AIKS State Convention Gives Call for Massive Struggle in March
ON January 28, 2016, the AIKS Maharashtra council held a vibrant state-level convention in Nashik that gave a clarion call for an unprecedented statewide siege (mahapadav) of one lakh peasants from March 29 onwards in Nashik city. It was attended by over 700 leading activists from 21 districts. This struggle call was the culmination of a four-month long AIKS campaign in Maharashtra. The campaign will be further intensified in the next two months
It was an interesting coincidence that exactly ten years ago to the day on January 28, 2006, Nashik city had witnessed the massive one lakh strong peasant rally of the AIKS 31st national conference that was held from January 28-31.
After the welcome speech by AIKS Nashik district secretary Irfan Shaikh, the election of AIKS state president Dada Raipure as chairman of the convention and the condolence resolution placed by AIKS state vice president Udayan Sharma, the convention was inaugurated by Dr R Ramakumar, professor and dean of the School of Development Studies at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai. In an enlightening address, he succinctly analysed various facets of the agrarian crisis in the country and in the state. The new issue of the AIKS quarterly state journal ‘Kisan Sangharsh’ was released by AIKS former state president J P Gavit, who is seven-time MLA from the Kalwan seat in Nashik district. AIKS state general secretary Kisan Gujar and state vice president Yashwant Zade conducted the proceedings.
The main resolution of the convention, along with the demands, preparation and nature of the coming struggle from March 29, was placed by AIKS national joint secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale. It was ably seconded by AIKS state office-bearers from the five major AIKS districts – Arjun Adey (Nanded), Savliram Pawar (Nashik), Barkya Mangat (Thane-Palghar), Uddhav Poul (Parbhani) and Dr Ajit Nawale (Ahmednagar).
The convention was greeted by CITU state general secretary Dr D L Karad, AIDWA state president Mariam Dhawale, DYFI state president Sunil Dhanwa and SFI state president Mohan Jadhav. All of them pledged full support to the ensuing peasant struggle.
The convention then broke up for district-wise group discussion for an hour. Here the main contours of the district planning for the struggle and of strengthening the organisation were decided upon. Each district filled out its specific replies to a questionnaire on the above points given by the state centre. This was a vital part of the convention. Two lakh persuasive and attractive leaflets for the ensuing campaign had been published by the state centre and they were distributed to all the districts in the convention itself.
After speeches by other AIKS state office-bearers Umesh Deshmukh (Sangli), Sidhappa Kalshetty (Solapur) and Vilas Babar (Parbhani), the rousing concluding speeches were delivered by J P Gavit and Dada Raipure. A press conference was also organised.
This convention was preceded by a four-month long sustained campaign by the AIKS. It actually began by the Maharashtra AIKS hosting the AIKS national council meeting at Wardha in the Vidarbha region in July 2015. This was accompanied by a spirited rally.
A state-wide AIKS Peasants Rights Awareness Campaign was held for a month from October 5 to November 10, 2015, in which meetings of the main AIKS district activists were held in 24 districts of the state. Around 1,500 activists attended these meetings. In all these meetings, attended by AIKS national joint secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale, state general secretary Kisan Gujar, state joint secretary Dr Ajit Nawale and other state office-bearers as a collective team, the burning issues of peasant struggle were identified; the nature of the struggle was discussed; and the steps for organisational strengthening were decided.
In December 2015, over 50,000 peasants under the AIKS banner came on to the streets in 29 tehsils of 15 districts in all the five regions of the state on the four burning issues of land rights, loan waiver, remunerative prices and drought relief.
On January 7 and 8, 2016 respectively, the AIKS held two regional-level loan-waiver and drought relief conventions at Selu in Parbhani district for the Marathwada region, and at Malkapur in Buldana district for the Vidarbha region. Both were well-attended by 400 to 500 peasants each from 11 districts of Marathwada and Vidarbha regions
On January 12, an AIKS convention of peasants cultivating temple lands was held at Satara where the main demand was the vesting of these vast lands in the names of the cultivating peasants. Over 500 peasants from the four districts of Western Maharashtra attended.
On January 19, as part of the joint CITU-AIKS-AIAWU call for a state-wide jail bharo stir, 92,272 peasants from over 60 tehsil centres in 25 districts under AIKS leadership marched in rallies and courted arrest around their demands and to condemn the BJP-led governments.
From February 7 to March 1, all AIKS district conferences are being held and they are being preceded by village and tehsil conferences. In March, district-level jathas will be organised. The state conference will be held at Talasari in Thane-Palghar district by the end of April.
The AIKS state council re-started the publication of its quarterly journal Kisan Sangharsh. The AIKS also published 5,000 copies of a booklet on Remunerative Prices to the Peasantry written by AIKS state joint secretary Dr Ajit Nawale and this sold briskly all over the state.
As a result of all this activity, AIKS membership in Maharashtra this year has crossed the 2 lakh mark and concerted efforts are on to cross the 3 lakh mark for the first time this year.
THE MAJOR ISSUES OF
THE COMING STRUGGLE
Maharashtra has been a sad witness to 3,228 peasant suicides in the year 2015, according to official figures released by the NCRB. Of these 1,179 have been in the Amravati division of Vidarbha; 1,130 in the Aurangabad division of Marathwada; 459 in the Nashik division of Northern Maharashtra; 362 in the Nagpur division of Vidarbha; 96 in the Pune division of Western Maharashtra; and 2 in the Konkan division of Coastal Maharashtra.
In the last 20 years since 1995, Maharashtra has had the grim record of over 65,000 peasant suicides, the highest in the country which has seen over 3,50,000 peasant suicides during the same period. Of these 20 years, the state has been ruled by the Congress-NCP regime for 14 years and by the BJP-Shiv Sena regime for 6 years; and the country has been ruled by the Congress alliance for 11 years and by the BJP alliance for 8 years.
There is a clear class convergence in the neo-liberal agrarian policies pursued by both these governments. It is these very class policies that are at the root of the grave issue of peasant suicides, which is one of the stark symptoms of the deep agrarian crisis in the country.
The NSS Situation Assessment Survey 2013 on the Indebtedness of Agricultural Households in Maharashtra is an eye-opener. Its highlights are collated and given in two charts below:
Profile of Agricultural Households’ Outstanding Debt by Region
Profile of Agricultural Households’ Outstanding Debt by Landholding and Sector
Upto 1 Hectare
Above 10 Hectare
SOME MAJOR CONCLUSIONS
Space does not permit a detailed analysis of the above charts but some facts are very clear:
1. As many as 57.3 percent, ie, 40.67 lakh peasants in the state were indebted in 2013. With the severe drought conditions in large parts of the state in the last two years and the even more retrograde agrarian policies of the Modi-led BJP regime, both these figures are certain to have increased in the last three years. This is reflected in the stark rise of peasant suicides in the state to the tune of 40 percent in the last one year. The total quantum of agricultural debt in the state which is Rs 38,844 crore, includes crop loans and also loans taken by agricultural households for other purposes.
2. The worst position of the debt-ridden peasantry is in the two backward regions of Marathwada and Western Vidarbha, where the main crop is cotton and where the drought is most severe. The situation in Northern Maharashtra is also worsening. Eastern Vidarbha and Konkan have relatively low debt since here the main crop is paddy, its cost of production being low. The large quantum of debt in Konkan is explained by the huge amounts of notorious so-called ‘agricultural loans’ given by banks to the corporates and to the urban rich in Mumbai. Although the loan quantum in Western Maharashtra is large, the peasantry of the sugarcane belt here is protected by two factors – much better irrigation facilities and a stronger co-operative sector which, however, is fast deteriorating under the twin onslaught of neo-liberal policies and the venality of the landlord-sugar baron lobby.
3. The chart giving the debt of various categories of land-holding shows that 36 lakh of the 40 lakh indebted agricultural households have land-holdings of less than 4 hectares (10 acres) each. Unfortunately, the NSS survey has not given a separate classification of the debts of irrigated and dryland farmers. The sectoral debt figures clearly show that as land-holding increases, the proportion of debt from the formal sector (banks, co-operative societies and government) also increases. The poor farmers face a crunch when it comes to loans from the formal sector. Nevertheless, the overall proportion of agricultural loans from the formal sector in Maharashtra is higher than that of many other states.
IS PEASANT LOAN-WAIVER
4. If we multiply by 20 times (there being 29 states in India, some of them quite small) the total outstanding agricultural debt in Maharashtra – around Rs 40,000 crore – we will probably come close to the figure of the total outstanding agricultural debt in India – around Rs 8 lakh crore. This amount will actually be smaller, since there is no question of demanding any loan-waiver for the rural rich. The Congress and BJP central governments have given huge tax concessions to corporates and other richer sections to the tune of Rs 20 lakh crore in their union budgets during the last 5 years. If only these tax concessions to the rich are diverted to waiver of peasant loans, crores of peasants all over India can be made debt-free in just two years! We are not taking into account the massive Non-Performing Assets (NPAs) of banks, ie, the loans taken and not repaid by corporates and others, which are currently estimated to be to the tune of Rs 5.42 lakh crore! Nor are we considering the massive amounts stashed away by the rich and the powerful in Swiss and other foreign banks, which are officially estimated to be to the tune of 20.92 lakh crore! It was this amount that Narendra Modi promised to bring back to the country and distribute it at the rate of Rs 15 lakh per Indian citizen!
5. It goes without saying that the issue of peasant debt is a direct result of a whole gamut of factors that have been intensely aggravated by the neo-liberal policies of successive central governments. These include the sharply escalating costs of agricultural inputs as a result of the rapacious loot by the multinational and corporate lobby; the consistent refusal since independence to give remunerative prices to the peasantry based on the cost of production, and in particular the short shrift given in the last one decade to the seminal recommendation of the National Commission on Farmers headed by Dr M S Swaminathan to give a remunerative price which includes cost of production plus 50 percent profit for all crops, along with an efficient State machinery for procurement at these rates; the crunch in formal credit especially to poor and middle peasants and agricultural workers; the lack of an effective and comprehensive crop insurance scheme to deal with natural calamities like drought and floods; and the sharp cuts in public investment in agriculture, irrigation, power, R & D, MNREGA and other social welfare schemes concerning education and health.
THE ISSUES OF
DROUGHT AND LAND
The other major question in the state is that of chronic drought. In spite of the mammoth sum of Rs 8,000 crore spent by the state government on irrigation schemes since the state was formed 55 years ago in 1960, irrigation is limited to just 18 percent of the cultivated land in the state. This is because huge amounts have been siphoned off by the nefarious nexus of ministers, bureaucrats and contractors in mind-boggling corruption scams. Along with other important factors, this is the root cause of the chronic drought situation. The principle of equitable distribution of water has been thrown to the winds. Today drinking water, fodder, work and food have become scarce in thousands of villages in Marathwada and Vidarbha regions. The crops of lakhs of peasants have been destroyed by drought and they have hardly been paid any compensation by the government.
Lastly, there is the vital question of land. The most important and burning land issue in Maharashtra today is that of the non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA). Of the 3,50,908 claims that were made predominantly by adivasis, as many as 77 percent ie, 2,72,675 were rejected. This has naturally led to great anger and discontent. The AIKS has led massive and militant struggles of tens of thousands of adivasi peasants on this issue in 2011 and 2013. These struggles had forced the state government to the negotiating table. But the assurances given were belied and the progress in implementation is tardy. Along with this is the question of temple lands. There are over 6 lakh acres of temple lands in the state which are owned by various temple trusts, but have been cultivated by peasants for several decades and even generations. However, they are not vested in the names of the cultivating peasants and this makes them ineligible for bank loans and other benefits. The drive by corporates, urban and rural rich and the land mafia to grab land all over the state by hook or by crook is another major issue. The BJP-led state regime has begun moves to amend the law that prohibits non-tribals from acquiring the land of tribals.
It is on these major issues that the March 29 struggle of the AIKS will be launched.