Facing the heat from the opposition and ally Shiv Sena, the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Maharashtra government on Monday accepted the demands of agitating farmers, including their right to till forest land, leading the cultivators to call off their stir that had turned Mumbai into a sea of red.
As the government announced its decision, Communist Party of India-Marxist general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the striking farmers, who were affiliated to his party, were ending their agitation.
Under the banner of the Akhil Bhartiya Kisan Sabha of the CPI-M, over 35,000 farmers trekked 180 kilometre from Nashik to Mumbai over six days under the blazing sun, some even barefooted, with a slew of demands which included their right to till forest land and a complete loan waiver.
Earlier, three senior ministers - Chandrakant Patil, Girish Mahajan and Eknath Shinde - met the farmers at the Azad Maidan in south Mumbai and announced the government’s decision to accept their demands.
They also said the government has made arrangements to send them back to their native places by special trains.
“I am happy to announce that almost all of your demands have been met and they will be implemented in a time-bound manner,” declared Patil, who handles the revenue and public works department portfolios.
Thousands of farmers from all over the state, who had gathered at the Azad Maidan donning red caps, holding red flags and banners, greeted the announcement with loud cheer.
“After the government accepted our demands in writing and assured to implement them in a time-bound manner, I asked the farmers to go back to their homes,” Yechury told reporters.
Mahajan, who handles the water resources portfolio, thanked the farmers for holding the rally in a peaceful manner.
“The meeting with the farmers was positive. Some 12-13 demands of farmers were discussed. We have taken some of their demands into consideration where technical issues are involved. The rest of their demands would be resolved in the next six months,” he told reporters outside the Vidhan Bhawan.
Talking to reporters at the legislature complex, Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis said, “We have agreed to set up a committee to hand over forest land used for farming to tribals and farmers.”
“A meeting was held with representatives of farmers and adivasis at Vidhan Bhawan today. We have agreed to set up a committee to allot agricultural land to tribals provided they submit a proof of pre-2005 land cultivation. We have accepted almost all their demands,” Fadnavis said.
Earlier in the day, Fadnavis, who was under intense pressure to concede the demands of farmers, had said his government was “sensitive and positive” towards their issues.
“Around 90 to 95 per cent of the participants are poor tribals. They are fighting for forest land rights. They are landless and can’t do farming. The government is sensitive and positive towards their demands,” he told the assembly during a discussion on the ‘Long March’ of agriculturists.
In the afternoon, Yechury addressed the farmers and compared their agitation to the historic Dandi March undertaken by Mahatma Gandhi to protest the British salt tax.
“No country can move forward if its food providers are not given their due respect. Farmers are the backbone of the country. This rally is quite similar to Dandi March.”
The Left leader slammed the Modi government over its handling of farmer issues.
“You waived loans worth Rs 2.40 lakh crore given to rich corporates, but are asking farmers to pay every penny. Farmers who took loans are committing suicide and tycoons who have taken loans of thousands of crores are moving around scot-free.”
“If the loans given to industrialists are recovered, they (the money so impounded) will be enough to meet all the demands of farmers and unemployed youths,” Yechury said.
Noted journalist and Ramon Magsaysay Award winner P Sainath congratulated the farmers and demanded a 20-day-long special session of Parliament to discuss the “agrarian crisis” in the country.
Besides loan waiver and transfer of forest land to tribal farmers who have been tilling it for years, the cultivators were agitating against non-implementation of the Swaminathan Committee recommendation for fixing the minimum support price at one-and -a-half times the cost of production, and the Forest Rights Act, CPI-M leader Ashok Dhawle said.
The opposition Congress, the Nationalist Congress Party, the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and also Shiv Sena, which is part of the BJP-led ruling coalitions in the state and at the Centre, had extended support to the agitators. MNS chief Raj Thackeray and Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray met the farmers on Sunday.
Shivram Gangurde, a farmer from Junnar town in Pune district, expressed happiness over the government accepting their demands.
"All farmers are very happy now. To be honest, we never expected that our struggle would be successful. We are going to our homes with a new hope now,” he said, after the stir was called off and agitators greeted the news about the government’s acceptance of their demands with drum beats and impromptu tribal dance.
All photographs: Sahil Salvi/Rediff.com