Midnight drama before Maharashtra farmers suspend ‘long march’

Dramatic developments, including an unprecedented post midnight ‘peasant rally’ addressed by Maharashtra Ministers, led to a mammoth “long march” of farmers from Nashik to Mumbai being called off early on Friday.

“Yes… The government has agreed to all our 15 demands and has promised their implementation in a time-bound manner, along with review meetings to be held every two months,” All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) national President Ashok Dhawale told IANS.

Drought relief, water and irrigation, Forest Rights Act implementation, hike in pension to all old farmers/agriculture labourers, farm loans waiver, problems in Public Distribution System, providing work under MNREGA in drought-hit regions, critical drinking water issues and Crop Insurance Scheme enhancement are among the 15 demands listed.

Dhawale said that in 2018, after the first long march by some 35,000 farmers to Mumbai, the government had “agreed” but did not implement a single point, no review meeting was held, despite reminders and even though the matter was tabled in the Legislature.

Accordingly, the AIKS announced the second long march — this time a bigger affair — that rattled the government.

“The Chief Minister invited us for two meetings on February 11 and 17 but there was hardly any breakthrough, so we decided to go-ahead with the long march… This is when the government resorted to repressive tactics to force us to call off the agitation,” Dhawale said.

The march began on Wednesday but that evening Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan summoned the AIKS leaders for a late night meeting which went on till 1.30 a.m., but it was only partially successful.

He promised to consult the political leadership and revert even as the farmers resumed their long march on Thursday.

On February 21, over 40,000 farmers continued to march to Mumbai, with more joining in from various villages, towns en route, sending alarm bells ringing in the Maharashtra government.

At 4 p.m., Mahajan again sought a meeting and along with his cabinet colleague, Tourism Minister Jaykumar Raval. They rushed to a village where the peasants had halted en route for lunch on Thursday.

“They came with a draft, but we did not approve it. It did not include the assurances made in our meetings with the Chief Minister (Devendra Fadnavis) and the Ministers, so we demanded a modified draft.

“After nearly four hours, the final draft was received from Mantralaya (Secretariat),” said Dhawale.

Since the AIKS takes collective decision, all the 20-odd top leaders were called for a meeting late on Thursday, where they discussed everything threadbare and it was decided that the final draft was acceptable.

“Given the past unpleasant experiences, we wanted a firm commitment from the government. So there was a press conference post-midnight, then we asked the two Ministers to address the farmers rally right there (in the village) and explain everything,” Dhawale said.

It was only after the farmers rally unanimously endorsed the AIKS leaders’ decision and the government’s commitment that the long march was finally suspended at 1.30 a.m., barely 25 km on the outskirts of Nashik, he said.

“Everything will now depend on the government’s implementation of its promises, which we shall take up in all the review meetings,” Dhawale said.

After a brief night’s rest, farmers who had come from all over Maharashtra started returning to their homes from daybreak.

IANS