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Crores lost, confused leadership: How long can Maharashtra's farmers hold out?

Ashwin Aghor | Updated on: 7 June 2017, 16:37 IST

Over the last seven days, thousands of farmers in Maharashtra have been on strike, demanding a complete debt waiver and that the recommendations made by the Swaminathan Commission be implemented.

The strike has virtually crippled vegetable supply to markets across the state.

But while every party has jumped in to politicise the issue, it is the farmers who are still hurting from every angle. According to one estimate, the strike has caused financial loss to the tune of Rs 278 crore.

A confused leadership

What’s making the situation worse is the rift that has emerged within farmer organisations and the several ‘core committees’ that have been formed to resolve the issue.

For example, the Kisan Kranti Jan Andolan, led by Jayajirao Suryavanshi, made a clarion call for a strike on 1 June after a meeting with farmers at Puntamba village in Ahmednagar district.

However, Suryavanshi and his associates called off the strike within 48 hours after a marathon meeting with Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis.

For this decision, Suryavanshi drew flak from other farmer leaders such as Raju Shetti of Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna, Raghunath Patil of Shetkari Sanghatana and even political leaders such as Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar.

These leaders announced that the strike would continue even though Suryavanshi had backstabbed farmers.

To counter Suryavanshi’s ‘core committee’, Raju Shetti formed another ‘core committee’ comprising farmer leaders associated with his organisation and decided to continue the strike till the demands were met in total.

“First they said the strike was called off. Then immediately the decision was reversed. Now there is one more core committee to drive the strike. If things continued like this, I don’t see any future of the strike. It will only waste our time and cause financial losses,” said Kiran Gaikar, a farmer from Ahmednagar district.

Santosh Gidde, member of core committee of Kisan Kranti Jan Andolan headed by Suryavanshi said, “We are not on the side of any political party. Our goal is clear and that is farmers’ welfare. We put our demands to the government during the meeting with CM Fadnavis on 2 June, and got encouraging response. Hence the strike was called off,” Gidde said.

Criticising Raju Shetti, Gidde questioned his intentions of being on strike and with the government at the same time. “He is in ally of the BJP, his close aide Sadabhau Khot is minister of state for agriculture and Shetti is making tall talks about the strike. How can he be on both sides at the same time? I feel he has been planted,” Gidde said.

Confusion reigns supreme

Farmers in Maharashtra have been demanding a debt waiver ever since the BJP government in Uttar Pradesh did it, as it had assured in its election campaign.

Pawar even met Prime Minister Narendra Modi to find a resolution, but had to return empty handed as Modi said that state government would take the decision on debt waiver since the election promise had only been made for Uttar Pradesh.

Meanwhile, Fadnavis has announced that farmers will get the biggest ever crop loan waiver.

The announcement has increased the dilemma. On one hand, there are farmer leaders who are determined to continue the strike and on the other, there is ever growing financial crisis for the farmers who solely depend on daily vegetable sale for living.

According to Pandurang Fundkar, Maharashtra’s agriculture minister, “The strike has caused financial losses to the tune of Rs 278 crore. This is the loss of farmers, traders, brokers, labours and transporters. But farmers have suffered a major loss as their vegetable is destroyed, which otherwise is the source of their daily income. This is because of politicisation of the strike.”

Meanwhile, the cracks have started emerging in the strike as farmers from Pune district started bringing in their produce in the market. The inflow of vegetables saw a remarkable increase on 7 June, which brought the prices considerably down.

This is the sign that the strike is losing intensity and farmers are not ready to continue it any further, Gidde says.

First published: 7 June 2017, 16:37 IST