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Maharashtra farmers’ stir draws mixed response

Farmers throwing vegetables on road during the Maharashtra bandh in Nagpur on Monday. (PTI)

Amid sporadic incidents of violence and divided views among farmer leaders, a large number of market committees and weekly bazaars in several parts of Maharashtra barring Mumbai remained shut in response to the call for a state-wide bandh. Confusion prevailed after many farmers decided to continue with a strike they launched on Thursday, even as members of their organising committee declared an end to the protest early on Saturday morning. On Tuesday, the plan was to lock down all government offices followed by gherao of legislators and ministers’ offices on Wednesday.

The strike is the largest protest by farmers in Maharashtra in several decades. The Kisan Kranti Jan Andolan Samiti, which had given the original call for strike from June 1, also called for Maharashtra bandh on June 5 but withdrew the call on Saturday after talks with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis. Kisan Kranti — the umbrella organisation — became the target of farmers who said they were not taken into confidence before the waiver was announced.

Farmer groups based in Nashik had distanced themselves from this announcement and declared on Saturday itself that they would continue the strike. Farmers in Puntamba in Ahmednagar district – from where the core committee operated – said that the core committee should have consulted the farmers before taking any arbitrary decision. These farmers are continuing their strike. The Maharashtra Kisan Sabha, a farmers’ organisation affiliated to the Communist Party of India (M), said the Maharashtra bandh was successful across the state.

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There were divided views across parts of Maharashtra like Nashik, Ahmednagar, Pune, and Kolhapur districts as several farmers’ groups and political parties accused the core committee members of Kisan Kranti Jan Andolan Samiti of “selling themselves off to chief minister Devendra Fadnavis”.

In Nashik which is a huge onion, fruit, and milk supplier to Mumbai, farmers’ groups held several rounds of discussion and staged demonstrations against the state government as well as the members of the Kisan Kranti Jan Andolan Samiti who had held talks with Fadnavis. Earlier, the core committee members called an end to the agitation, that involved thousands of farmers across the state and pinched supplies to city markets, after what they deemed to be successful negotiations with CM Devendra Fadnavis. At the meeting, which ended in the early hours of Saturday, Fadnavis promised to waive all agricultural loans taken by those with landholdings of five acres or less. This would cost the state around Rs 30,000 crore and would benefit around 40 lakh farmers.

Advocate Kamal Sawant, one of the core committee members was a participant in the discussions with the Maharashtra CM but says that she later realised that the members were not taking the rest of the farners into confidence and therefore withdrew from this group deciding to support the farmers.

“We are clear that the agitation will continue until all the farmers get a complete loan waiver and MSP is decided taking the cost of production into account,” she said. The farmers are now pressing for loan waivers, pensions for farmers above the age of 60, a fixed price of milk and that the minimum support price for crops be fixed at least 50% above the cost of production, among other demands. The other core committee members remained unavailable for comment and their cell phones were also unreachable on Monday.

Dhananjay Dhanwate one of the main coordinators of the strike based out of Puntamba- the core centre of the strike accused the core committee members of being managed. “The bandh has been 100% successful in Maharashtra and the government stop trying to provoke farmers. This will make them even more aggressive,” he said. “When we earlier met the CM , he had given an assurance of a complete loan waiver. None of the demands of the farmers have been met. The CM has only said that a committee will be appointed to look into the loan waiver issue and decide on the marginal farmers in three weeks.”

On the issue of milk prices, he said that a decision will be taken after June 20. “How can the committee members claim that 70% of the demands have been met? Farmers have been in debt and need support before the start of the season. This is just a move to buy time,” he said. Dhanwate said that on June 6, farmers will shut down and put locks on the offices of tehsildars.

On June 7 an effort will be made to ensure that MPs are not allowed to come out of their offices, he said.