ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Long March for Livelihood

The BJP needs to think beyond farm loan waivers to address intensifying rural unrest.

On 11 March 2018, the seemingly disparate worlds of the rural and urban collapsed as nearly 40,000 farmers, men and women, old and young, many sporting red caps and red flags, marched into Mumbai city to take the Government of Maharashtra to task on its unfulfilled promises. They had walked 180 kilometres from Nashik to Mumbai. But it was not just the distance that they travelled that marked this march out as different from previous such protest rallies by other groups. First, was its composition. It was dominated by the poorest of farmers, Adivasi cultivators. And second, the marchers chose to conduct themselves in a way that did not disrupt the frenetic pace of India’s financial capital. Mumbaikars could not fail to note this difference. Many of them set aside their legendary indifference, and came out to show their solidarity by bringing food, water and medical aid to the exhausted marchers. This, and the mainstream media coverage left the political dispensation as well as opposition parties redfaced, leaving the state government with little room to manoeuvre.

The Devendra Fadnavis-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)–Shiv Sena Maharashtra government inherited the deepening farm crisis in the state from its predecessor, the Congress party. The crisis had reached its peak in 2016–17 due to the BJP-led central government’s big-ticket policy reforms—demonetisation and the goods and services tax—that adversely affected the farm sector. The Communist Party of India (Marxist)’s All India Kisan Sabha led farmers across Maharashtra in protest in early 2017 when crop prices crashed to historic lows. They succeeded in extracting from an unwilling state government a partial loan waiver amounting to ₹ 30,000 crore and a partial review of the minimum support price (MSP) for farm produce. However, a year later, as a majority of crop prices continued to remain defl ated, unhappy farmers embarked on the long march for an unconditional loan waiver, irrigation facilities, and land rights. Facing a popular backlash, Fadnavis accepted all demands of the movement that are estimated to cost the state exchequer another ₹ 10,000 crore.

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Updated On : 19th Mar, 2018

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