Dismissed as ‘urban Maoists’, our food givers are dying of hunger

Farmers who walked nearly 200 km from Nashik to Mumbai in blazing heat to place their demands before the Maharashtra government, in state capital Mumbai on March 12, 2018

BJP MP Poonam Mahajan contemptuously said “These farmers have been infiltrated by urban Maoists”, adding insult to the injury done to the marching farmers by the Devendra Fadnavis government

The most defining image of the Long March of farmers from Nashik to Mumbai has been that of the bleeding feet of a woman farmer halfway en route the march. The most defining statement has been her reply to a question if she would return home to tend to her feet. "I would rather die marching to Mumbai than die starving in my village," she said.

Then the most hurtful and callous of all remarks that bled the farmers’ hearts came from Bharatiya Janata Party MP Poonam Mahajan. "These farmers have been infiltrated by urban Maoists." That was adding insult to the injury done to the marching farmers by the Devendra Fadnavis government which dismissed them as mere tribals—as if tribals were sub humans, who did not suffer hunger or, indeed, were not farmers. What is bothering the Maharashtra government is the fact that the farmers were marching under the red flag of the Communist Party of India (Marxist). After the BJP's massive defeat of the CPI(M) in Tripura, this sea of red that has marched peacefully, in a disciplined and organised manner, creating no disruptions and indulging in no violence, has come as a shock to the Maharashtra government. The government lost the battle of perception when the farmers decided to march through Sunday night rather than on Monday morning, in order not to cause trouble to students beginning their SSC exams on March 12. That gesture instantly shifted the mood of the citizens of Mumbai, who came out in large numbers to serve food and water to the hungry and parched farmers who had walked nearly 200 km in blazing heat.

However, the march per se has shown up both the inefficiency and ineptitude of the Fadnavis-led government which, under pressure from farmers who had led a similar agitation last year, has neither succeeded in waiving their loans as promised in full measure, nor has been able to offer them minimum support prices for their produce.

In March last year, all opposition parties had shown rare unity to undertake a Kisan Yatra, wherein they travelled to villages across the state to acquaint themselves with farmers'  troubles. This culminated in the farmers' agitation for loan waivers which Fadnavis at first resisted. He gave in under pressure as farmers blocked the supplies of milk and vegetables coming into Mumbai. In November last year, the Congress and Nationalist Congress Party held a Jan Akrosh Yatra that culminated some days later in a dindi (march) led by NCP chief Sharad Pawar to Nagpur, where the winter session of the Maharashtra assembly was underway. Cotton farmers at the time had lost 80% of their crop due to a Pink Bollworm infestation and were desperately in need of support.

The government still did not see the signs of the growing agrarian unrest and continued to deny farmers the minimum support prices that they had earlier demanded. With a good monsoon last year, bumper crops of pulses, vegetables  and cereals have been produced, but much of it went waste, rotting in market yards as farmers could not even recover costs of production.

As Sampat Mauli, a farmer who plants potato, onion, cotton and maize, says, "This government cares only about the middleman. They buy from us at ₹2 and sell at ₹10. Look at the swing in prices of all these crops. When onion was in shortage and selling at ₹20-30 a kilo, we got barely ₹5. But we planted some more. Now it is selling for ₹2 in market yards. Sometimes we get only 50 paise per kilo. Can you live on that mean amount?"

No wonder farmers are committing suicides. Starving on their farms. Now bleeding, in more ways than one, as the ruling dispensation dismisses them as urban Maoists.

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