Shekhawati’s ‘red zone’ is centre of another farmer agitation
A ‘red zone’ flourishing in the heart of saffron bastion in Shekhawati region for decades has once again become the centre of anti-farmer agitation in Rajasthan.
At a modest office of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Sikar, about 75 km from the state capital, Amra Ram, a former MLA and president of All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), is busy planning his strategy for the “Assembly gherao” agitation planned in Jaipur. AIKS, the CPM’s farmer wing, had staged a similar agitation in 2000 when it had laid a siege to the state assembly on the issue of electricity for farmers.
The Shekhawati region, comprising Sikar, Jhunjhunu and Churu and parts of surrounding district, has a history of peasant movements during the British Raj. The earliest recorded event is a massive conference of All India Jat Mahasabha held in Jhunjhunu in 1932. The subsequent gatherings were targeted at the Samantas(feudal landlords), who were mainly from the Rajput caste.
“The Shekhawati region has a history of Jat farmers fighting against the oppression of Samantas. The literacy rate is higher in the region and it has traditionally supported the Left parties from the time of freedom struggle,” said Rajiv Gupta, a political analyst. “In recent times, AIKS has been leading agitation on the issue of electricity for farmers,” he said.
The current agitation also traces its history back to these movements. “All farmer movements in the region have been spearheaded by the Jat panchayat, who have made farmers aware about their rights,” Amra Ram said. He prefers to call it a jan andolan (public agitation). “We have support from cross-section of society such as traders and auto-rickshaw drivers,” he said.
For the past two years, the agriculture in Shekhawati region has been deteriorating. In September last year, Amra Ram had led a massive farmer agitation that had paralysed life in Sikar and forced the government to agree to loan waiver for small farmers, along with some other demand. However, most demands remain unfulfilled and so AIKS has now announced a march to Jaipur to gherao the Assembly on February 22.
“We have a wide range of demands including purchase of crops at fair price, change in the laws of cattle trade and other issues. In the case of loan waiver also, the government has only exempted small farmers from loans of up to ₹50,000 taken from cooperative banks. We want the government to include those who had taken loans from commercial banks and gramin banks,” he said.
The CPI (M) shot into prominence in the region in 1969 when it launched an agitation for the lands irrigated by the Indira Gandhi Canal to be redistributed to the landless. “In the 1970s, SFI (Students Federation of India) began to make its presence felt and then CPM’s first MLA in Shekhawati region Trilok Singh was elected,” Gupta said.
After leading a series of agitation since 2004, CPM won a record three Assembly seats during 2008 elections, but its influence declined after 2013. However, it is back in the game since 2017 after successfully organising protests in Sikar against an increase in electricity tariffs. The Rajasthan government had subsequently rolled back the tariff hike.
It remains to be seen how the proposed siege of Assembly on February 22 plays out.