The BJP-led state government was forced to bend within two days to the second Kisan Long March led by the Maharashtra state council of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS). It began at Nashik on the evening of February 20, 2019 with a massive public meeting of over 30,000 peasants. They started marching resolutely towards Mumbai on the morning of February 21, defying both the repression resorted to by the government and the written refusal of the police to give permission to the march.
In the curtain raiser to the Kisan Long March that was published in these columns last week, we had taken stock of the background to the march and the three main sets of issues around which it was organised. That report was written on the morning of the march.
REPRESSIVE FOUL PLAY BY GOVERNMENT
The same morning on February 20, a spate of calls started coming in from our AIKS activists that vehicles carrying thousands of peasant men and women from Thane and Palghar districts, which are the second largest AIKS base in the state after Nashik district, are being physically stopped by the police at several places from proceeding to Nashik. When some of our leading activists argued with police officials, one of them said that this was not their decision, but that orders to stop them had come right from the top, from the CM’s office itself! The thousands of AIKS-led peasants who had been thus detained, held angry demonstrations against the government and its police at places like the Kasara Ghat in Shahapur tehsil, Kasa in Dahanu tehsil, and Jawhar and Vikramgad tehsil centres.
When AIKS leaders assembled on the ground at Nashik from where the Kisan Long March was to begin, they reported this repression and also the repression against AIKS state general secretary Ajit Nawale and our Ahmednagar district activists to the mainstream national and state electronic and print media as well as social media that had gathered there in large numbers from the first day itself. The news of this repression on peasants was thus flashed all over the country and in the state. It put the BJP-led state government squarely on the defensive. As a result, by evening, all obstructed peasants from Thane and Palghar districts were let off, but it was late night before they could all finally reach Nashik.
Peasants from Nashik and several other districts had already assembled by evening. Indeed, the significant feature of Kisan Long March 2 was its widely representative nature. Along with the three biggest contingents from Nashik, Thane-Palghar and Ahmednagar districts, a total of 18 districts from all the five regions of Maharashtra - Vidarbha, Marathwada, Western Maharashtra, Northern Maharashtra and Konkan – were represented. The overwhelming majority was poor peasants and landless farmers, but there was also a fair sprinkling of middle peasants. A new section of polyhouse and shednet farmers from several districts also joined. Adivasi peasants were in huge numbers, and so were peasant women.
The AIKS leadership decided that the march would begin on the morning of February 21, only after the peasants from Thane and Palghar districts reached Nashik. In the meanwhile, a huge and spirited public meeting began on the ground adjacent to the state bus stand.
MASSIVE PUBLIC MEETING
The massive public meeting on February 20 evening was chaired by AIKS former state president and seven-time and sitting MLA of the CPI(M), J P Gavit, elected from the Kalwan-Surgana (ST) assembly seat of Nashik district. At the outset, the huge crowd stood up to pay homage to the 40 CRPF jawans killed in the terrorist attack at Pulwama, and also in remembrance of Comrade Govind Pansare on the fourth anniversary of his martyrdom.
AIKS general secretary Hannan Mollah, ex-MP, had specially come down from Delhi and he inaugurated the public meeting. The meeting was addressed by AIKS president Ashok Dhawale, state president Kisan Gujar, state vice president Ratan Budhar, state general secretary Ajit Nawale and state joint secretaries Sunil Malusare and Vilas Babar. Among those who extended fraternal greetings to the march were CITU state president D L Karad, AIDWA state president Naseema Shaikh, DYFI state president Sunil Dhanwa and SFI CEC member Kavita Ware. Samir Bhujbal, ex-MP of the NCP and ex-MLA Nitin Bhosale also greeted the gathering. The great enthusiasm of the gathering was truly infectious.
Hannan Mollah in his speech warmly congratulated the Maharashtra AIKS for its decision to launch two huge Kisan Long Marches within a year. He lashed out at the callous anti-farmer and pro-corporate policies of the BJP-led central and state governments. He first took the state government to task for not implementing the written assurances given to the seven-day Kisan Long March 1 last year. He then castigated the Narendra Modi-led BJP central government, calling it the most anti-farmer government in the history of independent India. After betraying its 2014 election promise of a loan waiver to farmers and MSP at one and a half times the cost of production (C2 + 50 per cent), the Modi regime is now adding insult to injury by throwing crumbs of Rs 6000 per year in three instalments to a section of farmers. He also attacked the Modi and Fadnavis regimes for their refusal to implement the Forest Rights Act (FRA) and for their draconian land acquisition drive in favour of the corporates. Cautioning against the communal conspiracies of the RSS-BJP, he concluded by calling upon farmers to vote out the Modi regime and strengthen the Left in the coming elections.
NEGOTIATIONS WITH GOVERNMENT
During Kisan Long March 1 last year, there was no response whatsoever from the state government until the second last day on March 11, when the march entered Mumbai. Tremendous countrywide public pressure had built up in support of the farmers. As a result, the Fadnavis-led BJP regime was roundly attacked by the people and the media for its utter insensitivity to the suffering peasantry. This time around, after the AIKS announced Kisan Long March 2 in a press conference at Nashik after its state council meeting on February 4, the government was extremely nervous at the prospect of a repeat performance.
Hence chief minister Devendra Fadnavis immediately invited an AIKS delegation to meet him well in advance. Two meetings were held by the chief minister with the AIKS delegation – the first preliminary one on February 11 and the second full meeting on February 17 in which a battery of other concerned ministers and officials were also present.
The AIKS first made clear its displeasure that the government had not held even a single meeting in the last one year to review the implementation of the demands conceded after Kisan Long March 1. The chief minister assured that this would not be repeated and bimonthly review meetings would be held with the AIKS in future. A charter of demands was presented by the AIKS. However, the talks were inconclusive on some issues and the AIKS made public its determination to go ahead with the Kisan Long March from February 20.
On February 20 evening, the chief minister sent one of his senior cabinet ministers Girish Mahajan to Nashik to once again negotiate with the AIKS. After the public meeting at night, a small AIKS delegation met him at his invitation. The delegation first criticised the government for its acts of repression against peasants in Thane, Palghar and Ahmednagar districts and demanded the immediate withdrawal of all police cases. The minister agreed.
The contentious and unresolved issues were then discussed, after which the minister said he would speak to the chief minister and get back. The AIKS insisted on a written agreement like last time and also on bimonthly review meetings. The minister agreed, said a written agreement on AIKS demands would be prepared by next afternoon and appealed to the AIKS to desist from the Long March and let the peasants stay on in Nashik until he came with the written agreement. The AIKS leadership told him clearly that the Kisan Long March would proceed as announced, come what may, and he was welcome to join it once the written draft agreement was ready. The AIKS was always open to discussion.
KISAN LONG MARCH 2 BEGINS
On the morning of February 21, Kisan Long March 2 began with tremendous enthusiasm. Behind the main AIKS Maharashtra State Council banner which announced that this Kisan Long March was being held against the betrayal of farmers by the BJP state and central governments, and with hundreds of red banners of the various AIKS district and tehsil committees, and thousands of red flags and red caps, tens of thousands of peasants from all over Maharashtra streamed out of the ground and immediately came on to the Nashik-Mumbai national highway. It was a magnificent sight.
The police, who had denied permission to the march, were helpless before the massive and determined peasantry. Peasant women marched in their thousands. Adivasi farmers had brought along their traditional musical instruments, and they sang and danced to their tune. The air was rent by resounding slogans echoing the farmers’ main demands and condemning their betrayal by the BJP governments.
NCP leader and former deputy chief minister Chhagan Bhujbal walked part of the way and greeted the march. His nephew Samir Bhujbal, ex-MP and Nitin Bhosale, ex-MLA were in the march throughout. AAP leader Jignesh Singh Khalsa greeted the march at the end.
After marching for around 15 Km, the march stopped at Ambebahula village in Nashik tehsil for lunch around 2 pm. As in the last Kisan Long March, peasants from the villages had sent their tempos ahead with rice, dal, firewood and cooking utensils and by the time all reached the spot, food was ready. Just as the march was about to begin at 4 pm after some rest, the minister Girish Mahajan rang up to say that he was reaching along with another cabinet minister Jaykumar Rawal and other officials. Before that, an urgent meeting of AIKS state office bearers was held and it decided on an effective contingency plan to intensify the struggle should the final talks fail. For we knew that just ahead of the village on the highway, an armed police force had gathered in strength, had put up a number of barricades and had also kept water cannons and an ambulance ready in case of a confrontation.
VICTORY: DEMANDS CONCEDED
Both the ministers came with the draft of the agreement. One look at it showed that it was unsatisfactory, since many of the demands that had been conceded earlier had not been included. Besides, there were a number of wrong formulations. AIKS leaders Ashok Dhawale, J P Gavit, MLA, Ajit Nawale and Sunil Malusare were in the delegation in the final talks. For over three hours, the draft was discussed line by line, para by para, and the AIKS insisted on several changes and additions to the draft as per what had been decided.
The government was forced to give in and had to include almost all the AIKS amendments. The draft with these changes was sent to Mantralaya (Secretariat) in Mumbai which sent back the final corrected agreement. A meeting of the AIKS state office bearers was urgently called and, only after getting its approval to the final draft agreement, was it unanimously decided to suspend the Kisan Long March around midnight on February 21.
The ministers and AIKS leaders both reported on the demands conceded to the large number of media persons gathered outside and the minister also declared to the media that there would be bimonthly review meetings of implementation with the AIKS leadership.
In brief, the major demands conceded were as follows:
1. Immediate steps like providing drinking water, ration grain, work under MNREGA, compensation by way of crop insurance payouts to farmers who have lost their crops and fodder for cattle will be provided on a war footing to people in the drought-hit areas covering half the state. Additional tehsils and villages were included in the list of the drought-affected. Justice would be done as regards crop insurance to the Parbhani farmers.
2. In the long term, the large quantum of water in the west-flowing rivers that empty into the Arabian Sea, especially rivers like Naar, Paar, Damanganga, Pinjal, Vaitarna etc in Nashik, Thane and Palghar districts would be stopped through small dams that would minimise displacement, and this water, after reserving part of it for drinking and irrigation in the above districts, would by lift irrigation be taken to the Godavari and Tapi valleys for the chronically drought-hit Marathwada and North Maharashtra regions.
3. The Forest Rights Act (FRA) would be stringently implemented in all districts; all pending individual and community claims of both tribals and traditional forest-dwellers will be disposed off urgently on the basis of any two proofs as per the Act; cases where less land has been given than is being cultivated will be reviewed and justice done; not less than one acre of land will be given in any case; in cases where the claims have been lost, action will be taken against the errant officials; and until a final decision is taken on the claims, the forest department will not take any action whatsoever. (The AIKS insisted on this last clause in view of the unfortunate and insensitive recent judgement of the Supreme Court, which was facilitated by the Modi regime by absenting its lawyer in the crucial hearing.)
4. A Bill will be prepared for vesting the massive temple trust lands all over the state to the cultivating peasants; a similar Bill will be considered for vesting ‘varkas’ (meaning lands cultivated by tribal peasants but still in the name of the old absentee landlords) lands to the cultivating tribal peasants in Thane and Palghar districts. These lands were wrested by tribal peasants here after driving away the landlords during the famed Adivasi Revolt led by Comrades Shamrao and Godavari Parulekar under the AIKS banner in the 1940s.
5. Old-age pensions to agricultural workers and peasants under the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Scheme, the Indira Gandhi Old Age Scheme and the Shravan Bal Scheme would be raised from the present paltry Rs 600 per month in the month of February itself. Also, raising the income limit for these schemes from the present Rs 21,000 per annum to Rs 50,000 per annum would be positively considered.
6. Orders for issuing new ration cards, renewal of old ration cards, division of ration cards would be given to all districts. Complaints of people not getting ration grain would be dealt with severely and immediate action taken.
7. In cases of land acquisition for national or state highways, compensation as per the Land Acquisition Act, 2013, i.e. five times the market price, will be given to farmers. For the bullet train and expressways, land will not be acquired from farmers without their consent.
8. Extension of loan waiver to defaulting farmers for the year 2016-17 would be considered. The state government had waived farm loans up to Rs 1.5 lakh from 2009-16 after the statewide joint farmers’ strike in June 2017. It had further extended it from 2001-09 in the talks during the Kisan Long March last year. As per the AIKS insistence then, it had also increased the limit of loan waiver from one member per family to all bank account holder loanees in the family. Both these assurances given to the AIKS were implemented through Government Resolutions. However, out of the Rs 34,000 crore loan waiver package that it had announced in June 2017, it committed to the AIKS in writing in the present agreement that only around Rs 18,000 crore had been disbursed. Extension of the farm loan waiver to the year 2016-17 was the only demand that could not be clinched in this struggle, mainly because of the exigencies of the grim drought situation in the state.
After midnight on February 21/22, a huge public meeting of tens of thousands of participants in the Kisan Long March was held at the Ambebahula village, in which both the above ministers announced the demands that were conceded by the government and also pledged to have regular bimonthly reviews of their implementation with the AIKS.
The culmination meeting was then addressed by AIKS leaders Ashok Dhawale, J P Gavit, MLA, Kisan Gujar, Ajit Nawale, Savliram Pawar and Umesh Deshmukh. All of them congratulated the peasantry for the unity and struggle that had led to this victory within two days; warned about the draconian Supreme Court judgement about eviction of tribals and called for intense struggle in case any such steps were taken by the government; asked the peasants to greatly strengthen their organization; and called upon them to defeat the BJP and to strengthen the Left in the coming Lok Sabha and Vidhan Sabha elections in the state. The Kisan Long March 2 then concluded with resounding victory slogans.