JUNE 1, 2018 marked the first anniversary of the beginning of the historic united farmers’ strike in Maharashtra, which lasted for 11 days. The AIKS played a key role in the strike. This strike forced the unwilling BJP-led state government to concede a Rs 34,000 crore loan waiver package, declaring that Rs 1.5 lakh would be waived per farmer. However, the onerous set of conditions that it imposed threw lakhs of farmers out of the loan waiver net.
A series of agitations were led against this betrayal of the BJP regime. The largest was a two lakh-strong joint statewide road blockade in over 200 centres in 31 districts of the state on August 14, 2017. The AIKS participation in it was the highest at 85,000.
When all this failed to move the government, the AIKS embarked upon the unprecedented Kisan Long March of 30,000 peasants from Nashik to Mumbai from March 6-12, 2018. Under tremendous public pressure and media coverage generated by the Kisan Long March, the state government was forced to concede many demands in writing and also had to place the agreement with the AIKS on the floor of both houses of the state legislature. All these events have already been covered in these columns on earlier occasions.
It is now three months since the Kisan Long March and the agreement reached on March 12, 2018. But implementation of only three of the many conceded demands has begun.
1. The loan waiver has been extended to cover the years 2001 to 2009. It had originally been declared from 2009 to 2016. However, the crucial issue of extending it to 2016-17 still remains, apart from other important conceded demands about the loan waiver scheme.
2. The loan waiver has been extended to cover emu-rearing, shednet and polyhouses. These were not included in the scheme declared last year.
3. As regards the key issue of the implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), the state government has published an order on May 11, 2018 setting out a time-bound schedule under the name of ‘Van Mitra Mohim’ (Friends of Forests Campaign). This has taken account of the demands of the AIKS and has called for a re-examination of all rejected tribal claims to forest land and also of all claims where less land is given than is being cultivated.
This has not come a day too soon. A recent report in the Indian Express written by Kavitha Iyer corroborates what the AIKS has been saying with facts and figures all along. This report says that according to the data compiled till March 31, 2018 by the Tribal Development Department of the state government, of the 3,59,745 claims made for Individual Forest Rights, as many as 2,24,874 claims were rejected in a three-tier process involving local bodies. This comes to a whopping 62.5 per cent claims rejected. The rejection rate in Nandurbar district is 78 per cent and in Gadchiroli district it is 65.7 per cent. In the two AIKS bastions, the rejection rate is: Nashik – 65.2 per cent; and Palghar – 50.99 per cent.
Nothing at all has been done by the state government as regards the demands conceded about remunerative prices for agricultural produce. This has now resulted in a major crisis for milk farmers. While the state government declared an MSP for milk at Rs 27 per litre, milk farmers are being paid only Rs 17 per litre by the co-operative and private milk processors. But milk is being sold in the cities at the rate of Rs 45 per litre and above. Hence this has become a major bone of contention. But beyond taking some cosmetic measures, the state government has done nothing substantial. Similarly, dues in excess of Rs 2000 crore are yet to be paid by sugarcane factories to cane farmers in the state. The AIKS a couple of months ago had led a joint struggle for remunerative price for sugarcane.
In order to focus on the issue of milk price, the AIKS along with some other peasant organisations led a novel week-long agitation in around 10 milk-producing districts of Western Maharashtra and Marathwada from May 3-9, 2018. Throughout the week, farmers distributed their milk free to the poor instead of selling it at so cheap a price. This was widely covered by the media and put the state government on the defensive.
THE JUNE STRUGGLE
It was to highlight the unfulfilled demands of the farmers strike and the Kisan Long March, as well as to raise the milk price issue, that the AIKS state council decided two months ago to launch a renewed struggle from June 1, the first anniversary of the farmers’ strike. It was decided to gherao the district collectorates and the tehsil offices all over the state on June 1. Some other farmers’ organisations like Prahaar, Bhumiputra Shetkari Sanghatana, Sharad Joshi Vichar Manch, Lakhganga Andolan, Shetkari Kruti Samiti, Bharat Krushak Samaj, Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Andolan also agreed to participate in the June struggle.
On June 1, thousands of farmers led by the AIKS and other like-minded organisations led large rallies and gheraoed the district collectorates and tehsil offices. Apart from zeroing in on the state-level demands, they also wrested several local demands from the authorities.
On June 5, in another novel action to put the BJP-led central and state government on the defensive, hundreds of farmers led by the AIKS and other organisations presented packets to the local government officials of tur dal imported by the Modi regime from Mozambique, sugar imported by it from Pakistan and milk brought by the state government from companies of other states. This highlighted one of the reasons for falling prices to farmers.
On June 10, there took place large road blockade actions all over the state against the callousness of both the central and state governments headed by the BJP.
The June actions took place in 22 districts of the state. They were extensively covered by both print and electronic media. The two largest actions took place on June 1 at Akole tehsil in Ahmednagar district and on June 12 at Surgana tehsil in Nashik district.
At Akole the CPI(M), AIKS and CITU led a march of over 5,000 peasants and workers and gheraoed the tehsil office for three hours until local demands were conceded. It was led by AIKS president Ashok Dhawale, AIKS state general secretary Ajit Nawale, Sadashiv Sable, Namdev Bhangre, Eknath Mengal, Sahebrao Ghode, Khandu Wakchaure and others.
At Surgana the AIKS led a march of over 7,000 peasants and gheraoed the tehsil office for six hours while the SDO, tehsildar and other officials conceded all the local demands. June 12 was the 31st martyrdom anniversary of Comrade Laxman Bagul, who was killed in police firing in 1987 during the AIKS-led struggle for forest rights. Here the action was led by Ashok Dhawale, AIKS former state president J P Gavit, MLA, state president Kisan Gujar, state office bearers Savliram Pawar, Subhash Choudhari and Sunil Malusare, DYFI state vice president Indrajit Gavit, Surgana panchayat samiti chairperson Suvarna Gangode.
Sonali Bagul of the CPI(M), who had just been elected chairperson of the Surgana municipal council, was felicitated. The Party had won this position for the first time. Around 200 activists of the BJP and Shiv Sena joined this action and publicly declared that they were leaving their parties out of disillusionment and wanted to join the AIKS under the impact of the Kisan Long March. They were welcomed with thunderous slogans of the Red Flag.
In all the actions of the June struggle, thousands of copies of the Kisan Long March special issue of the AIKS state journal ‘Kisan Sangharsh’ sold like hot cakes among the peasantry.
ON TO AUGUST 9 AND SEPTEMBER 5
After this, the AIKS in Maharashtra, as elsewhere in the country, will gear up to make a success of the 10 crore signature campaign on burning peasant demands; the nationwide jail bharo stir on August 9 to give the ‘Quit India’ call to the BJP-RSS central government; and the September 5 countrywide Mazdoor-Kisan Rally in Delhi. The AIKS Maharashtra state council will meet on July 9 to give final shape to the preparation for these struggles.