MAHARASHTRA: Joint Conventions of Farmers Mobilise Thousands for Struggle
ON June 11, 2017, the BJP-led state government was forced to the negotiating table by the Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Organisations and it had to publicly declare a complete loan waiver for farmers, excluding the richer sections, as a result of the unprecedented 10-day farmers’ strike in Maharashtra, which was backed by a Maharashtra bandh. That report was carried in these columns last month.
However, as was only to be expected, the BJP-led state government betrayed its promise of a complete loan waiver within a fortnight. Foreseeing the possibility of this betrayal, the coordination committee had declared in the joint press conference along with five cabinet ministers on June 11 itself that, in case the government went back on its word, the struggle would be renewed with greater force from July 26.
On June 24, without in any way consulting the coordination committee, the state government unilaterally announced a loan waiver package of Rs 34,000 crore. It was completely unsatisfactory on several counts.
Firstly, the government had itself earlier declared that the total peasant crop loan in the state is Rs 1.14 lakh crore. The Rs 34,000 crore government package means that a crop loan of Rs 80,000 crore still remains. In percentage terms, only 29.82 per cent of the crop loan is waived, while 70.18 per cent of the crop loan still remains.
Secondly, it has set a limit of Rs 1.5 lakh for defaulters only, with the further condition that only if the farmers who have a loan of more than that amount pay off all their remaining crop loans in a one-time settlement, will they get this Rs 1.5 lakh loan waiver.
Thirdly, for non-defaulters (lakhs of whom just renew their loans every year in the record books) the government has announced that as an ‘incentive’, only 25 per cent of their loan or Rs 25,000 (whichever figure is less) will be waived. Even this paltry relief will be given only if they pay off all their remaining crop loans in a one-time settlement.
Fourthly, instead of declaring the loan waiver up to June 30, 2017, it has been declared only up to June 30, 2016. There are some other conditions as well. All this makes a mockery of the loan waiver and throws lakhs of farmers out of the loan waiver net. In fact, the scheme is being dubbed by farmers not as a loan waiver scheme but as a loan recovery scheme.
MASSIVE JOINT CONVENTIONS
On June 25, the very next day after the government announcement of its so-called loan waiver package, the coordination committee met and denounced the state government for the betrayal of its promise given on June 11. It was decided to organise large joint peasant conventions for mass awakening (janjaagran) on behalf of the coordination committee in major districts all over the state from July 10 to 23.
The national struggle jatha of farmers’ organisations was warmly welcomed at Dhule (July 9) and Nashik (July 10), after which it went on to Gujarat.
So far, eight massive joint conventions of farmers have taken place in the regions of northern Maharashtra, Konkan and Vidarbha from July 10 to 17. Seven more huge conventions will be held from July 18 to 23 in the Marathwada and Western Maharashtra regions. The series began from Nashik and will end at Pune, from where a clarion call for struggle will be given.
The eight conventions that have taken place so far have been in the districts of Nashik (Nashik and Kalwan), Thane-Palghar (Vikramgad), Ahmednagar (Sangamner), Dhule-Nandurbar (Saakri), Amravati (Chandur Baajaar), Buldana (Khamgaon) and eastern Vidarbha (Wardha). Over 20,000 farmers have taken enthusiastic part in all these conventions despite the sowing season due to the monsoons, which is in itself an extraordinary phenomenon.
The anger and discontent of the farmers against the BJP regime both at the centre and in the state is palpable. The leaders flay the Modi regime for betraying its promise of implementing the Swaminathan Commission recommendation on remunerative prices by shamelessly filing an affidavit in the Supreme Court in February 2015, declaring that it cannot fulfill its election promise since it will ‘distort the market’. The central government is also being castigated for washing its hands off any responsibility for farmers’ loan waiver on the one hand, while giving away lakhs of crores of rupees to its corporate cronies in loan waivers, NPAs and tax concessions. The Fadnavis regime is being flayed for its betrayal of complete loan waiver.
On behalf of the AIKS, state general secretary and coordination committee convenor Dr Ajit Nawale, state president Kisan Gujar and national joint secretary Dr Ashok Dhawale are touring the entire state from July 10 to 23. They are being accompanied in different places by leaders of the other farmers’ organisations like Raghunath Dada Patil of the Shetkari Sanghatana, Bachchu Kadu, MLA of the Prahaar Shetkari Sanghatana, Namdev Gavde of the AIKS (Ajoy Bhavan), Kishor Dhamale of the Satyashodhak Shetkari Sabha, Ganesh Jagtap of the Baliraja Shetkari Sanghatana and many others.
The Maharashtra AIKS has urgently published 10,000 informative and attractive booklets of the fifth and final report of the Swaminathan Commission with a preface, for sale during this tour and it is meeting with excellent response. Many thousand copies have been sold so far. Copies of the AIKS central Hindi journal ‘Kisan Sangharsh’ are also being sold in the tour.
The seven remaining conventions are in the districts of Nanded (Kinwat), Parbhani, Beed (Dharur), Solapur, Sangli, Kolhapur and Pune. Hectic joint preparations are on to make these a huge success. The united nature of this struggle, in which the AIKS is playing a vitally active and unifying role at both the state and district levels, is multiplying the response and participation of the peasantry manifold. The stage is being set for the action call that will be given in the last convention at Pune on July 23.