Mumbai: After walking with blistered feet for about 180 km in the blazing sun over the last five days, at least 35,000 farmers from Maharashtra’s Nashik district are about to enter the capital city. They are currently camping at the Thane-Mumbai border and are expected to reach the KJ Somaiya Ground in Sion after lunch. The traffic police say they are prepared and have also issued a traffic advisory to avoid jams in the city. Elaborate security arrangements are also in place, police said.
The farmer contingent, including tribal cultivators, led by the Left-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), plans to gherao the Vidhan Bhawan tomorrow to press their demands for complete loan waiver and transfer of adivasi land to farmers who have been tilling it for years. The adivasis, who have joined the movement in huge numbers, say it is a matter of life and death.
The farmers began their arduous march on Tuesday evening. Their numbers swelled along the way. They survived on sparse meals, made brief halts and slept under the open sky. They resumed their march before the sun was up and didn’t stop before noon.
Ajit Nawale, state general secretary of AIKS, indicates that the number of protesters may swell to 55,000-60,000 before they reach their destination. Their main demand is for a complete loan waiver and the implementation of the Swaminathan Committee report, which says farmers should be paid one-and-a-half times the cost of production for what they produce and the MSP’s should be fixed keeping this in mind.
As the march continued towards Mumbai under thousands of red flags fluttering in the air, the organisers insisted it could not be branded a communist protest as it was for a common cause and not confined to the Left alone.Senior Shiv Sena leader Eknath Shinde visited the protesters late Friday night, but clarified that he had come with party chief Uddhav Thackeray’s message and not as a minister in the Maharashtra government. The Nationalist Congress Party and the Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena have also offered their support.
Mr Nawale, however, said, “It’s sad the Sena has only offered support. Their presence and the support is welcome but he (Mr Shinde) is a member of the government. Only support is not fair. You call yourselves tigers. When will you use your claws for farmers interests?”