IT was truly an amazing struggle, the like of which has not been seen in Maharashtra in recent times. It caught the imagination of the peasantry and the people, and received their unstinted support, not only in the state but all over the country. It received the backing of parties and organisations all across the political spectrum. For the week from March 6-12 that the Long March of nearly 200 Km lasted, it became the centre of attraction for the entire national and state media, both print and electronic, and also the social media. #KisanLongMarch was the number one trending all India hashtag the whole day March 12.
As the editorial in People’s Democracy and Loklahar, titled ‘Long March: A Brilliant Victory’ wrote, “The kisan march was unique in the way it was conducted with discipline, determination and a collective display of peasant power. The sight of a sea of red flags moving in a massive procession captured the attention of people everywhere and the national and regional media took this visual message to all corners of the country. No mass protest in recent times has had the nationwide impact as the kisan march.”
Beginning at Nashik with over 25,000 farmers marching in unison, including thousands of peasant women, it concluded in Mumbai with over 50,000 farmers. Red flags of the Kisan Sabha, red banners, red caps and red placards highlighting the main demands of this long march, made it a huge ocean of red. By far the largest mobilisation was that of thousands of adivasi peasants from Nashik district, under the inspiring leadership of AIKS former state president J P Gavit, seven-time and sitting MLA of the CPI(M). The next was from Thane-Palghar district, followed by Ahmednagar district. There was representation from several other districts in the state, which rose markedly in the last two days of the long march.
BETRAYAL OF BJP REGIME
The long march was organised to condemn the BJP state and central government for consistently betraying all their assurances given to the peasantry during the last two years on issues like farm loan waiver, remunerative prices, 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 farmers due to disastrous pest attacks like the pink bollworm on cotton, 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 long march in March 2018 was the culmination of three years of constant struggle led by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) in Maharashtra since October 2015.
A statewide AIKS campaign called the Peasants Rights Awareness Campaign was launched for a month from October 5 to November 10, 2015. Extended AIKS district council meetings were held in 24 districts of the state. AIKS leaders Ashok Dhawale, Kisan Gujar and Ajit Nawale, along with other state office-bearers, attended all these meetings. In these meetings, the burning issues of peasant struggle were identified; the nature of the struggle was discussed; and the steps for organisational strengthening were decided.
In the second week of December 2015, over 50,000 peasants under the AIKS banner came on to the streets in 29 tehsil centres 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 7-8, 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.
On January 19, as per the call of the joint state convention of the CITU-AIKS-AIAWU on October 31 at Parbhani, over 1,33,000 workers, peasants and agricultural workers held a massive joint statewide jail bharo stir for their demands against the BJP-led central and state governments. The largest number of those arrested – over 92,000 – was of the AIKS.
On January 28, the AIKS held a 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. This struggle call was the culmination of the six-month long AIKS campaign in Maharashtra outlined above. Two lakh persuasive and attractive leaflets and 12,000 posters for the campaign were published by the AIKS and they were distributed to all the districts in the convention itself. District councils later also published thousands of leaflets.
From February 7 to March 1, 23 AIKS district conferences were held after village and tehsil conferences. They prepared for the struggle and also strengthened the organisation.
As a result of all these intensive preparations, the AIKS held a historic one lakh-strong independent statewide rally on March 29, 2016 and an unprecedented day and night sit-in satyagraha for two days and two nights on March 29-30 at the CBS Chowk in the heart of Nashik, which paralysed the city. The four main issues of this struggle were land rights under FRA, peasant loan waiver, remunerative prices and drought relief. This militant peasant action received massive and sustained coverage in both print and electronic media. Sections of the electronic media covered it live on both days. This struggle placed the AIKS for the first time at the centre stage of the peasant movement in Maharashtra.
The rally was addressed by CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury, AIKS general secretary Hannan Mollah, renowned journalist P Sainath, AIKS leaders Ashok Dhawale, J P Gavit MLA, Kisan Gujar, Ajit Nawale and leaders of other mass organisations.
On March 30, the beleaguered Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis invited the Kisan Sabha for talks. A one hour discussion was held with the chief minister, three other ministers and senior officials in the Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai in the midst of the assembly session. Some of the demands were conceded, but were never implemented. The AIKS, therefore, began concerted struggles for their implementation.
STRUGGLE FOR DROUGHT RELIEF
On May 3, 2016, around 1000 peasants and students from all the eight districts of the Marathwada region, led by the AIKS and the SFI, broke two police barricades and marched right inside the compound of the Aurangabad Divisional Commissioner’s office. This militant action was conducted on the burning demands related to the grim drought situation in the region. The agitators occupied the office for over an hour until the officers agreed to hold a meeting with the AIKS-SFI delegation the next day, in which all officials dealing with drought-related issues were summoned from all the eight districts. For two days and one night on May 3-4, all the agitators camped right outside the commissionerate.
Under this pressure, in the meeting that was held on May 4, most of the major demands that lay within the administration’s purview were conceded. The specific demands that were conceded related to the provision of drinking water, work and wages under MNREGA, fodder for cattle, agricultural inputs for peasants, fee waiver for students, land issues related to temple lands and forest lands and so on. The Aurangabad struggle was also widely covered by both print and electronic media due to the grave nature of the drought and also due to the militant nature of the two-day action.
The AIKS led a 10,000-strong novel ‘coffin rally’ in Thane city, near Mumbai on May 30, 2016 to focus on the issue of peasant suicides. The peasants carried bamboo frames (called tirdi in Marathi) covered with white cloth, on which dead bodies are carried. This dramatically highlighted the grave issue of suicides of debt-ridden peasants in Maharashtra. This rally, which was addressed by AIKS president Amra Ram, was widely covered by the media, especially since it highlighted the grave issue of mounting peasant suicides. The subsequent state conference at Talasari in Palghar district on May 31 and June 1 was attended by AIKS general secretary Hannan Mollah.
(To be continued)