The Azad Maidan in south Mumbai turned into a sea of red on Monday morning as thousands of farmers, carrying red flags, converged after walking for around 180 kilometres from Nashik district over the last six days.
Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis, making a statement on the floor of the Maharashtra Assembly, said that his government was "sensitive and positive" towards the demands of farmers and tribals.
"Around 90 to 95 percent of the participants are landless. Many of them have not been able to avail of forest land rights and thus have not been able to become farmers at all. However, problems faced by farmers are also there to a large extent. The government is sensitive and positive towards their demands," the chief minister said.
Fadnavis was responding to a discussion in the Assembly, initiated by Leader of Opposition Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil, who lauded the farmers participating in the 'Kisan Long March' for their peaceful protest while demanding a complete loan waiver and compensation for hailstorm and pink bollworm pest attack on crops.
'Urban Maoists behind protests'
Meanwhile, speaking outside the Parliament, BJP MP Poonam Mahajan stoked controversy when she said that the protests happening in Mumbai were fuelled by "urban Maoists".
Speaking to CNN-News18, Mahajan said: "They (farmers) are holding the flag of Communists, and urban Maoists are misguiding them,"
"If you have seen this march, it is a big and peaceful march, with farmers holding a communist flag. They've all come from northern Maharashtra. With respect to all this, what do all these farmers want? They have accepted the loan waiver has happened. When the chief minister sits with the farmer leaders, they'll sort out the issues," Mahajan said.
Ruckus ensued in the Maharashtra Assembly on Monday morning ahead of Fadnavis' meeting with the AIKS leaders. Security has been heightened to ensure there is no untoward incident.
In a first reaction since the farmers' protest began, Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said that the farmers' problem was not just restricted to Maharashtra, it panned across India. ANI quoted Rahul as saying: "This is not an issue of Maharashtra farmers alone but of farmers all over India."
— ANI (@ANI) March 12, 2018
"The mammoth farmers' march is an example of people's power. Congress stands with farmers protesting against government apathy," Gandhi said, while appealing to Modi and Fadnavis to accept their demands.
The mammoth #FarmersMarchToMumbai is a stunning example of people’s power. The Congress party stands with the Farmers & Tribals marching to protest against the Central & State Govts. apathy. I appeal to PM Modi and the CM to not stand on ego and to accept their just demands. — Office of RG (@OfficeOfRG) March 12, 2018
"There'll be a meeting with farmers at 1 pm. I think we'll give solutions for 80-90 percent of their issues. We're serious about the demands including loan waiver & will come up with best decisions. Written assurance will be given for accepted demands," Girish Mahajan, Maharashtra minister said.
The representatives of the Maharashtra farmers morcha led by All India Kishan Sabha (AIKS) are set to meet Chief Minister Devender Fadnavis at 2 pm. According to News18, the farmers will take a call after the meeting on whether to march towards the state Assembly or not.
Apart from opposition parties, Shiv Sena, a partner in the ruling BJP-led coalition, too has vocally supported the agitation. MNS chief Raj Thackeray and Shiv Sena leader Aaditya Thackeray met the farmers on Sunday.
'Fadnavis' statement a lie'
Farmer leader Ashok Dhawle has said that the government is trying to discredit the protest, and called Fadnavis’ statement that most protestors are tribals a "lie".
Even after having walked for nearly a week over 180 kilometres, farmers on Monday remained tireless in their efforts to achieve what they came for. Speaking to Hindustan Times, a farmer from Beed, Parshuram Gaikwad said, "We will not move from the state legislature building until our demands are met. There is no way anyone will back out after reaching so close to the destination. Yes, we are tired and our legs have swollen, but we will complete the walk.”
The report quoted AIKS general secretary Ajit Nawale as saying: "This is not a political issue. The government must respect farmers. We have marched more than 100 kilometres and will go back only when all our demands are fulfilled.”
Over 35,000 farmers from across Maharashtra, who embarked on a 'Long March' from Nashik on 6 March to press their various demands, arrived in Mumbai on Sunday. The government reached out to farmers, promising to meet their demands, but farmers' leaders said they will press on with Monday's protest at the Vidhan Bhavan (Legislature Complex).
The farmers, led by Left-affiliated All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), are demanding, among other things, proper implementation of the Maharashtra government's loan waiver scheme.
With inputs from agencies.
Published Date: Mar 12, 2018 15:00 PM | Updated Date: Mar 12, 2018 15:03 PM