MAHARASHTRA: ‘Long March’ of Peasants against Betrayal of Govt Assurances
Kisan Gujar, Ajit Nawale
THE Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha (AIKS) has taken a major decision to begin a ‘Long March’ on foot of over 50,000 peasants for a distance of nearly 200 km from Nashik to Mumbai, from March 6-12. Here the peasants will indefinitely gherao the state assembly which will then be in session, until their demands are met. This decision was taken in the extended meeting of the AIKS Maharashtra state council at Sangli on February 16, in which over 150 leading activists from 25 districts were present.
This march is being organised to denounce the BJP state government for consistently betraying all its assurances given to the peasantry during the last two years on issues like farm loan waiver, remunerative prices and implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations, stringent implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), temple lands and pasture lands to be vested in the names of the tillers, increase in various pension schemes to poor peasants and agricultural workers, issues connected to the public distribution system, compensation for losses sustained by peasants due to pest attacks and hailstorms, opposition to acquisition of peasants’ lands in the name of fancy and elitist projects like the bullet train and super highways, and a complete change in the river linking scheme proposed to be started in Nashik, Thane and Palghar districts, so as to ensure that tribal villages are not submerged and water is made available to these districts and to other drought-prone districts in Maharashtra.
The march will be led by AIKS leaders. SFI-DYFI state leaders will also join the march.
Two years ago, on March 29-30, 2016, the AIKS had led an unprecedented one lakh strong peasant siege for two days and two nights at the central CBS square in the heart of Nashik, which had paralysed the city. Chief minister Devendra Fadnavis of the BJP had to invite the AIKS delegation to Mumbai in the midst of the assembly session and give some assurances.
Since these were not fulfilled, the AIKS led a 10,000-strong novel ‘coffin march’ in Thane city in May 2016 to focus on the issue of peasant suicides.
In October 2016, over 50,000 adivasi peasants, women, youth and students under the leadership of the AIKS, AARM, AIDWA, DYFI and SFI gheraoed the house of the state adivasi development minister at Wada in Palghar district, again for two days and two nights, and wrested written assurances on issues like FRA and malnutrition-related deaths of Adivasi children.
Other actions by the AIKS on the issues of drought, loan waiver and remunerative prices were organised at Aurangabad in the Marathwada region in May 2016 and at Khamgaon in the Vidarbha region in May 2017.
All these independent struggles over two years put the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha for the first time in the mainstream of the peasant movement in the state and helped it to become a key constituent of the united peasant struggle that began in June 2017.
In the historic united peasant strike that lasted for 11 days from June 1-11, 2017, the AIKS played a crucial role. A Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Organisations was formed. On June 11, a group of five ministers of the state government was forced to hold talks with the Coordination Committee and they publicly agreed to give a complete loan waiver to the peasantry. But within a fortnight, although it announced a deceptive loan waiver package of Rs 34,000 crore, it betrayed its promise of a complete loan waiver and imposed several onerous conditions that would leave a great majority of farmers out of the loan waiver orbit.
Massive joint agitations were held against this betrayal, including a united campaign tour of 15 large district conventions in July that mobilised over 40,000 farmers and a statewide chakka jaam (road blockade) on August 14 in which over two lakh farmers blocked national and state highways at over 200 centres in 31 districts of the state. The AIKS participation in this joint road blockade action was the largest - over 85,000.
By a conscious decision, all the above independent and united struggles by the AIKS were peaceful and disciplined. Throughout the campaign for all these struggles, apart from concentrating fire on the BJP-Shiv Sena state government, the BJP-led central government of Narendra Modi was also severely castigated for its anti-peasant, anti-people, pro-crony corporate and neo-liberal policies and its dangerous communal and casteist conspiracies.
Now the AIKS has again decided to take up cudgels independently against the betrayal of the BJP state government on all the above counts, and hence this decision of the march and the assembly gherao.
Hectic preparations are on all over the state to make this action a success. A press conference was held in Mumbai on February 21 where the ensuing struggle was announced. Similar press meets will be held in several districts, with the last one in Nashik on March 2, from where the march will begin.
Thousands of leaflets are being printed in each district, the draft of which has been sent by the AIKS state centre. Extended meetings of the AIKS district councils have been held and hundreds of village meetings are being organised to mobilise peasants in large numbers for the coming struggle. Special efforts are being made to ensure good coverage to it both in the mainstream media and in the social media.
All in all, this will be another major mass struggle led by the AIKS in Maharashtra in defence of the peasantry and against the RSS-BJP regime.