In a meeting chock-a-bloc with Lok Sabha MP Raju Shetti’s diehard supporters, it takes special courage to interrupt the charismatic farmer leader and refrain him from addressing them. Dr Ajit Nawale (40) has, however, over the past fortnight carved out a niche for himself by carrying out such audacious acts during the farmers’ movement.
From walking out of a meeting with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to asking Shetti to sit back and allow others to speak at a rally in Nashik, Nawale has emerged as the driving force and the poster boy of the second phase of the farmers’ agitation in Maharashtra. “I only asked Shetti sir to postpone his speech so that more farmers could put forth their opinion on the subject. As far as walking out of Chief Minister Devendra Fadanvis’ meeting, it was important as someone needed to call the government’s bluff,” says Nawale.
He acted as the catalyst for the second phase of the agitation that could have ended on the early morning of June 3 when a delegation of farmer leaders, including Nawale, met Fadnavis at his residence. As the delegation was cajoled by Fadnavis to call off the strike, a fuming Nawale walked out, claiming that the government was taking farmers for a ride and he was not going to be a part of this capitulation.
“The CM wanted the delegation to say that the government was committed to loan waiver and benefiting farmers, but isn’t that what all political parties have been saying for years? There was no concrete solution or proposal given by the state, which wanted us to call off the agitation without meeting any of our demands,” says Nawale. A fuming Nawale then held a press conference right outside the CM’s residence, claiming the government had taken farmers for a ride and the members of the farmers’ core committee seemed to have capitulated in front of the state.
So strong was the backlash against the members of the core committee which met the CM that many of them have refrained from going back home, fearing violence. “I only wanted to ensure that we shared with farmers what the government had to offer and call off the strike only after getting their feedback. This, however, did not happen,” says Nawale, an Ayurvedic doctor, who runs a small hospital in Akole Taluka in Ahmednagar district.
Born in a farmers’ family, Nawale has had an early political initiation into the Communist and farmer movement in the state. He is general secretary of the Maharashtra Kisan Sabha, the farmers’ wing of the CPI (M). While many sceptics have questioned the demands of loan waiver being made by farmers because of its economic feasibility, a section has also questioned the polarising effect that Communist parties represented by Nawale have had on the movement.
“They do not leave room for any kind of negotiations. They are an adamant lot. Moreover, Nawale was not even a part of the original committee. Rather than look for solutions, they are keen on getting into a confrontation with this government for their larger political gains,” says a member of the committee that was previously negotiating with the government. Nawale, however, brushes aside these claims and says that farmers are open to any form of negotiations.
He says, “We do not want loan waiver due to political considerations. We want a loan waiver to alleviate the conditions of farmers and find a concrete solution which would break this vicious chain of exploitation. This government should at least come up with some proposal and then we can talk over it. The problem is the government has nothing to offer and wants us to accept its hollow assurances.” Nawale, too, has his set of supporters who vouch for his “dedication to the farmers’ cause”.
“He is sharp and has a deep understanding of the issues that affect farmers in the country,” says activist Giridhar Patil. For others like Peasants and Workers Party leader and MLC Jayant Patil, Nawale represents the growing assertion by farmers who are seeking their rights. “He is a leader who we need to thank because he was the only one who had the courage to challenge the chief minister in his own house and call his bluff even as others with him sat compliant in front of the government,” says Patil.
On the emergence of young leaders, including Chandrashekhar Azad who is leading Dalits in Saharanpur and Hardik Patel in Gujarat, Nawale says he does not see himself in the same league. “The work that we do are different and I do not see myself in the same bracket. I am only a young farmer who is looking at facilitating a fair system so that my family and the farmers’ community can live with dignity,” he says.