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March March March: A political act in India

Farooque Chowdhury

A farmers’ march in India has triumphed, for now. Countercurrents (Countercurrents.org), an e-journal from southern India, headlines on March 12, 2018: “Historic Victory for Farmers of Maharashtra”.

The victory is in Mumbai, India’s financial-heart, hundreds of kilometers west of Tripura, an industrially less-developed state, where, only days ago, Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI-M) experienced massive rightist assault, and, rightists, symbolically, tore down a statue of Lenin. The Azad Maidan, the protesting farmers’ final staging ground in Mumbai, turned into a sea of red as red flags carrying farmers made their stand there. Quick succession of these two opposite political moves seems strange, but, at times this is the pattern of political development.   

 Countercurrents’ report said:
“The farmers in Maharashtra won a historic victory after 50,000 farmers threatened to siege the state assembly. The Devendra Fadnavis government of Maharashtra has agreed to the demands of protesting farmers.”

The CPI-M-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) led the farmers’ march, which carries much political weight in the context of today’s India. CPI-M general secretary Sitaram Yechury described farmers as the “new soldiers of India” who can “uproot governments” if their demands are not accepted.  

The farmer-power is undeniable. It were a way of dealing with related market, and a way of dealing with political authority. There are powerful political and organizational messages for many. The March and related developments are lessons also.

A Mumbai, March 12, 2018 datelined PTI report carried by India TV said:
“In a major victory for the farmers who trekked 180 km from Nashik to [Mumbai] over six days under the blazing sun, some even barefooted, the state’s [Maharashtra’s] Revenue Minister Chandrakant Patil said their ‘all demands’ are being accepted.”

Patil addressed farmers camping at Azad Maidan in the presence of Sitaram Yechury.

The “Maharashtra: ‘Long March’ succeeds as govt accepts demands; agitating farmers agree to call off stir” headlined report said:
The farmers on Monday [March 12, 2018] agreed to call off their stir after the state government accepted their demands.

Talking to reporters, Chief Minister Fadnavis said: “We have agreed to set up a committee to hand over forest land used for farming, to tribals and farmers” provided they submit a proof of pre-2005 land cultivation.  In a meeting with representatives of farmers and adivasis [indigenous people] today, “we have accepted almost all their demands.” 

The report said:
Fadnavis was under intense pressure to concede the demands. 

“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,” Fadnavis told the state Assembly during a discussion on the ‘Long March’.  

The farmers’ demands included complete and unconditional farm loan waiver, pension scheme for farmers, transfer of forest land to tribal farmers who have been tilling it for years, fixing the minimum support price at one-and-a-half times the cost of production, a change in the plan to link rivers in three districts so that tribal lands are not submerged and water from the scheme is made available to these areas and other drought-prone districts. They stand against government’s land acquisition for projects, which included high-speed railway and super highways. 

Support by the opposition Congress, NCP, Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and Shiv Sena, which is part of the BJP-led ruling coalition in Maharashtra state and at the Centre, signals power of the protest. MNS chief Raj Thackeray and Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray met the farmers. The Shiv Sena threw its weight behind the farmers, saying that irrespective of their red flags the party would back them in getting their problems resolved. 

Organizational power “inspires” or compels many to forget color!

An AIKS-news said:
NCP president Sharad Pawar, state Congress president Ashok Chavan, Shiv Sena leader Aditya Thackeray, Maharashtra AAP and MNS chief Raj Thackeray supported the cause of the farmers. Congress President Rahul Gandhi urged PM Modi and Maharashtra CM Fadnavis to accept the farmers’ demands. (March 12, 2018 http://kisansabha.org/aiks/aiks-in-news/maharashtra-farmers-protest-updates-fadnavis-government-accepts-most-demands-special-trains-arran-the-new-indian-express/)

Raj Thackeray told the farmers: “I have come to greet you. You have come all the way in this heat. Give me the reins of power and I will show what can be done. Don’t forget your bleeding feet. These people (the BJP-led Maharashtra government) have shown you dreams, but have not kept their word.”

This is not an issue of Maharashtra farmers alone but of farmers all over India, said Congress President Rahul Gandhi on the AIKS protest. 

The farmers’ powerful presence is discernible. It pulls a lot; it presses many.

Another AIKS-news said:
“BJP MP Poonam Mahajan […] said farmers and tribals protesting in Maharashtra were being misguided by ‘urban Maoists’.”

The powerful are haunted or love to be get haunted, in reality or in dream, by the Maoists!  

However, immediately hitting out at Mahajan, CPI-M leader MB Rajesh said, ‘The Kisan Sabha is leading the rally. One can see the posters, banners and flags. I am scared the BJP may also call them anti-nationals.’

In view of the march, over 12,000 police were deployed in Mumbai.

Relation between physical power and political power is undisputable.

The farmers’ march in the city took into consideration exam of Class 10-students. The march moved accordingly, and the protesters marched overnight to reach Azad Maidan by the morning. Tribals from Thane district joined the marching farmers. 

Citing Chief Minister’s Office sources one report said: Maharashtra government directed all its machinery to be positive and sympathetic to the protesters.

The authorities announced that the farmers would be ferried back to Nashik. The railway authority announced running special trains from Mumbai for the farmers’ return journey.

An important feature of the march, as it entered Mumbai city, was the extraordinary support extended to it by the city’s middle class households. Many city dwellers lined up the Eastern Express Highway and distributed water, biscuits and other food to the peasants. Children distributed biscuits near Vikhroli; Sikhs arranged langar [large kitchens providing free food]. Many city residents showered flowers on the marchers. These indicated the wholehearted support from people. (“Unprecedented Show of Solidarity by Mumbaikars to Kisan Long March!”, March 12, 2018 http://kisansabha.org/aiks/movements-and-struggles/maharashtra-farmers-struggle/unprecedented-show-of-solidarity-by-mumbaikars-to-kisan-long-march/)

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Other media reports said:
Dabbawalas known for delivering tiffin to hundreds of thousands of the working people with clockwise precision in Mumbai city offered the farmers food and water.

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In the early morning, large groups of civilians waited at roads to greet farmers with water, dates and biscuits, to which peasants reciprocated with loud slogans of Lal Salaam – Red Salute.

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The march, none would disagree, show: struggling people have no divisive line of color and creed; and organization is the power of people. Without organization people have nothing; without organization people turn voiceless and powerless; without organization people’s power is expropriated; without organization none gets concerned with people; and with organization, people have voice; with organization, people can claim and achieve; with organization, people can march to victory. To march, and to organize a march, organization is the requirement. And, without leadership no organization, no march, no mobilization, no victory is possible.

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[The photographs from AIKS used in this article are for non-commercial purpose.]      

Farooque Chowdhury, writing from Dhaka, has not yet authored/edited any book dealing with non-earthly issues, and he does neither operate any blog/web site nor any facebook nor similar accounts.

Mar 14, 2018


Farooque Chowdhury farooque_chowdhury@yahoo.com

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