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After quelling Maratha protests, Maharashtra CM must now act to pacify farmers on strike

Mumbai city news: Fadnavis’ decision to rule out farm loan waivers and taunt protestors, calling them ‘politically motivated’ has only made matters worse

mumbai Updated: Jun 02, 2017 20:00 IST
Ketaki Ghoge
Ketaki Ghoge
Hindustan Times
Mumbai city news,Devendra Fadnavis,farmers' stike
Two tankers of milk heading towards Mumbai were damaged as farmers from several districts in Maharashtra started their strike on Thursday.(HT)

Less than a year after the Maratha protests rocked the Devendra Fadnavis-led government in Maharashtra, the 47-year-old chief minister must now face a new challenge.

Farmers in Maharashtra have gone on strike, hitting the people where it hurts the most — stifling their supply of essential commodities. Day two of the strike ensured that its impact was felt in Mumbai. If this continues, the scramble for vegetables and milk will force the government to deal with an unprecedented crisis.

Fadnavis’ decision to rule out loan waivers for farmers and taunt protestors, calling them ‘politically motivated’ has only made matters worse. Unless he strategically intervenes, he could lose political ground to his sidelined opponents and earn the tag of being “anti-farmer”.

All the chief minister has to do to ensure that he handles the agrarian crisis smoothly, is look at the way he quelled the Maratha protests. Last year’s community marches demanding reservation and today’s farmers’ strike have more in common than most realise.

For starters, both campaigns began in Ahmednagar, a district seen as Maharashtra’s ‘political cauldron’.

The Maratha protests were triggered by the rape and murder of a young girl in Kopardi. The campaign spread to Ahmednagar, Aurangabad, and then the rest of the state. Similarly, the farmers’ strike originated in Puntambe and spread to Aurangabad, Western Maharashtra and the rest of the state, garnering the support of 42 farmers’ groups under the umbrella organisation, Kisan Kranti Morcha. Likewise, the Marathas had organised themselves under the Maratha Kranti Morcha.

Contrary to allegations, both campaigns were not a result of the Opposition’s political game plan. The Maratha protesters, who have a strong presence in the agricultural sector, had demanded sops such as loan waivers and implementation of the MS Swaminathan commission report on agriculture. They have backed the farmers’ strike. In both cases, Opposition parties hopped on to the bandwagon after gauging the initial response to the agitation.

“Not too long ago, Fadnavis was faced with the Maratha Kranti Morcha and now, the farmers’ protest. We think there is an overlap between the people who led those protests and the current strike. The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) was a common factor in both campaigns. This is nothing but a renewed bid by the same group,’’ said a source from the chief minister’s office (CMO).

The CMO and the state government had aggressively taken to social media, forming WhatsApp groups to portray the protests as those led by rich farmers and parties. They targeted the wastage of vegetables and milk during the strike, questioning whether real farmers could stand by such wastage of their hard-earned produce.

However, political observers said this strategy could backfire.

“The farmers’ strike stemmed from infighting between two rival Congress groups from Ahmednagar. When the farmers from Puntambe first threatened a strike from June 1, leader of the Opposition in Assembly, Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, a Congress heavyweight, rushed in to help Fadnavis,’’ said a local Congress leader.

Vikhe Patil split the group, taking some farmers from the district to meet the CM. The action backfired on the BJP and a section of the Congress, giving the farmers more strength.

Though the NCP might be fanning the movement to earn political dividends, the protest continues resonate with thousands of farmers, he added.

“To downplay our protests and term them ‘political’ just being petty. We have no political masters and have been mobilising farmers without any political patronage or financial incentives. We are tired of our voices going unheard, whether we are demanding a minimum support price or loan waivers. The strike will continue for at least two more days, until cities feel the pinch. We will then decide our next step,’’ said Jayaji Suryavanshi, farmers’ leader from Aurangabad.

It will help if Fadnavis does not go on the offensive, but takes two steps back instead and pacifies agitators by going to the site of the protests.

“Just as Maratha protesters knew that granting more than 50% reservation would not be easy, farmers know that a flat loan waiver is not possible for all. But, a farmers’ commission could be set up and they could be assured that some of the recommendations to control minimum support price will be implemented. Fadnavis should sit with the agitators instead of holding a press conference like he did on Thursday,’’said a senior BJP leader, who did not wish to be identified.

First Published: Jun 02, 2017 19:57 IST