Mumbai > Over 35,000 farmers from across Maharashtra, who embarked on a 'Long March' from Nashik on March 6 to press their various demands, arrived Mumbai. Braving scorching heat, they have covered around 180 km on foot in six days.
The farmers, led by All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS)- the peasants’ wing of CPI M, are demanding, among other things, proper implementation of the Maharashtra government's loan waiver scheme.
The plan was to halt at K J Somaiya ground in Sion tonight and to move towards Azad Maidan in the morning. But, the plan was changed late yesterday night in order to avoid trouble to students who appear for SSC examinations today. The protesters continued their march towards Azad during the night, and set out for Vidhan Bhavan (the state Legislative Complex) in south Mumbai, where Budget session is underway, today.
"We will gherao (lay siege to) the Vidhan Bhavan tomorrow to demand a complete loan waiver, fair price for farm produce, implementation of the Swaminathan Commission's recommendations, compensation for hailstorm-affected farmers among other things," Kisan Gujar, president of the state council of AIKS, said.
"Today, our number is over 35,000. Over 20,000 farmers from other parts of the state will join tomorrow," he said, adding that the farmers were also protesting against land acquisition for projects such as high-speed railway and super-highways.
"Though we have been approached by the government officials advising us not to stay near the Vidhan Bhavan for long, everything will depend on how the government deals with our demands," Gujar added.
Apart from opposition parties, Shiv Sena, a partner in the ruling coalition, too has vocally supported the agitation, isolating the ruling BJP. Patidar leader from Gujarat Nikhil Sawani, who joined the march, said his community supported the protesters.
The government reached out to farmers, promising to meet their demands, but farmers' leaders said they will press on with tomorrow's protest at the Vidhan Bhavan (Legislature Complex).
From the government's side, Water Resources Minister Girish Mahajan, who is also guardian minister for Nashik district, met farmers' leaders in Mulund as the March entered Mumbai, and assured that most of their demands will be met.
"The Chief Minister (Devendra Fadnavis) has sent me to meet you. Most of your demands will be met. We will take a delegation to the chief minister," Mahajan said, addressing the protesters.
Ajit Nawale of the AIKS, however, dismissed the overture. "Days of living on assurances have passed. Unless the government gives us something concrete, commits itself in writing, we will march towards the Vidhan Bhavan tomorrow," he said.
As the march reached suburban Vikhroli, the phalanx of farmers - comprising both men and women - extended for almost three kilometres.
After the state-wide rallies of the Maratha community seeking reservations in 2016, farmers' 'strike' of the last year and the Dalit protests over the Bhima-Koregaon violence in January, the present agitation could be another big challenge for the BJP in the state, which will face Assembly elections next year, if not earlier.
The Economic Survey of Maharashtra, tabled last week, projected a negative agriculture growth at 8.3 per cent for financial year 2017-18 on account of decreased production of food-grains, pulses and cotton crops. Of late farmers have also been hit by hailstorms and bollworm attack.