On June 2, the day after Maharashtra’s farmers went on strike, a Rs 30,000 crore loan waiver announced by the government was followed by an announcement that the strike was being called off by a five-member core committee of agitating farmers, who had just met Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.
Instead, the strike entered its fifth day Monday, disrupting supplies to major urban centres and highlighting a divide among the agitating units. In the process, at least one of those who had declared the strike “called off” has now backed its continuance.
When the withdrawal was announced, villagers of Puntamba in Ahmednagar, western Maharashtra, where it all began, were upset that they had not been consulted, while farmers in other regions alleged that the waiver would help only those of western Maharashtra. This region has the highest number of small and marginal farmers — over 18 lakh as per the Agriculture Census, or 1½ time sthe 12 lakh the count in Marathwada, the next highest — and it was for such farmers that the waiver had been announced.
Members of the core committee who attended the meeting now blame one another and the chief minister’s office for putting pressure on them to take a decision.
Advocate Kamal Sawant, one of the members of the core committee, told The Indian Express that some of them had wanted to consult villagers before calling the strike off. “But the chief minister’s office was insistent that we should take a decision then and there,” she alleged. Sawant has since expressed her support for the ongoing strike.
Fadnavis denied any pressure was put on the committee members. “ From the very beginning, I had expressed my willingness to engage in a dialogue with farmers’ organisations and representatives. Where is there any question of putting pressure when the government has accepted their demands?” he told The Indian Express.
On Sunday, leaders of various organisations called a meeting attended by thousands of farmers who, upset with the core committee’s announcement, proposed a new committee with representatives of Kisan Sabha, Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, Swabhimani Sanghatana and other organisations. Swabhimani Paksha MP Raju Shetti has called for a meeting to plan ahead.
On Monday, Congress and Shiv Sena members took part in the agitation, which was occasionally violent in parts of the state.
With farmers hit by a debt burden and falling prices, Puntamba village’s gram sabha had passed a resolution to go on a farmers’ strike back on April 3, says Dr Dhananjay Dhanwate, managing director of the local Asha Kiran Paraplegic Care Centre. The resolution had sought a total loan waiver and a law to implement minimum support price, among various demands. This was followed by some 200 neighbouring villages passing similar resolutions and threatening a strike. The movement grew; a number of farmers allege they withstood efforts to break it.
The strike eventually began the day after a failed meeting with the CM on May 30. Then on June 2 came the long meeting followed by the announcement about the waiver and the withdrawal by the core committee.
By then, however, farmers from districts as far-flung as Nashik, Ahmednagar, Nanded, Parbhani, Satara, Kolhapur had joined in. They refused to call off the strike.