AS a follow up of the historic kisan long march from Nashik to Mumbai from March 6-12, 2018, the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) called for a kisan vijay (victory) march in Kalwan, about 70 km north of Nashik, close to the border with Gujarat, on April 2. I travelled to Kalwan to be part of the march.
Kalwan was awash with red. The local police estimated, I learnt, that between 25,000 to 30,000 farmers attended. The Kisan Sabha had erected a large pandal with a stage on one side. This pandal couldn’t have accommodated everybody, and so they spilled out on all sides. Farmers – women and men, young and old – sat and listened in rapt attention as the leaders spoke. Each speaker began with fulsome praise for the courage and determination of the farmers. It is true, as everybody said, that they were the real heroes.
One of the key allies of the AIKS in the long march was the Bharatiya Shetkari Kamgar Paksha (Peasants and Workers Party of India - PWP). Their general secretary Jayant Patil referred to the arrogance of the BJP in thinking that they had wiped out the red flag with their win in the Tripura assembly elections. “Come here and see,” he roared. “There is a sea of red here.” He continued, “You think you can destroy the image of Lenin we carry in our hearts? We will erect a statue of Lenin in Alibag (Raigad district, near Mumbai; this is the main base of the PWP), and we will ask every political party to join us in doing this. By pulling down one Lenin statue, they don’t know how many more statues they have helped in erecting.”
Ajit Nawale, the young, firebrand general secretary of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha, explained the important concessions about the loan waiver as a result of the pressure of the long march. He told the farmers that the government hadn’t earlier agreed to a waiver of loans in the period 2001-09, which they did this time, and extended the waiver to 2016-17 as well. He also detailed a number of other onerous conditions that the government had earlier imposed, which they have removed this time.
Ashok Dhawale, president of the All India Kisan Sabha, talked about the highlights and the significance of the long march and also went into the details of the many demands conceded. He made three additional points. One,that the Modi government is set on diluting the provisions of the Forest Rights Act (FRA) by proposing a PPP model for forests in its new Draft Forest Policy. This means, in simple terms, a privatisation of forests, and opening them up to rapacious exploitation. Second, he explained how the Supreme Court has diluted the provisions of the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act, and the government had done little to defend it. He condemned the government’s stand, and extended full support to the protests marking the entire country that day. Since a large number of the farmers are tribals, this affects them directly. Third, he outlined the future course of struggle. He told the farmers that the AIKS has decided to collect 10 crore (100 million) signatures for their basic demands and present these to the government. August 9, the anniversary of the Quit India movement of 1942, will be the day that farmers will court arrest en masse, in hundreds of thousands, all over the country. And they will ask the BJP led union government, the most anti-farmer government ever in the history of the nation, to Quit India.
The man of the hour was undoubtedly JP Gavit. He is a seven-time MLA and the former president of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha. A large part of the speech was devoted to explaining in detail the nitty-gritty of the implementation of the FRA. While it is a historic victory, he said, there is every reason to be vigilant. The track record of this, and previous governments hasn’t been anything to write home about. Farmers have been betrayed again and again. The proof of the pudding is in the eating. You have forced the government to concede your demands, he told the farmers, but don’t think the implementation will happen without struggle. Ever vigilant, ever ready to fight.
To do this, he said, we need to build the Kisan Sabha in every village. He urged all those present to focus on membership and on creating village committees. Without a strong organisation, there can be no struggle. And without struggle, there is no victory.
Some of the other speakers included: Kisan Gujar, president of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha; Ratan Budhar, president of the Thane-Palghar district Kisan Sabha; Savliram Pawar, president of the Nashik district Kisan Sabha; and DL Karad, Maharashtra state president of the Centre for Indian Trade Unions. The meeting was conducted by Sunil Malusare, joint secretary of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha.
Both Dhawale and Gavit explained why they didn’t get the chief minister to sign the agreement with the farmers’ delegation. Chief ministers come and go, they said. It is relatively easy for a government to go back on the word of a previous government. What stays is the bureaucracy. So they had decided that they would insist on the agreement being signed by the chief secretary of the government of Maharashtra, and ask for the chief minister to table it in the assembly the next day. Given the upsurge of popular support, the government had no option but to accede to this.
Then there was the question of the support extended to the kisan long march by the opposition parties like the Congress, NCP and MNS, but also by the Shiv Sena, which is a part of the government. Since the demands concerned all farmers, the leaders said that we want our demands to be supported by all political parties. But we also know what these political parties are, and what they’ve done for farmers. So we welcome the support, but don’t depend on it.
Farmers’ demands are not partisan. They are society’s demands.
Ashok Dhawale, in his speech, asked the farmers to buy the two special issues of Jeewan Marg, the CPI(M)’s weekly magazine, with write-ups and photos of the kisan long march. The two together cost Rs 15. As soon as the announcement was made, one by one people started inching their way to the stage and collecting copies for their groups. All around, I saw farmers reading the magazine, looking at the photos, pointing out faces, smiling. “Many of them can’t read,” Kisan Gujar told me later. “But they’ll all buy the issues, take them home and get their children or grandchildren to read it to them. Not this or that article. The whole issue, cover to cover. If you come here twenty years later, you’ll find these two special issues in many homes. Why? Because they’re about the long march. The farmers know they’ve done something historic. And they are proud.” Over 1,000 sets of the magazine were sold that day, till they ran out of copies.
After the rally ended, I passed a young boy rounding up flags. I asked him what he was doing.
“Collecting flags so that people don’t take them home.”
“Why?” I asked.
“We need them for the future,” he said. Then, in Hindi, “Aage aur ladai hai.” I smiled, and he smiled, because we both know the popular slogan he was quoting,
Abhi toh yeh angdai hai /Aage aur ladai hai
This was but an arm stretch/ Many battles lie ahead.