Farmers’ March, Organized By The Left, Wins Popular Support

farmers march

The spectacular red flag , disciplined march of farmers spearheaded by the kisan wing of the Communist party of India (M), and other Left organizations in Maharashtra has galvanized public opinion. The week-long march which reached Mumbai on March 12 is a great morale booster for the Left.

The images of sore feet of women and men trudging nearly 180 km from Nashik in North Maharashtra have greatly moved people . They also reacted sharply to Mumbai BJP M.P. Poonam Mahajan’s unfair remark that the march was the work of urban Maoists.There is a wide ideological gulf between the Left parties in the morcha and Maoist thinking. The same BJP leader had last month asked Marathi writers shut up and not interfere in politics or words to that effect.. The discipline of the marchers impressed even the police.

The success of the morcha has surprised many but the important point to note is that Maharashtra has a history of militant left-wing resistance of farmers. And the most sterling among the fighters was a woman Godavari Parulekar (1907-1996) who did remarkable work with her husband Shyamrao and many others beginning with awakening the Warli tribals in Thane district.

Her excellent book on her life and times Jevha Manus Jaga Hoto (when man awakens) won the Sahitya Akademi award in 1972. She left her well-to-do home in Pune to work among the poor. Her father was a cousin of the distinguished Gopal Krishna Gokhale.

The BJP and our upper class share the same, unjustified fear of Communism that some elements in the U.S. have done for exactly a 100 years. There have been to prolonged periods of Red Scare in the U.S. during the first and second world wars. A law was enacted in 1918 to deport Leftists. A systematic witch hunt was launched against the Communists and several famous left sympathizers in Hollywood and the cultural world during the McCarthy era in the 1940s and 1950s. People were harassed, interrogated, their passports impounded. Even Charlie Chaplin was not spared.

The White racists were particularly fearful of the Communists because the young Soviet Union had in those days proved to be very supportive of blacks and other victims of racism. Lenin wrote in Capitalism in Agriculture about the hidebound segregation of Afro-American agricultural workers in the U.S.. So, such a thinker is obviously a danger to the BJP type of thinking now we get the link to why the statue of Lenin was felled by the BJP in Tripura recently. It is afraid of solidarity of working people and minorities seen in the Mumbai march when religious minorities went out of their way to give food and water to the marchers. Equally disconcerting to the BJP must have been the unprecedented middle class support to the morcha.

The morcha was more historic than the one organized by the Left and other democratic parties in 1980. It was longer , from Jalgaon to Nagpur, a distance of over 400 km and was spread over three weeks. I covered it during the winter session of the state legislature then held in Nagpur.

The BJP was then nowhere in the picture. It had just been formed after the Janata party experiment had ended and and at its session held the same year at Bandra Reclamation ground A.B. Vajpayee gave the slogan of Gandhian socialism.

It shows how much the BJP has travelled since then , spectacularly in terms of electoral victories but utterly regressively in terms of ideology.

The BJP has hardly had any farmers’ leader, except perhaps someone like Motiram Lahane from Vidarbha. There were dedicated people in the party then like Ram Naik , Ram Kapse, Vasantrao Patwardhan, Uttamrao Patil to name a few. It was Patwardhan who built the party in the rural areas before his premature death. It is now dominated by moneybags.

The left-wing march to Nagpur was led among others by Ahilya Ranganekar of the CPM, A.B.Bardhan and Sudam Deshmukh of CPI, Mrinal Gore of Janata Dal, Sharad Pawar, who had then formed the parallel Congress, and N.D. Patil, a stalwart of the Peasants and Workers party. He was the brother-in-law of Mr Pawar but ideologically very much to the Left and a man of great simplicity and dedication.

When it comes to repressing people’s struggles there is not much difference between the BJP and the Congress. Four farmers were killed in Maval taluka in Pune district in 2011 in a brutal display of police firing.

The police and the upper class always raise a hue and cry when it comes to morchas, even the most democratic and peaceful ones. The usual argument is that these impede traffic. But with a little imagination surely the morchas can be allowed even in the central business district. But there is this mortal fear of the poor among the rich.

If these sections are so concerned about traffic, how do they fail so miserably when it comes to organize traffic during big events like major cricket matches , or shows like Justin Biber or exhibitions at the Goregaon ground. These have witnessed the worst jams.

Even after knowing well in advance about these events no effort is made to control the number of cars. In fact, the police go out of their way working for days to help more and more motorists to reach the site as in the case of the Biber show in Navi Mumbai. And yet, there was such a mess.

It was not long ago, last May. So there are clearly double standards. When a match is held at Brabourne stadium or Wankhede the police can easily ask motorists to take the train as these venues are at a pleasant walking distance from Churchgate terminus.

I visited the farmers’ market the day before of the farmers’ morcha and was glad to see the organic food and especially the sale of jowar and bajra flour at D’Monte park. If people switch at least to some extent to jowar and bajra , very healthy millet foods, it will greatly benefit the soil and farmers.

These are indigenous drought resistant crops which poor farmers can grow with limited access to water. We need to change the cropping pattern away from sugarcane and other crops requiring high use of water. The sugar lobby and the moneybags have stifled the debate on the cropping pattern which we witnessed in the seventies and eighties

If poor farmers are paid a good price for drought resistant crops and organic food, the situation can improve greatly. It appears that organic food is now grown mainly by the rich and for upper class which is becoming conscious of its benefits. It needs to become a people’s movement.

I was glad to see a petition to the state government calling for banning of some harmful pesticides and chemical fertilizers as is done in Punjab. Also good to see a slogan against the monstrous genetically modified food loby.

Vidyadhar Date is a senior journalist and author of a book about transport and democracy

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