The perennial discontent over minimum support prices has seen the Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena and Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana in Maharashtra work meticulously to take up the farmers’ cause. However, the Fadnavis government in the state was not helped by the party’s internal struggles in dealing with the farmers’ strike which has continued despite the announcement of a loan waiver.
While the strike has seen political forces trying to reassert their might to counter the electoral consolidation of the ruling BJP in rural Maharashtra, what has played spoilsport for the government is the spate of irresponsible statements by party leaders with state president Raosaheb Danve abusing farmers which provided fodder to the Opposition and the Shiv Sena. Union minister for Highways and Shipping Nitin Gadkari expressing reservations over a loan waiver for farmers may also have had a role in the continuing protests.
Why is the strike continuing despite the state government announcing a loan waiver of ?
There are several indications that the strike is as much about farmer distress as it is about a power tussle within the party and opposition out to the leadership of Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis who has given the party repeated victory in local bodies elections.
His policy reforms in agriculture and the irrigation sectors have started yielding results giving individual farmers in villages water and access to power. The chief minister’s Jalyukta Shivar project (3.5 lakh works) seeks to make 11,454 villages drought free out of total 25,000 which are drought prone.
The monopoly of the big political leaders in controlling the village economy and agriculture resources has been challenged causing inconvenience to Congress and NCP who control the cooperative sector in Maharashtra.
The strike call coincided with the BJP’s fortnight long campaign – samvaad shivar – where 10,000 workers spread out across 90,000 booths to communicate the policy reforms of the state and Centre. The BJP campaign came in wake of the earlier Congress-NCP’s three phased “sangharsh yatra” across Maharashtra.
Out of the 36 districts in the state, the strike’s epicenter is confined to districts of Pune, Nashik and Ahmendnagar. The biggest demand of the farmers’ organisation lead by Kisam Kranti Morcha and political parties was a complete loan waiver.
Less than 48 hours after the strike started, Fadnavis announced a Rs 30,000 crore loan waiver –the biggest ever in Maharashtra. This gives relief to 40 lakh debt-ridden small and marginal farmers who can get into the institutional credit bracket and avail of fresh crop loans.
The state government also declared it introduce legislation making violation of the minimum support price a criminal offense.
The Kisan Kranti Morcha lead by Dhananjay Jadhav declared the strike was over. However, faction-ridden organisations with political parties backing disapproved of the withdrawal.
That the strike does not have widespread appeal can be judged by the fact that when the state wide bandh was called, 304 Agricultue Produce Market Committees (APMC) functioned out of total 307.