ALTHOUGH Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis on Saturday morning announced that the farmers’ strike has been called off, it seemed to have little effect on the striking farmers in Maharashtra, who later in the day declared their intention to continue with the strike.
Saturday proved to be a day of intense politicking, which saw the core committee members of Kisan Kranti Morcha, the umbrella organisation that spearheaded the movement, being ousted for not taking farmers into confidence before calling off the strike.
Post-Saturday, the nerve centre of the movement seem to have moved from Puntambe in Rahata taluka of Ahmednagar to the neighbouring Nashik district.
Loan waivers, implementation of the Swaminathan Committee’s recommendation about prices of agri-commodities and increase in the procurement price of milk have been some of the main demands which sparked the farmers strike.
Since June 1, farmers have stopped movement of vegetables and milk which has squeezed supplies to the wholesale markets across the state. Dhananjay Jadhav, Dhananjay Dhorde, Sandeep Gidde, Kamal Sawant and Shantaram Kunjir formed the core committee of Kisan Kranti who were empowered to talk with the state government on behalf of the farmers.
Since the last few months, villages across Maharashtra had seen Gram Sabhas passing resolutions to participate in the strike which would also translate into farmers refraining from agriculture. The movement had also called for a Maharashtra wide bandh barring Mumbai on Monday. Due to the strike, prices of vegetables spiralled and milk procurement has been hit.
R S Sodhi, managing director of the Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation (GCCMMF) which markets dairy and dairy products under the brand Amul, said procurement in Maharashtra has been severely hit.
Milk carrying vehicles to Mumbai are being transported under police protection from Gujarat. As the strike entered its second day, the core committee had left for Mumbai late Friday night to meet the chief minister. After a marathon meeting, Fadnavis along with the core committee members except Dhorde had called off the strike early on Saturday morning. Gidde who spoke to The Indian Express early on Saturday morning said around 70 per cent of their demands including loan waivers to marginal farmers, passing of a legislation to penalise traders trading under Minimum Support Price (MSP) were agreed upon by the government. “In view of this, we decided to the call off the strike,” he said.
However, the decision did not go down well with farmers who claimed they were not consulted by the core committee before taking the decision. As the day progressed, the core committee members started becoming the target of attack by farmers at various districts who were clearly not happy with the decision. By evening, committees in various districts announced that the strike would continue with farmers in Nashik, Ahmednagar, Western Maharashtra, Vidarbha joining in. As the anger among farmers spread, the core committee members came under increasing fire and soon all of them were unreachable for comments.
Minister of State for Agriculture Sadabhau Khot, who has been the government’s face for negotiation, came under severe criticism with farmers burning his effigy in Nashik. Reports have also come in of lathicharge on farmers in parts of Nashik and Ahmednagar.
Amruta Pawar, member of the state committee, said the core committee had erred in taking the decision without consulting anyone. Pawar, who hails from Nashik, said that the protesting farmers in Puntambe had decided to oust the core committee and continue with the strike. “In Nashik we decided to continue the strike,” she said.
Pawar said they had contacted leaders of organisations that have supported the strike in Nashik on Sunday to discuss the course of action. “This is going to be an open air meeting so everyone can see what is happening,” she said.
Meanwhile, on Saturday, Swabhimani Paksha MP Raju Shetti and farmer leader Raghunath Patil who have considerable clout in Western Maharashtra announced the continuation of the strike. Shetti and Patil have decided to call a meeting on June 8 to discuss the matter.
The apparent leaderless farmers’ strike has come at the back of the Maratha Morcha which saw lakhs thronging the streets. Puntambe, which is in the heart of onion and grapes belt, is just about two hours from Satana where the farmer leader Sharad Joshi had started his public movement for better onion prices.