for cooking. Women had brought their children along and they also enjoyed this novel form of protest. The peasants sang and danced to the tune of their musical instruments to express their determination. They slept on the roads at night and all Kisan Sabha leaders and activists also joined them.

The whole day of March 30 was spent like a public meeting, interspersed with revolutionary songs. CITU state general secretary Dr D L Karad, CITU State Vice President Sitaram Thombre, CPI (M) Municipal Corporator of Nashik Tanaji Jaybhave greeted the agitators. The CITU had organised a motor-cycle rally on March 29 to support the AIKS struggle and provided food to the peasant participants on the night of March 30.

AIKS leaders from various districts also effectively addressed the agitators the whole day. Leaders of left and secular parties like the CPI, PWP, AAP, BRP-BM and other peasant organisations also came to express support. Ordinary citizens, students, youth and women from Nashik thronged to sympathise with the struggle. Various charitable institutions and shopkeepers spontaneously provided free water and snacks to the participants.

The farmers were full of anger against the callousness of the BJP-led governments both at the centre and in the state. A peasant woman from Nashik district said crores were spent by the state government last year to cater to the saffron sadhus during the Kumbh Mela in Nashik last year, but it could not spend even a paisa to provide basic amenities for the peasants. Another peasant woman from Thane-Palghar district challenged the ministers to come out of their air-conditioned offices and to face the wrath of the peasants over their failure to vest forest land in the names of the Adivasi peasants for the last ten years in spite of the FRA.

Farmers from Vidarbha and Marathwada related their terrible plight as a collective result of the grim drought, unpayable debt, crop destruction and unremunerative prices. Peasants from Western Maharashtra talked of thousands of acres of temple lands being tilled by farmers for decades, but which were still not vested in their names and hence they could get no loans or any other facilities from the government.

In a specially planned move, on both the days of the struggle, tens of thousands of attractive red AIKS plastic badges, and thousands of copies of the brand new issue of the AIKS state journal Kisan Sangharsh, as well as the CPI (M) state journal Jeevan Marg, were briskly sold by volunteers to increase the political consciousness of the participants in the struggle.

On the morning of March 30, CPI (M) MLA J P Gavit moved an adjournment motion in the State Assembly which was in session. This led to a heated discussion in which MLAs from the PWP and some other opposition parties supported the ongoing AIKS struggle in Nashik.

On March 30, the beleaguered Maharashtra Chief Minister Shri Devendra Fadnavis invited the Kisan Sabha for talks. A one hour discussion was held with the CM, three other Ministers holding the Portfolios of Irrigation, Cooperatives and Tribal Development, and senior officials in the Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai. The CM conceded the following demands:

1. Loan waiver to all farmers would be given and a proposal to that effect would be sent to the Central Government.

2. The state government would send crop wise proposals to the Centre for remunerative prices as per the Swaminathan Commission recommendation of cost of production plus 50 per cent profit.

3. In the drought-hit areas of the state, the farmers would be given 100 per cent electricity bill waiver and in all other areas the farmers would be given 30 per cent relief in power bills.

4. Efforts would be made on a war footing to provide drinking water, ration grain, fodder and work under MNREGA in the drought-hit areas of Marathwada and Vidarbha regions.

5. The tens of thousands of rejected claims of Adivasi peasants made under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), as well as the accepted claims with much less land given than is cultivated by them, would be re-examined within three months and justice done. Immediate orders to this effect would be given to the District Collectors.

6. A statewide survey would be conducted of lakhs of acres of temple lands and pasture lands to record the farmer-cultivators and the necessary legal steps would be taken to vest these lands in their names.

7. Steps would be taken to see how the water from the West-flowing rivers can be given to the Nashik, Thane and Palghar districts and diverted to the drought-hit areas in the state.

8. On all other issues, a special three-hour meeting will be held with the Kisan Sabha delegation after the end of the current assembly session.

The delegation that met the CM comprised Dr Ashok Dhawale, MLA J P Gavit, Narasayya Adam ex-MLA, Kisan Gujar, Dr Ajit Nawale, Barkya Mangat, Yashwant Zade, Uddhav Poul and Umesh Deshmukh.

In view of these assurances, the Kisan Sabha decided to suspend the sit-in stir for three months and this was announced by Dr Ashok Dhawale and J P Gavit at midnight on March 30/31 at Nashik before thousands of farmers. But they also warned that if there was any betrayal in implementation of these assurances, this struggle would be conducted with much greater force in the state capital Mumbai. It should also be noted that while the police did not take any action during the protest, it filed cases against 28 leading AIKS-CITU-AIDWA participants later on.

The burning demands of the peasantry of the state that were highlighted in this struggle were: Complete waiver of peasant loans and electricity bills for those holding up to 25 acres of dry land and up to 10 acres of irrigated land; Remunerative prices for all crops as per the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission; Water, fodder, work under MNREGA and crop compensation to drought-hit areas of Marathwada and Vidarbha regions; stringent implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and forest land, pasture land and temple land to be vested in the name of the actual tillers.

Other demands included strict implementation of the National Food Security Act (NFSA); Work to whoever demands it under MNREGA with a minimum wage of Rs 300 per day, payment within 8 days; Old-age pension of Rs 3,000 per month for peasants and agricultural workers; A democratic and equitable irrigation policy; and the excess water from West-flowing rivers to be utilised for Nashik, Thane and Palghar districts and the rest to be diverted to the chronically drought-hit areas of Maharashtra. 

In the last one year 2015, 3,228 debt-ridden farmers have been forced to commit suicide – the largest number being in Vidarbha and Marathwada regions. In the last 20 years from 1995, over 65,000 farmers have committed suicide in Maharashtra, this being an ignominious record in the country as a whole. Maharashtra has, in fact, become a veritable graveyard of farmers. The current grim drought situation has made things much worse.

Last week, there was the shocking case of Madhav Kadam, a poor 27 year-old farmer from Nanded district committing suicide outside Mantralaya in Mumbai, because he had not received the full amount of the extremely meagre compensation of Rs 6,800 for crop loss due to drought. Drought relief measures in the state are conspicuous by their absence.

The policies of the BJP-led Modi and Fadnavis regimes are ranged against farmers and only platitudes are being dished out. Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his pre-election speeches and the BJP election manifesto of 2014 itself had stated that the Swaminathan Commission recommendation of giving MSP as cost of production plus 50 per cent profit would be implemented. However, on coming to power, the Modi regime filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court in February 2015 declaring that giving this price to farmers was ‘unfeasible’.

There is no talk of giving loan waiver to farmers (the total estimated agricultural loan in India is Rs 8 lakh crore and in Maharashtra the total loan of 40 lakh agricultural households is Rs 39 thousand crore). But in the last two Union Budgets, the Modi regime has showered corporates with tax concessions of Rs 12 lakh crore! Vijay Mallya, who was elected Rajya Sabha MP from Karnataka with BJP support, is allowed to flee the country although he has fleeced banks of over Rs 9,000 crore!

It was only due to the countrywide mass struggles led by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) along with other farmers organisations and the stiff resistance put up in the Rajya Sabha by the Left and other opposition parties, that the Modi regime was temporarily forced to shelve the draconian Land Acquisition Ordinance and Bill which aimed at forcibly acquiring lakhs of acres of farmers’ land and handing it over to the corporates for a pittance. 

The Forest Rights Act (FRA), which was enacted in 2006 with a view to correct the ‘historical injustice’ against Adivasis and to vest forest lands being tilled by them for generations in their names, is being violated with impunity for the last 10 years. Of the 3,50,908 claims for land that were made by Adivasis in the state, as many as 2,72,675 claims i. e. 77 per cent, have been rejected in a most unjust and arbitrary manner. The question of vesting lakhs of acres of pasture lands and temple lands in the names of the tillers is still unresolved. On the contrary, a concerted drive is on to transfer peasants’ lands to corporates and the rich.

The March 29-30 state-wide struggle in Nashik was the culmination of a six-month long campaign led by the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha. In the months of October and November 2015, an awareness campaign was conducted with extended meetings of Kisan Sabha activists in 25 districts. In December 2015, over 50,000 farmers came out on the streets on the above issues in 23 districts under AIKS leadership. In January 2016, peasant loan-waiver conventions were held in Marathwada and Vidarbha regions and a temple land farmers’ convention was held in Western Maharashtra.

On January 19, 2016, over 92,000 farmers led by the Kisan Sabha participated in a joint CITU-AIKS-AIAWU Jail Bharo stir across the state. In February, Kisan Sabha district conferences were held in 23 districts to prepare for the March 29 struggle. In March, farmers’ jathas were organised in all districts. Around 5 lakh leaflets were distributed, 11,000 printed posters were put up and hundreds of village meetings were held.

It has been decided to follow up the March 29-30 action by constant local struggles, effective political intervention in the coming local body elections, and membership enrolment and organisational consolidation, leading up to the 22nd state conference of the AIKS to be held at the Comrade Godavari Shamrao Parulekar Bhawan at Talasari in Palghar district on May 27-28-29, 2016.

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