MAHARASHTRA state Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis threw in the sponge today when tens of thousands of small farmers facing penury marched to state capital Mumbai to demand support.
He said that his government was “sensitive and positive” towards their demands, which included loan relief and increased minimum prices for their products.
Farmers on #KisanLongMarch towards Mumbai. They will encircle the Assembly & demand: Remunerative prices, Implementation of Swaminathan Committee recommendations & Forest Rights Act, stopping wasteful projects like Bullet train & Irrigation projects to help other farmers. pic.twitter.com/3vdJ98TJX9
— CPI (M) (@cpimspeak) March 8, 2018
Small farmers have been driven to the wall by neoliberal policies adopted by the Hindu-supremacist BJP central government led by Narendra Modi and carried through by his supporters at state level.
Countless numbers have committed suicide after being unable to meet interest payments on loans raised to buy seeds, fertiliser and animal feed.
In a protest last year in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, many carried the skulls of farmers who had killed themselves due to unpayable levels of debt.
The Maharashtra farmers belong to the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the small farmers’ wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), which reports that 1,753 debt-ridden farmers have killed themselves since last June and demands full implementation of recommendations by the 2004-6 Swaminathan Commission on sustainable farming.
So angry have they become at indifference to their plight that about 50,000 of them have marched more than 100 miles in recent days in temperatures of 40°C to turn Mumbai into a sea of red.
They demand unconditional and complete relief on loans and electricity and a minimum support price of one-and-a-half times the input cost for farm produce.
The farmers also want compensation for crop losses due to February’s unseasonal rain, hailstorm and attack by pink bollworm.
AIKS secretary Ashok Dhawale said: “We want the state government to stop forceful acquisition of farm lands in the name of development projects like the super highway and tracks for bullet trains.”
The protesting farmers made clear that, if they were ignored, they would “gherao” the government, which would entail surrounding the state parliament and not allowing anyone to leave until they had satisfaction.
BJP MP Poonam Mahajan said: “I respect these farmers, but what bothered me the most is that these farmers are holding communist flags. I hope farmers will not be used for political agendas in the future.”
Hers was an isolated voice as even hardened BJP supporters accepted the need to meet farmers’ needs.
As they marched into Mumbai, local people lined up to greet them with water, dates and biscuits.
Mr Fadnavis authorised his ministers to meet Mr Dhawale, AIKS state secretary Ajit Nawale and CPI(M) assembly member Jiva Gavit to discuss the farmers’ problems before announcing his full acceptance of their demands.
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