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Mainstream, VOL LVI No 13 New Delhi March 17, 2018

Red Long March of Maharashtra Farmers

Sunday 18 March 2018

EDITORIAL

It was a remarkable march in many respects, as openly acknowledged in several newspapers. The Hindu described the farmers’ action, originally aimed at gheraoing the Maharashtra Assembly to sensitise the State Government to their problems, as “a model protest”. It editorially pointed out:

....many Mumbaikars not only backed the stir but also pitched in to help with food, water, medical aid, and even footwear. While Opposition parties as well as BJP ally Shiv Sena backed the farmers and tribals in an attempt to isolate Devendra Fadnavis’s administration, he managed to emerge unflustered and deal with the issue effectively.

It was indeed a gruelling march by 50,000-odd farmers covering a distance 200 kms from Nashik to Mumbai in sweltering heat that has now engulfed the State.

While there was general support for the farmers’ demands across the political spectrum, Union Minister of State for Agriculture Gajendra Singh Shekhawat maintained outside Parliament in New Delhi that the farmers were being “misguided by some people for political reasons”. And BJP MP Poonam Mahajan was more explicit by asserting that “urban Maoists” were misleading them. To this ridiculous charge CPI-M General Secretary Sitaram Yechury retorted that in that case it were the Mumbaikars who should be blamed for welcoming the marchers with open arms.

Nevertheless, these discordant notes from sections of the ruling establishment need not be emphasised. For the BJP’s parent body, the RSS, urged the government to look into the farmers’ demands with sensitivity. And the State Government led by the CM had highly fruitful talks with the farmers’ represen-tative lasting about three hours. What has been outcome of these discussions? As was reported, what was agreed upon included inter alia (a) the right of farmers, tribals to till forest land, (b) loan waiver to cover loans outstanding since 2008, (c) MSP for farm produce on the lines of the Swaminathan formula.

Of all these agreements, it is the issue of forest land transfer rights “within six months” that acquired maximum significance. As The Indian Express elucidated:

Proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act, 2006, will allow Adivasi farmers—who are today practically landless labourers or, at best, tenants at will—to claim ownership over their traditionally cultivated lands, subject to verification by the Gram Sabhas concerned. It will, then, incentivise them to invest in land improvement, which contributes to its long-term productivity, and farm without fear of eviction or having to bribe Forest Department officials. That is precisely what abolition of zamindari and conferment of ownership rights to tenant-cultivators did during the 1950s and 1960s.

And The Asian Age stressed:

Agriculture is India’s biggest industry and its practitioners should be regarded with consideration rather than disdain.

The Maharashtra farmers’ red long march not only brought the farmers’ problems back into the focus of national attention but also injected renewed vigour in the Indian peasants’ struggle for a better future in the days ahead.

March 15 S.C.   

COMMENTARY

BJP’s Bypoll Debacle

March 14, 2018, was a bad day for the BJP. First came the news of its bypoll debacle in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. Then the convener of the NDA in Kerala, Thushar Vellapally, announced he was quitting the NDA with his party, the Bharat Dharma Jana Sena. Next, the Supreme Court turned down Subramanian Swamy’s plea to implead him in the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi case. And lastly, the Supreme Court also acquitted the Maran Brothers—Dayanidhi and Kalanidhi—in the illegal telephone exchange case filed by the CBI for lack of evidence.

Particularly galling were the electoral defeats. The BJP lost both the Gorakhpur and Phulpur Lok Sabha seats in UP to the SP which was supported by Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party. Gorakhpur was the seat held by the BJP for twentynine years. Its candidate, Yogi Adityanath, got elected in election after election. The seat fell vacant when Adityanath became the Chief Minister of UP. The Phulpur seat was held by Keshav Prasad Maurya who is now the Deputy Chief Minister.

In Bihar, jailed Laloo Prasad’s party, the RJD, retained the Araria Lok Sabha and Jehanabad Vidhan Sabha seats. The BJP had to be satisfied by retaining the Bhabua Assembly seat which came as a consolation prize. The results left CM Nitish Kumar shaky. In 2015, he joined a grand alliance with the RJD and Congress to defeat the BJP. But after a year he ditched the RJD and returned to the NDA to head a government with the support of the BJP. He has now become entirely dependent on the BJP. However, from behind the bars Laloo Prasad has shown who commands the loyalty of the people.

The humiliating defeats at Gorakhpur and Phulpur have left the BJP flustered and flabbergasted. The party’s first reaction was to underplay the defeats, because these were byelections in which local rather than national issues figure. Then came Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath’s admission: “We were overconfident. We have to rework our strategy.”

When Mayavati announced her support to the SP, an arrogant BJP said the people would reject the “unprincipled and opportunistic” alliance. Also, that bitterness between the grassroot level workers of the two parties was so strong that whatever may be the decision at the top level, BSP workers would not work for the SP. After the defeats, the BJP did a volte face. It said: “The BSP voters have all voted for the SP. We did not expect it.” Again, the party started talking of changing its electoral strategy.

Some others are suggesting that the party workers must have failed to do their duty: reach the voters’ houses and bring them to the polling booths. They say this aspect has to be inquired into.

All in all, the myth that the BJP is invincible and unstoppable has been busted. In the long run the politics of polarisation does not pay. It recoils on those who play this dangerous game. It has been proved beyond doubt that if all the secular and democratic forces come together and the party leaders subdue their oversized egos to make a solid phalanx against the fascist forces, then these forces can be defeated. That is the clear message coming from the byelection results. Also, no party should project anyone as the prime ministerial candidate before the election. It should be left to the MPs of the victorious alliance to decide who their leader will be.

March 15 B.D.G.

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