Thousands of Indian farmers, who had been marching in the State of Maharashtra, concluded their protest on Saturday, March 18 after the government accepted their demands. They had begun their march on March 12. The farmers, who were heading from Nashik to the State’s capital Mumbai, were led by the All India Kisan Sabha, a left-wing farmers’ organization.
The farmers were supported by different civil society groups, students, and a number of prominent activists. Coming from far off places, they had brought with them food, utensils and tents, prepared for a longer protest.
The farmers had a 17-point charter of demands—the most important of which was remunerative crop prices, especially for onions. Other demands included a complete loan waiver to the peasantry, the waiving of pending electricity bills and 12-hour daily supply of power, and compensation by the government and insurance companies for the damage sustained by peasants due to unseasonal rains and other natural calamities.
On the first day of the protest, the farmers marched into the city of Nashik and threw away vegetables they had cultivated, including onions, as a sign of protest against the policies of the government.
Shortly after the 250-km march began, the State government [in which the Bharatiya Janata Party which is in power in the Center is a partner] promised it would accept the demands. However, the farmers were not convinced as the government had gone back on similar promises before. Hence they halted their march but declared that they would not return until concrete steps were taken regarding their implementation. Following this, the chief minister of the State, Eknath Shinde spoke in the State’s legislature on the issue and details were also provided to farmers on the implementation of their demands. He announced an increase in the subsidy provided for onion farmers. Another key demand that was accepted was the inclusion of tribal farmers in loan waiver schemes.
Speaking at a public meeting announcing victory, farmers’ leader J P Gavit said, “The government accepted all the demands, and a committee has been formed for some governance-related questions. The committee is set to present its report within a specific timeframe regarding how to fulfill the demands.” He added that the authorities, who were earlier trying to derail the movement, were forced to talk to the farmers because of the sheer strength of the Kisan (Farmers) Long March.
One protesting farmer—Pundalik Ambo Jadhav—died during the protest.
Farmers’ leader Jitendra Chopde, elated after the victory, said that farmers had faith in AIKS, adding, “We are leaving after winning; if the government betrays us, we will return with bigger numbers after six months.”
The farmers were not alone in raising their demands. According to BL Karad, National Vice-President of the Centre of Indian Trade Unions, the government has also taken some positive steps on labor issues. “They have promised an increase of INR 1,500 [US$ 18,.15] in the honorarium of ASHA [Accredited Social Health Activists who are essential for last mile delivery of health schemes and services]. The contract workers will also get their salaries directly in their bank accounts,” the union leader, who also participated in the discussions with the government, said.
Maharashtra was also the venue of the historic Farmers’ Long March of 2018 when tens of thousands marched from Nashik to Mumbai. Talking about that march, Jagdish, a young farmer, told NewsClick, “At that time, farmers’ issues had become secondary in the State and the country. We brought farmers’ struggles to the center of power. After that, the country saw a successful farmers’ movement for over a year. We again started a movement and forced the government to accept our demands.
Farmers and workers across the country are set to hold a major mobilization on April 5 to push for a variety of demands. Speaking about upcoming protest, Jagdish said, “Hundreds of thousands of farmers and laborers will gather in Delhi on April 5; just like we made the BJP government of Maharashtra bow down, they will also do a similar thing with the Narendra Modi government in Delhi.” Trade union leader Karad agreed, “Around 10,000-15,000 farmers, laborers, and farm laborers from Maharashtra will participate [on April 5]. We are preparing for that. Tickets are being booked, and village-level and block-level meetings are being held.”