Veteran farmer leader Sharad Joshi, who had been suffering from cancer for the past few years, died at his home at Bopodi in Pune Saturday morning. He was 81.
As the news of his demise spread across the state, thousands of his grief-stricken supporters, mainly farmers from Shetkari Sanghatana which he founded, prepared to come to Pune to attend his funeral.
He would be accorded a state funeral on Tuesday.
Joshi is survived by his daughters Shreya Sahane and Gauri Joshi, both of whom were abroad at the time of his death.
Born in Satara, Joshi received his formal education in Mumbai after which he worked in the Savitribai Phule Pune University as a lecturer in economics.
Joshi subsequently joined the Indian Postal Services and later moved to Berne, Switerzland, to work with Chief Informatics Service International Bureau, a UN organisation. After 10 years, he left the job and returned to India to work on agrarian issues and formed the Shetkari Sanghatana in the late 1970s.
Joshi’s long-time associate Vinay Hardikar credited him with being the first economist to take into consideration both the notional and actual expenses while determining the production cost of agricultural produce.
Shetkari Sanghatana took birth, Hardikar said, after Joshi realised how agriculture had become a loss-making proposition. In order to learn first-hand the issues facing the farmers, Joshi purchased 27 acres of land in Ambethan village near Chakan in Pune district to practise rain-fed agriculture.
It was during the onion agitation of 1980 that Joshi devised a way of confrontation between “Bharat and India” to attract the attention towards the problems faced by farmers. “For nine days, the Pune-Nashik highway was blockaded by Joshi and farmers who sat there agitating for better price of onion at the Chakan market yard,” said Shyam Pawar, one of Joshi’s long-time associates in the organisation.
Back in those days, Pawar said, onion was selling at a price of 0.10 paise per tonne. After the agitation, the price rose to 0.30 paise per tonne. Joshi also successfully agitated for better prices of cotton, cane, soyabean and wheat.
Shetkari Sanghatana, in its heyday, was known for the innovative methods of agitation to draw attention to the problems of the farmers. The famous Mahila Morcha of 1986 at Chandwad taluka of Nashik district saw more than five lakh women congregating at the call of Joshi.
Former MLA and present head of the Shetkari Mahila Aghadi, Saroj Kashikar, said Joshi spoke to women at length to understand their problems and his agitation of Lakshmi Mukti was a result of his deep understanding of the problems facing the rural women. In short, Lakshmi Mukti was an agitation which saw appending the name of the women on land records to give them equal rights of land.
Both Hardikar and Kashikar said that over 3,000 villages in the state managed to implement this programme and over two lakh women benefited from it. Joshi, however, was the only MP in the Rajya Sabha (2004-10) to vote against the bill to provide 33 per cent reservation for women.
Though Joshi kept Shetkari Sanghatana apolitical, he launched Swatantra Bharat Paksha in 1994 and was elected a Rajya Sabha MP in 2004.
The organisation has, however, undergone splits multiple times, with many of Joshi’s lieutenants forming their own
organisation. Raju Shetti, who heads Swambhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, and Raghunathdada Patil are some of the leaders who broke away from Joshi. Shetti said he was his role model and ideal. “He taught us how to fight and get our rights,” he said.