As thousands gathered in Pune on Tuesday to bid a tearful adieu to farmer leader Sharad Joshi, cries of “free farmers from loans” greeted ministers who had come to pay respect to the departed leader. Union minister Nitin Gadkari, state ministers Girish Bapat, Vinod Tawade and Dilip Kamble, and even former deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar were accosted by the crowd demanding that the government take steps to provide “loan waivers” for farmers.
The founder of Shetkari Sanghatana, Joshi breathed his last on Saturday in Pune. Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis announced that the leader was to be given a state funeral. The funeral saw Joshi’s supporters congregating from almost all parts of the state. Many supporters of Joshi said the farm distress prevented many more from coming for the last rites. Gadkari was one of the first to pay respect. State leaders arrived towards afternoon. Assembled farmers started shouting “free farmers from loans” as soon as Gadkari descended from the podium at the riverside in Deccan where Joshi’s mortal remains were kept.
A visibly uncomfortable Tawade said this was not the right platform to indulge in politics, while Pawar quipped that their party, the NCP, had made the same demand on the floor of the House. Some farmers said freeing farmers from loans would be the right homage for Joshi, who had dedicated his life for farmers. Bapat, on his part, said the state government will consult all parties to come up with a suitable memorial for Joshi.
Mona Satyabhama travelled 16 hours from Hingoli to reach Pune. She travelled with 16 other women from her village to be in Pune to pay respect. “Saheb tought us to agitate for our rights. Now we are not scared of police,” she said. Members of Shektari Mahila Aghadi from Wardha, Akola, Nagpur, Chandrapur and other parts of Vidarbha were present. Many women cried as they talked about the way Joshi travelled across the length and breadth of the state to unite farmers and ask women to join the movement.
Farmer leaders from Punjab, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu were present for the last journey of the leader who, during his heyday, managed to unite all farmers’ leaders. Former Rajya Sabha MP and president of All India Kisan Coordination Committee said Josh was the first to talk about the divide between India and Bharat. “Joshiji was a fighter of farmers and breathed his last on the battlefield. We will continue his work,” he said.
For simple village women from Joshi’s adopted village of Ambethan in Pune district, Joshibhau was a man close to their family. Octogenarians Sushila Mandekar, Sheela Mandekar and other talked how they participated in Joshi’s first agitation over price of onions at Chakan. “We were jailed for seven days but Saheb ensured we got better price for our produce,” they said. They said the leader was present for almost all auspicious occasions in the village. As police bugles sounded, most could hardly control their tears. Saheb left us when the agrarian community in the state is passing through a tough time, they said.