Maharashtra farmers’ ‘vehicle march’ to Delhi tomorrow shows expanding mass mobilisation against Centre’s agri laws

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The Centre faces the prospect of farmers from Maharashtra joining their counterparts from northern states in Delhi, in an agitation that continues to gather steam.

An earlier farmers’ agitation in Maharashtra. Shrirang Swarge

Farmers from Maharashtra will organise a vehicle march from Nashik to Delhi on Monday, in an agitation which is expected to crank up further pressure on the Central government.

The Centre, already caught in a bind over the protests, faces the prospect of farmers from Maharashtra joining their counterparts from northern states in Delhi in an agitation that continues to gather steam.

This comes even as the Uddhav Thackeray-led Maharashtra government has thrown its weight behind the protesters, and has termed the three new agriculture-related laws as ‘unjust.’ The Maharashtra government has formed a sub-committee to study the laws, and revenue minister Balasaheb Thorat has been quoted as saying by PTI that the state government wants to frame laws that will ‘make farmers stronger’.

‘Vehicle march’ and its significance

Even earlier, many farmers from Maharashtra had been vocal in their opposition to the new farm laws. On the day of the Bharat Bandh on 8 December, agriculture produce market committees (APMCs) remained closed in many parts of the state, as did retail shops.

However, the vehicle march on Monday is expected to involve large groups farmers arriving in Delhi from distant Maharashtra — optics that the Union government would be deeply uncomfortable about.

FOLLOW LIVE UPDATES ON FARMERS PROTEST HERE

An article in The Hindu has quoted All India Kisan Sabha’s national president Ashok Dhawale as saying that ‘thousands of farmers’ from 20 districts of Maharashtra will converge at Nashik on 21 December and then proceed towards Delhi. The AIKS has demanded the repeal of the farm Acts, and an assurance of minimum support prices at one-and-a-half times the cost of production.

Dhawale was also quoted by Newsclick as saying, “The farmers’ march from Nashik to Mumbai (the Kisan March of March 2018) had brought down the arrogance of then Bharatiya Janata Party government in Maharashtra. Now, it is time for the Modi government. No other government in the history of India has fired tear gas on farmers and drenched them in the middle of winter. But these tricks have failed and farmers are still on the outskirts of Delhi.”

Like their counterparts currently agitating in and around Delhi, protesting farmers from Maharashtra also appear to be prepared for the long haul. An article in The New Indian Express quoted Kisan Gurjar, a 71-year-old farmer, as saying that he is determined to stay in Delhi till the end of the protest, and that the farmers will carry enough food and other essential items with them.

Farmers from Maharashtra joining forces with farmers protesting in Delhi have at least two major implications. Firstly, it is an indication that the stalemate between the Centre and the agitators is likely to continue. While the farmers want nothing short of a complete rollback of the laws, the Centre has refused to do so. The Centre has proposed watering down parts of the laws to allow states to levy market fees, and to decide on who can be a buyer of farm produce. However, these announcements have not been enough to assuage the concerns of the farmers.

Secondly, it also means that attempts by some BJP leaders to claim that the farm protests are limited to Punjab — by linking the protests to ‘Khalistani’ elements — have come a cropper. In the early days of the protest, it could be argued that the protesting farmers were largely from the states Punjab and Haryana. However, in recent days, multiple reports have shown that farmers from other states such as Uttar Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh have also taken part in agitations against the new laws.

The vehicle march planned on Monday from Nashik to Delhi is a further indication that the ongoing mass mobilisation is becoming a nationwide phenomenon.

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