Finally a March

The farmers’ march from Nasik to Mumbai, which began from 6 March and reached Mumbai on 11 March, hit the headlines for obvious reasons. Having walked over 160 km in six days, nearly 30,000 farmers, the men and women traversed their final 20 km into central Mumbai even as the state government scrambled to prevent the embarrassment of a gherao of the legislature as threatened by the CPI(M)-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha that organised the long march.

The farmers, including a very large number from tribal-dominated talukas in Nashik, Thane and Palghar, are demanding a loan waiver free of any conditions, implementation of the Forest Rights Act, fixed remunerative prices for agri produce, and implementation of the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission.

India has witnessed a severe agrarian distress over the last quite a few years, one aspect of which is recurrent suicides by farmers. The last phenomenon is due to various reasons, one of which is certainly lack of fair prices of crops in the face of mounting costs and consequent failure to repay debts. This has stirred conscience of the people; reject the dirty self-seekers who have doing well under the present dispensation and who are influenced, and to some extent overwhelmed, by the politics of communal polarisation and national jingoism hawked under the guise of patriotism.

It is well-known that ever since the introduction of the neo-liberal regime, 4 lakh farmers have committed suicides. In order to mitigate the grievances, Narendra Modi, on the eve of the Lok Sabha polls, promised to fix the minimum procurement price at 50% above the cost of production in accordance with the recommendations of the Swaminathan Commission. But, he did not keep the promise. Besides, the government purchases only wheat and rice, not any other agricultural products. The crop insurance scheme, launched with much fanfare, benefiting only domestic and foreign insurance companies, while the control of seeds, fertilisers, pesticides and other agricultural inputs has gone to multinationals. Public investment in agriculture has become negligible, if not zero.

The ongoing farmers' march is by no means the first outburst of agrarian unrest. Similar events have taken place earlier in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and elsewhere, and killings in Mandasaur in Rajasthan are well-known. The present movement may be called a sequel to them, and it has made the present Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in Maharashtra sit up in anxiety and embarrassment. The orientation of the movement is very much different from that of Buddha Babu's policy of wooing the Tatas and Salims in the name of industrialisation.

While the present movement must be supported, one caution needs to be given. Recently, it has been witnessed that some middle class groups, e.g. the Marathas, the Jaths, the Patidars, the Kamars, while demanding fair prices, loan waivers and reservation in jobs, have retained a stand of confrontation with the dalits and are trying to pass the burden of crisis on to the shoulders of labourers, who are predominantly dalits. These middle-caste groups did not take a favourable view of the MGNREGA and supported Modi in the 2014 polls. They must not be allowed to penetrate and misdirect the movement.


Vol. 50, No.38, Mar 25 - 31, 2018