The second version of the kisan long march was called off late on Thursday night after the State government accepted, in writing, all 15 demands put forward by the farmers. Dr. Ajit Nawale, Maharashtra general secretary of All India Kisan Sabha speaks to The Hindu on the State government’s betrayal of farmers and how a repeat of it could lead to BJP paying a hefty political price.
This was the second kisan long march. What was the need to call for yet another protest march?
The State government never implemented the promises it made after our first long march. All leaders of Kisan Sabha were constantly following up with the government machinery, holding meetings with departments. Despite that we received no response. The government betrayed the Kisan Sabha and, more importantly, the farmers. What is the last option? The government bows down only when an agitation is held. This was organised only to force the State government to take action on the promises it had made.
Did you include new demands?
A majority of our demands were old. The only addition was the issue of missing documents submitted by tribals to claim land under Forest Rights Act. A shocking fact of thousands of documents missing from government offices to deny the claim on land is coming to light. Additionally, the Supreme Court order is also likely to affect the tribals and we need to find a solution. Plus, compensation for land acquisition was also one of our demands.
You have alleged that the government tried to stop farmers from coming to Nashik and cases were slapped on leaders.
The government this time worked on both fronts. On the one hand they showed as if they are ready for talks, and on the other they filed cases against us to put pressure. There is a case against me for holding farmers’ meet. Police prevented a number of farmers from Thane and Palghar from reaching Nashik. But ultimately it was people’s power before which the government had to surrender.
Police did not obstruct you last year. What happened this time?
During the first kisan long march, nobody — including the government — thought thousands of farmers would march for seven days to reach Mumbai. They were so confident about our failure that they did not find it necessary to use police force. But we stunned them. And now, they know that we can walk till Mumbai, and it could lead to an embarrassment for the government and a political situation could have arisen. Therefore, they tried to stop us.
How can farmers’ agitation cause a political problem to this government?
These agitations lead to three situations. First, demands have to be met and administrative action has to be taken. Secondly, it affects government’s policies. Thirdly, it creates political awareness among the masses, through which political opinions are formed. These continuous agitations expose to people that BJP-led government is pushing anti-farmer policies and that results in political backlash. The government wanted to avoid it by forcefully stopping the kisan march.
If farmers are politically important to this government then why can’t it fulfil the promises it has made?
The government is negative about demands from every farmer-led agitation, be it the first ever farmers’ strike or the Delhi protest organised by 208 farmer organisations. This government’s idea of development is benefiting corporates, industries and cities. They think it will trickle down to villages and it does not need to put in any extra effort. A handful of industrialists are reaping the benefits. Politically, the BJP has found a way to win elections where corporate houses are taken along for help and their resources are used. Since this works, it is not bothered about what farmers, Dalits, tribals, backwards have to say. They are under the delusion that they would win polls just like last time.
In that case, how do you trust the government on the promises made to you now?
Irrespective of all, this is a democratic process where people have elected them. It is them ultimately with whom you have to talk. We have to trust them. On our side, we are interested in solving issues. We don’t want to just create chaos. Also, if we stretch the agitation even after the government’s written assurance, to accept our demands, the chain of discussions would stop. Therefore, we decided to call it off the kisan long march.
What if the demands aren’t fulfilled even now?
Elections are round the corner. If we are cheated now, farmers will take a serious note of that betrayal and BJP will have to pay the political price. The BJP knows this and we think that they won’t cheat us this time.
Instead of relying on present political alternative, why can’t the Kisan Sabha give a political option to farmers in these elections?
All political parties, organisations and individuals who trust democratic values are faced with a challenge to save democracy in the present BJP regime. For that and to save secular structure of this country, the main political aim is the defeat of the BJP. The process of creating a political alternative is a longer one, but our immediate task is to strengthen democratic forces through these agitations. Any entity which can be of use to save democracy, threatened by the BJP, will be taken along.