The unprecedented peasant strike in Maharashtra from June 1 to 11, 2017, with farmers refusing to get their produce like milk, vegetables and fruits to the market, was truly a historic struggle. The two cardinal demands of the strike were peasant loan waiver and implementation of the recommendations of the National Commission on Farmers (NCF) that was headed by Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, particularly the one about setting the Minimum Support Price (MSP) for all crops to cover the cost of production plus fifty per cent profit.
Other demands included increase in the price of milk paid to the farmer; pension to peasants and agricultural workers above the age of 60 years; waiving of arrears of electricity bills; and increased irrigation facilities. Some other demands that have been raised are to stop the conspiracy of snatching farmers’ lands in the name of the Mumbai-Nagpur Samruddhi Highway and the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor; scrapping of the pro-corporate Pradhan Mantri Fasal Bima Yojana and providing comprehensive insurance security to all farmers.
The spontaneous response of the peasantry of Maharashtra to the strike was not without reason. Of the three lakh suicides of debt-ridden peasants that have taken place in India during the last 25 years of neo-liberal policies, Maharashtra has the dubious distinction of topping the list of states, with nearly 70,000 farmers having committed suicide. Vidarbha region has the largest number of peasant suicides, followed by the Marathwada region. 12,602 farmers committed suicide in India in the year 2015. Compared to 2014, this is a massive 42 per cent increase. Maharashtra had 4,291 farmer suicides in 2015. The situation has aggravated with the ascent of the BJP-led Modi regime three years ago.
The consistent independent struggles in Maharashtra led by the AIKS helped to popularise the issues and the demands of the present joint struggle. For two years, the AIKS has led several massive independent actions, which we shall recount later in this piece.
A village called Puntamba in Ahmednagar district held a gram sabha which passed a resolution calling for a statewide farmers’ strike from June 1, 2017, on the two main demands of loan waiver and remunerative prices. Due to the massive latent discontent amongst the peasantry, this became a point of discussion and support started slowly building up in both the mainstream media and the social media in the month of May 2017 for this action.
The AIKS intervened in this build-up right in the beginning. On May 25, a week-long dharna began in Puntamba village to propagate the strike. AIKS joint secretary Dr. Ashok Dhawale, state general secretary Dr. Ajit Nawale and state president Kisan Gujar were among the several peasant leaders who addressed the dharna there on the first day. On June 1, the novel peasant strike began and it elicited very good spontaneous response from the peasantry.
The attempt by the BJP chief minister Devendra Fadnavis on June 2/3 to abort the peasant strike by using two pliant and servile RSS-connected blacklegs who were masquerading as ‘peasant leaders’ was smashed by the decisive intervention of the AIKS. The AIKS immediately took the initiative to bring all farmers’ organisations together to fight this betrayal and to continue the strike. This happened in the following way.
A delegation of farmers, mainly from Puntamba village, met the Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis at his bungalow in Mumbai in a delegation at midnight of June 2/3. In spite of the CM not concretely conceding even a single demand of the fighting peasants after a three hour discussion, the so-called peasant leaders unilaterally declared a withdrawal of the strike at dawn without consulting any of the peasant organisations who were actively supporting the strike. It became crystal clear that both the RSS-BJP state government and these blacklegs had connived to undermine this historic peasant struggle.
But to their utter misfortune, the young general secretary of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha (AIKS), Dr. Ajit Nawale was also a part of the delegation that met the CM. He was the only one of the 17-member delegation who hotly argued that none of the vital demands of the strike like loan waiver and remunerative prices were agreed to by the CM and hence the strike must on no account be withdrawn. The CM, during the discussions, went to the extent of branding him as a ‘disruptive Communist’ and the two blacklegs declared that ‘he was not even a member of the core committee, and hence need not be taken seriously.’
Dr. Ajit Nawale then consulted AIKS national joint secretary Dr. Ashok Dhawale on phone at 3.45 am on June 3. Both decided that he should walk out of the talks with the CM in protest and should immediately report the full details of the connived betrayal to the media that was waiting outside the CM’s bungalow. This was flashed all over the state by the electronic media and it led to a massive uproar amongst the peasantry all over the state against both the chief minister and these blacklegs. AIKS leaders Dr. Ashok Dhawale and Dr. Ajit Nawale immediately contacted leaders of other peasant organisations who were against this sell-out and it was jointly decided by all of them to give the Maharashtra Bandh call for June 5.
On June 2, CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury addressed a press conference in Mumbai in which he fully supported the peasant strike. On June 3, Dr. Ashok Dhawale, Dr. Ajit Nawale, AIKS state president Kisan Gujar and state working president Arjun Adey addressed another jam-packed press meet in Mumbai organised by the AIKS. They thoroughly exposed the above betrayal and called for intensification of the strike. Both these press meets were excellently covered by all the media.
On June 4, a meeting of peasant organisations was held at Nashik, where the old core committee that held discussions with the CM was declared as dissolved and a new 35-member Coordination Committee, comprising leaders of various peasant organisations, was formed to lead the strike. Dr. Ajit Nawale was unanimously elected Convenor of this Coordination Committee. He has carried out all his responsibilities as Convenor for the last four months with admirable courage and fortitude that has been acknowledged by all.
This, together with the fact that the AIKS has consistently and independently led militant mass struggles in recent years on burning peasant issues, has a state membership of well over two lakh and has functioning units in 23 districts – more than any other farmers’ organisation – has put the AIKS at the centre stage of the current peasant struggle in Maharashtra.
June 5 was a red letter day in the history of the state. On that day, practically the whole of rural and semi-urban Maharashtra came to a halt as part of a Maharashtra Bandh to support the historic statewide farmers’ strike that began on June 1. The call had been given jointly by several peasant organisations, among whom the AIKS is playing a major role.
Hundreds of towns, mandis, roads, shops and government offices were closed down by lakhs of farmers who came on to the streets in solidarity with the demands of the strike. In several places, effigies of the BJP state government and of the chief minister were burnt. There were police lathi charges in several places in which innumerable peasants were injured. One of them died while running to escape from the police repression. There were hundreds of arrests.
The strike and the Bandh reflected the long pent-up anger of the peasantry at always being given a raw deal by the powers that be. The rage against the government was palpable everywhere. Maharashtra had never seen such a novel phenomenon of peasant protest.
As per the call of the Coordination Committee, on June 6, the day after the Maharashtra Bandh, tens of thousands of peasants closed down many of the district collectorates and tehsil offices in the state, putting padlocks on several of them. On June 7, the peasants picketed the houses of MLAs and MPs.
On June 6, there occurred the horrendous police firing by the BJP state government on farmers who were agitating for the very same demands in Mandsaur in Madhya Pradesh, killing six of them. This had big repercussions throughout the country and it put the BJP, along with its central and state governments, on the defensive.
On June 8, a massive state convention of the Co-ordination Committee of Farmers’ Organisations of Maharashtra was held at Nashik. The unity of all peasant organisations and the militancy of thousands of farmers displayed at that convention, together with the vibrant success of the then week-long farmers’ strike, conveyed its own powerful message.
This convention gave a clarion call for a statewide Rail Roko and Rasta Roko struggle slated for June 13 if the government still refused to relent. This unnerved the powers that be, who began seeing nightmares of a repeat of Mandsaur in several places in Maharashtra. The preparations for that decisive action had begun in full swing all over the state.
Special mention must be made that the print and electronic media as a whole, especially the Marathi media, prominently and consistently highlighted the novel peasant strike and its demands, the Maharashtra Bandh, the Nashik state convention and all the peasant actions that took place. Public opinion thus turned against the BJP government.
As a result of all these factors, on June 9, the very next day after the Nashik convention, the state government announced the formation of a high-powered committee of six Cabinet ministers headed by revenue minister Chandrakant Patil, to hold negotiations with the Co-ordination Committee and sent a letter inviting the Committee for negotiations at the Sahyadri State Guest House in Mumbai on June 11. This itself was a climb down for the government, which had claimed for a week that it would talk only to ‘real farmers and not to those who were using the farmers for their own ends’.
On June 10, to ensure unanimity within the 35-member Coordination Committee when talking to the government, a special committee meeting was held. A Charter of Demands was prepared with the concurrence of all participants. A jam-packed media conference was held.
On June 11, the entire 35-member coordination committee was present at the talks with the state government. Prominent among them were Raju Shetty MP, Bachhu Kadu MLA, Jayant Patil MLC, Raghunathdada Patil, Dr. Ashok Dhawale, Namdev Gavde and Convenor Dr. Ajit Nawale. The state government was represented by Cabinet ministers Chandrakant Patil, Pandurang Fundkar, Divakar Raote, Girish Mahajan, Subhash Deshmukh, and secretaries and officials of related departments.
With strenuous and protracted negotiations for over three hours, after the ministers present consulted the chief minister, the state government finally agreed as follows: 1. Complete loan waiver to the peasantry, subject to certain criteria to exclude the rich sections; 2. These criteria will be decided within one month by a 10-12 member committee, which will have half the members from the Co-ordination Committee and half from the government; 3. Implementation of loan waiver to all peasants holding less than five acres of land with immediate effect and new loans to be given to them immediately for the coming sowing season; 4. Substantial increase in the price of milk to be paid to the peasantry as per the formula that 70 per cent of the selling price of milk will go to the peasant and 30 per cent to the processing institute for its expenses; 5. The chief minister will take a delegation of farmers’ organisations to the prime minister to insist on the Swaminathan Commission recommendation of fixing the minimum support price (MSP) to cover the cost of production plus 50 per cent profit; 6. The state government will give a written reply to all the other demands in the charter; 7. Police cases in this struggle will be immediately withdrawn.
The committee strongly insisted on two aspects in the loan waiver and these were conceded by the government. One, there should not be a land limit because dry land farmers everywhere generally have more than five acres of land. This is especially the case in both Vidarbha and Marathwada, the cotton and soyabean-growing backward and largely unirrigated regions, which have the largest number of suicides of debt-ridden peasants. It is the peasants here that need loan waiver the most. Two, the loan waiver should not be limited only to peasants who have defaulted on their loans. In the largely irrigated regions of Western and Northern Maharashtra, lakhs of peasants with less than five acres of land who grow sugarcane, vegetables and fruits and who cannot pay off their loans, simply renew them each year in record books. They should not be left out of the loan waiver ambit.
After the leadership placed these decisions before the Committee for its approval, the group of ministers was requested to place the same decisions before the entire Co-ordination Committee for its acceptance. It was only after this democratic and transparent procedure was followed that a joint media meet was held and all the above decisions were reported. They were flashed with lead and banner headlines by all the media in Maharashtra. The same evening, a wave of joy swept through the rural areas across the state. In thousands of towns and villages, people burst crackers and distributed sweets to celebrate the victory of this magnificent struggle.
Apart from the significance of the demands won, the characteristics of this peasant struggle were: it was led by young peasants all across the state; most peasant organisations and their leaders stood united in this struggle; peasant issues came to the forefront in discussion and decision making after a very long time; unity of the peasantry and the working class (CITU, AITUC and other trade unions held joint solidarity actions in several cities) and intellectuals in the agrarian field began taking shape; most sections of the print and electronic media played an excellent role, supported by the social media; and peasant struggles on these issues began to spread to other states across the country.
However, as was only to be expected, the BJP-led state government betrayed its promise of a complete loan waiver minus the richer sections, within a fortnight.
On June 24, without consulting the coordination committee, it unilaterally announced a loan waiver package of Rs. 34,000 crore and released a government resolution to that effect a few days later. It was unsatisfactory on several counts.
Firstly, the government had itself earlier declared that the total peasant crop loan 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, the government has completely ignored the medium term loans taken by the peasantry for other agricultural purposes like irrigation, implements and other items.
Thirdly, 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 all their remaining crop loans in a one-time settlement, will they get this Rs. 1.5 lakh loan waiver. There was no talk of setting any limit in the June 11 talks.
Fourthly, for the non-defaulters (lakhs of whom just renew their loans in the record books every year by paying off the interest and not the capital) the government has announced that as an ‘incentive’, only 25 percent of their loan or Rs. 25,000 (whichever figure is less) will be waived. Again, this paltry amount will be given only if they pay off all their remaining crop loans in a one-time settlement.
Fifthly, instead of keeping the loan waiver up to June 30, 2017, it has declared it up to June 30, 2016. This itself ensures that a large majority of peasants will be excluded.
There are some other onerous 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.
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.
15 massive joint conventions of farmers took place in all the five regions of Maharashtra – Northern Maharashtra, Konkan, Vidarbha, Marathwada and Western Maharashtra – from July 10 to 23. Over 40,000 farmers took enthusiastic part in all these conventions despite the sowing season in the monsoons, which was in itself an extraordinary phenomenon.
These conventions took place in the districts of Nashik (Nashik and Kalwan), Thane-Palghar (Vikramgad), Ahmednagar (Sangamner), Dhule-Nandurbar (Saakri), Amravati (Chandur Baajaar), Buldana (Khamgaon), eastern Vidarbha (Wardha), Nanded (Kinwat), Parbhani, Beed (Dharur), Solapur, Sangli, Kolhapur and Pune.
The AIKS initiative and mobilisation in almost all these conventions has been something of which we can be proud. In many districts, AIKS leaders have been elected the Convenors of the district coordination committees. The AIKS state council met twice during this period of struggle – on June 3 and July 3 – and it took several decisions to take forward this united movement effectively with independent initiative.
The anger and discontent of the farmers against the BJP regime both at the centre and in the state was palpable in all these conventions. The leaders flayed 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 was also 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 was flayed for its betrayal of the loan waiver assurance given publicly after negotiations.
On behalf of the AIKS, national joint secretary Dr. Ashok Dhawale, state general secretary and coordination committee convenor Dr. Ajit Nawale and state president Kisan Gujar toured the entire state from July 10 to 23. They were accompanied in different places by leaders of the other farmers’ organisations like Raghunathdada 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 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 met with excellent response. Thousands of copies were sold. Copies of the AIKS central Hindi journal ‘Kisan Sangharsh’ were also sold in the tour.
THE ROAD BLOCKADE
The last district convention at Pune on July 23 gave a call for complete road blockade (called Chakka Jaam) of national highways and state highways all across Maharashtra for the above demands on August 14, the eve of Independence Day.
The struggle reached a new crescendo on the eve of Independence Day. On August 14, over 2,00,000 peasants blocked national and state highways (Chakka Jaam) for hours together in over 200 centres in 31 districts of Maharashtra. Bullock carts and tractors were also used by the peasants to enforce this blockade. Highways were blocked spontaneously by peasants in several centres even where there was no peasant organisation. That was the most remarkable feature of this struggle. In several centres, thousands of peasants were shown to have been arrested, since the police had no machinery to actually arrest such a huge mass.
A significant feature was that nearly half of the total participation in this Chakka Jaam action was of the AIKS, which mobilised over 85,000 peasants in this struggle in 23 districts. The AIKS had the largest total mobilisation in the 15 district conventions in July as well.
The districts with the largest total participation were: Ahmednagar – 39,000, Thane-Palghar – 25,000, Parbhani – 20,000, Nashik – 12,000, Beed – 10,000, Nandurbar – 10,000, Dhule – 7000, Amravati – 5,000 and Kolhapur – 5,000.
The districts with the largest AIKS participation were: Thane-Palghar – 25,000, Ahmednagar – 13,000, Nashik – 10,000, Parbhani – 10,000 and Beed – 6,000.
Leaders and activists of the CITU, AIAWU, AIDWA, DYFI and SFI also participated in the struggle in several places. The SFI and DYFI led an independent and effective campaign in rural areas around the slogan ‘We are Children of Peasants’ in support of the peasant struggle.
All the leaders of the Coordination Committee – Convenor Dr Ajit Nawale, Raju Shetty MP, Raghunathdada Patil, Bachhu Kadu MLA, Jayant Patil MLC, J P Gavit MLA, Dr Ashok Dhawale, Kisan Gujar, Namdev Gavde, Kishor Dhamale, Pratibha Shinde, Sushila Morale and many others led the road blockade actions at various places across the state.
THE STATE CONVENTION
A massive statewide convention of over 10,000 peasants was held at Jalgaon on September 26, 2017, under the banner of the Coordination Committee of Farmers’ Organisations of Maharashtra. This was the next step in the ongoing struggle for loan waiver and remunerative prices, directed against the BJP-led government in the state and at the centre.
Although the state government, under intense pressure of the joint peasant struggle, was forced to announce a Rs. 34,000 crore loan waiver up to Rs. 1.5 lakh per farmer, this was riddled with all kinds of conditions cited above, which made a mockery of the promise of a complete loan waiver minus the richer sections, that it gave on June 11.
Further, in a move that was completely unnecessary and meant precisely to kill time, the state government asked for online individual applications from farmers to avail of the loan waiver scheme. The situation in this regard is shocking. The number of farmers who made online registrations for loan waiver is 1 crore 4 lakh. Of this, only 58 lakh actual applications for loan waiver were made online till September 22, which was the last date. 46 lakh farmers who had made the registrations could not submit the actual loan waiver applications. This was because of a host of reasons, viz. the government laying down the criterion of family (there are a large number of joint families in rural areas) instead of individual land holdings or individual bank accounts; the large number of deactivated Aadhaar cards and non-matching of thumb impressions; the time frame prescribed for loan waiver which left a large number of sugarcane growers and others out of the net; innumerable difficulties in making online applications in the villages and so on.
But that is not all. Realising that there were several inaccuracies in the application forms, the state government has now asked the banks to fill in a 66-column questionnaire as regards each bank account holder farmer, the number of these being around 90 lakh. This will obviously take months to complete. The simplest thing would have been, as happened in the implementation of the 2008 central government loan waiver scheme, to directly tell the banks to give the loan details per farmer and then waive those loans by reimbursing the banks from the government. There is deep unrest and discontent all over the state about the current nonsensical procedure, which will increase manifold as soon as lakhs of applications are rejected due to the onerous conditions.
It is in this background that the Jalgaon convention was held and it flayed the state government on its crass betrayal of the loan waiver assurance and on other issues like implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendation ensuring remunerative prices, comprehensive crop insurance, pension at Rs 5000 per month for poor peasants and agricultural workers, arbitrary and unjust land acquisition and so on.
Prominent among the peasant leaders who addressed this convention were Raju Shetty MP, Bachchu Kadu, MLA, Raghunathdada Patil, Baba Adhav, Dr Ashok Dhawale, Dr Ajit Nawale, Namdev Gavde, Pratibha Shinde, Kishor Dhamale, Sushila Morale and others.
The convention resolved its full support to the 15-day old joint statewide strike of two lakh Anganwadi workers that was being valiantly fought for just demands.
The Jalgaon convention gave a clarion call to hold massive peasant (Baliraja) rallies at every district and tehsil centre in Maharashtra on October 20, which is Balipratipada day in Diwali. These statewide rallies of thousands of peasants each will demand that since the policies of the BJP government are directly responsible for the rising spate of suicides of debt-ridden peasants, cases under IPC section 302 (murder), 306 (abetment to suicide) and 420 (cheating) must be instituted against it. This call was welcomed by thousands of peasants amidst resounding cheers and slogans.
TWO DAY MAHAPADAV AT NASHIK OF ONE LAKH PEASANTS
The historic one lakh-strong independent AIKS statewide rally on March 29, 2016 and the unprecedented day and night sit-in satyagraha on March 29-30 in the heart of Nashik city, placed the AIKS for the first time at the centre stage of the peasant movement in Maharashtra. The four main issues of this struggle were peasant loan waiver, remunerative prices, drought relief and land rights. This militant peasant action received massive and sustained coverage in both print and electronic media. Sections of the electronic media covered the rally and satyagraha live on both days.
The rally was addressed by CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, AIKS General Secretary Hannan Mollah, renowned journalist P Sainath, AIKS leaders Dr Ashok Dhawale, J P Gavit MLA, Kisan Gujar, Dr Ajit Nawale and leaders of other mass organisations.
On March 30, the beleaguered Maharashtra Chief Minister Shri Devendra Fadnavis invited the Kisan Sabha for talks. A one hour discussion was held with the CM, three other Ministers and senior officials in the Vidhan Bhavan in Mumbai in the midst of the assembly session.
The CM conceded the following demands: 1. A proposal for loan waiver to farmers would be sent to the Central Government. 2. The state government would send crop wise proposals to the Centre for remunerative prices as per the Swaminathan Commission recommendation of cost of production plus 50 per cent profit. 3. In the drought-hit areas of the state, the farmers would be given 100 per cent electricity bill waiver and in all other areas they would be given 30 per cent relief in power bills. 4. Efforts would be made on a war footing to provide drinking water, ration grain, fodder and work under MNREGA in the drought-hit areas of Marathwada and Vidarbha regions. 5. The tens of thousands of rejected claims of Adivasi peasants made under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), as well as the accepted claims with much less land given than is cultivated by them, would be re-examined within three months and justice done. Immediate orders to this effect would be given to the District Collectors. 6. A statewide survey would be conducted of lakhs of acres of temple lands and pasture lands to record the farmer-cultivators and the necessary legal steps would be taken to vest these lands in their names. 7. Steps would be taken to see how the water from the West-flowing rivers can be given to the Nashik, Thane and Palghar districts and diverted to the drought-hit areas in the state.
However, only some of the above assurances were implemented, and those, too, partially.
PEASANT RIGHTS AWARENESS CAMPAIGN
For the success of the Nashik struggle, 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 in which a total of around 1,500 activists took part. 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 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.
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 main 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. The convention was attended by over 700 leading activists from 21 districts. This struggle call was the culmination of the four-month long AIKS campaign in Maharashtra outlined above. Two lakh persuasive and attractive leaflets and 12,000 posters for the campaign had been published by the state centre 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.
NOVEL COFFIN RALLY AT THANE
The AIKS state conference began on May 30, 2016, with a novel 10,000-strong Coffin Rally in the heart of Thane city, near Mumbai. 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 was attended by AIKS General Secretary Hannan Mollah.
WHIPCORD RALLY AT KHAMGAON
On May 11, 2017, the AIKS organised an ‘Aasood’ (Whipcord) State Convention followed by the ‘Aasood’ State Rally to the house of the state agriculture minister at Khamgaon in Buldana district of Vidarbha region to focus on the issues of peasant suicides, loan waiver and remunerative prices. Mahatma Jotirao Phule had written a celebrated book titled “The Whipcord of the Peasant” (Shetkaryacha Aasood). It was from this that the Whipcord Rally was so named.
50,000 ADIVASIS GHERAO HOUSE OF ADIVASI DEVELOPMENT MINISTER
On October 3-4, 2016, around 50,000 Adivasi peasants, women, youth and students from various tribal districts of Maharashtra held a gherao of the house of the BJP Tribal Development minister Vishnu Savara at the sub divisional centre of Wada in Palghar district. The struggle was jointly led by the AIKS, AIDWA, DYFI, SFI and AARM and the districts that participated were Thane, Palghar, Nashik, Ahmednagar, Pune, Yavatmal, Buldana, Satara and others. AIKS Joint Secretary Vijoo Krishnan participated in this struggle along with the state leadership of all the above organizations.
The main issues were the stringent and immediate implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA), malnutrition-related tribal child deaths, work and wages under MNREGA, the plight of the PDS, health services and the problems of tribal students.
The gherao continued for 16 hours and all highways leading from Wada to Mumbai, Thane, Bhiwandi, Palghar, Dahanu, Talasari, Surat and Nashik were completely blocked. The minister had fled a day before in fear of this action.
When the people refused to move nonetheless, the minister had to send the state Tribal Development commissioner for talks with the delegation and had to send a fax agreeing to a high-powered meeting in the state secretariat at Mumbai on October 7. It was only after a four hour nightlong discussion with the commissioner, where he conceded many demands, that the gherao was lifted at dawn on October 4 with a huge public meeting.
The meeting of the delegation with the Tribal Development minister, half a dozen secretaries of related departments and half a dozen district collectors of tribal districts took place in Mumbai on October 7. It continued for over five hours and the minister was forced to concede several long-standing demands about FRA implementation and others. The minutes of the meeting and a special government circular was released to all concerned officials in the state, which put the demands conceded in writing. This struggle resulted in a major victory.
Before the Wada action, on January 12, 2016, an AIKS regional 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 and also from Thane-Palghar districts, attended the convention.
In November 2015, over 5,000 peasants from Wada and Vikramgad tehsils laid siege to the Wada SDO office continuously for six days and five nights and wrested written assurances from the SDO and Tehsildar about their demands concerned with land rights under the Forest Rights Act (FRA), employment under MNREGA, ration grain under the Food Security Act (FSA) and local issues about electricity, roads and health.
In a similar action in December 2015, over 4,000 peasants laid siege to the tehsil office in Shahapur for three days and three nights and wrested a similar written assurance from the Tehsildar. In both places, the actual implementation of the assurances by the authorities also began. These successful actions enhanced the morale of the people and attracted people from new villages and even from political streams opposed to us.
In Tryambakeshwar tehsil of Nashik district, 2,000 peasants laid siege to the tehsil office for three days and wrested their demands.
It is this series of struggles led by the AIKS that put the organisation for the first time in the mainstream of the current peasant struggle in Maharashtra.
AIKS NATIONWIDE JATHAS AND DELHI RALLY
The two southern Jathas that crossed the two ends of Maharashtra in November 2016 were well received – the Virudhunagar Jatha led by Vijoo Krishnan in the districts of Nanded, Yavatmal, Wardha and Nagpur in the Marathwada and Vidarbha regions, and the Kanyakumari Jatha led by P. Krishna Prasad and Dr. Ashok Dhawale in the Kolhapur, Sangli, Satara, Pune, Ahmednagar, Thane, Palghar and Nashik districts of Western Maharashtra, Konkan and Northern Maharashtra. Large public meetings took place in some centres and literature also sold well.
For the Delhi Rally of the AIKS on November 24, 2016, the Maharashtra unit of the AIKS mobilised around 4,000 peasants from 17 districts. Had it not been for demonetisation which affected peasants badly, this figure would have doubled. An AIKS state workshop was held on October 24-25, 2016 at Belapur, to prepare for the Jathas and the Delhi Rally. 142 activists from 22 districts participated. AIKS Finance Secretary P. Krishna Prasad attended the workshop.
STRUGGLE AGAINST MODI REGIME’S LAND ACQUISITION ORDINANCE
On June 20, 2015, as per the call of the AIKS Maharashtra state council, demonstrations were held in several districts to oppose the draconian anti-peasant land acquisition ordinance of the Modi-led BJP regime. Despite heavy rains and the sowing season being in full swing, the call was vigorously implemented in several tehsils of both Nashik and Thane-Palghar districts, where around 20,000 peasants participated in rallies. Dharnas and demonstrations against the land acquisition ordinance were held in other districts like Ahmednagar, Beed, Jalna, Parbhani, Nanded, Buldana and Yavatmal, in which hundreds of peasants took part.
On May 19, 2015, a 25,000-strong statewide Adivasi rally was held in Mumbai, in which opposition to the land acquisition ordinance was one of the major demands. The other major demand was the stringent implementation of the Forest Rights Act (FRA). Although the rally was held under the banner of the CPI(M) and the Adivasi Adhikar Rashtriya Manch (AARM), over 80 per cent of the participants in this rally were from the AIKS. It was addressed by CPI(M) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury, AIKS General Secretary Hannan Mollah and AARM national convenor Jitendra Choudhary.
STRUGGLE AGAINST DROUGHT, UNSEASONAL RAINS, HAILSTORMS
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 and unprecedented 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 and 4, all the agitators camped right outside the Commissionerate.
Under this pressure, in 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 the 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.
From April to June 2015 also, large actions by the AIKS on drought-related demands like compensation for crop losses, food security, pensions for the destitute, corruption in the public distribution system, work under the MGNREGA, starting of cattle camps and provision of fodder, compensation for hailstorms etc were held in districts like Nashik (25,000 peasants), Ahmednagar (15,000), Parbhani (5,000), Nanded, Beed, Jalna, Buldana, Yavatmal, Wardha and Solapur.
WARDHA AIKC MEETING
The AIKC meeting and rally were held at Wardha in the Vidarbha region on July 10-11-12, 2015. This was the first AIKC meeting held in Maharashtra in several years. The AIKS 31st All India Conference was successfully held at Nashik in January 2006, with a one lakh strong state rally.
After the Wardha AIKS meeting, teams of AIKS central and state activists visited several districts in the Vidarbha and Marathwada regions and met several families of peasants who had committed suicide due to indebtedness.
STATE AIKS PUBLICATIONS
The AIKS state council re-started the publication of its journal Kisan Sangharsh and 5,000 copies each of three issues were published and well-sold. It 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 also sold briskly all over the state.
As mentioned earlier, the AIKS state council urgently published 10,000 booklets of the fifth and final report of the Swaminathan Commission with a preface, in July 2017. It met with excellent response in the district conventions held that month as part of the joint statewide peasant struggle.
STATE CONFERENCE, MEMBERSHIP AND ORGANISATION
The 22nd state conference of the Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha was held from May 30 to June 1, 2016, in Thane-Palghar district, with 271 delegates from 23 districts who represented a membership of 2,65,127 – the highest AIKS membership recorded in the state so far. AIKS membership in the state has steadily increased from 1,92,121 in 2011-12 to 2,13,331 in 2012-13 to 2,25,978 in 2013-14 to 2,65,127 in 2015-16. There was a small drop to 2,40,107 in 2016-17.
23 district conferences were held in February and March 2016, preceded by over 1000 village unit conferences and over 75 tehsil conferences. Kisan Gujar was elected state president and Dr. Ajit Nawale was elected state general secretary at the state conference.
The AIKS state office bearers and state council meet regularly every three months, but there is need to bring in much more regularity in the functioning at the district, tehsil and especially village unit levels. There is also a need to boost the membership drive and to increase the ideological, political and organisational level of activists.
Dr. Ashok Dhawale
J. P. Gavit, MLA
Dr. Ajit Nawale
For Maharashtra Rajya Kisan Sabha