The demand for loan waivers for distressed farmers in the state has created further trouble for the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP)-led state government, as Opposition parties have decided to intensify their agitation over the issue. The parties will begin the second phase of the ‘Sangharsh Yatra’ (struggle march) on April 15.
This time, the protest march will be four days long, starting from Buldhana district of Vidarbha region, a BJP stronghold, and will conclude at Nashik on April 18. The march will cover around 1000-km, and party leaders will interact with farmers along the way.
The Opposition feels that the issue can weaken the BJP’s stronghold in rural Maharashtra, as farmers are distressed due to various reasons including fallen prices of agricultural commodities in the markets, unseasonal rains, and hailstorms, among other things.
Following the suspension of 19 legislators from the Opposition in the state Assembly on March 22, six parties united for the first time to organise the ‘Sangharsh Yatra’, demanding loan waivers across districts where farmer suicides are rampant.
The Congress, Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), Samajwadi Party (SP), Peasants and Workers Party (PWP), Republican Party (Kawade) and United Janata Dal — came together to give the movement some impetus.
Following The Uttar Pradesh (UP) government’s decision to waive loans worth Rs 36,359-crore for farmers, Opposition parties have now mounted further pressure on the state to grant a Rs30,000 crore loan waiver for farmers in Maharashtra.
“This is not the end. The protest march will continue in phases till July. The roadmap for the march is ready. We might continue the agitation after that too. A decision is yet to be taken,” said a senior Congress leader privy to the development.
The first phase of the seven-day Sangharsh Yatra concluded on April 4 in Panvel, near Mumbai, after covering 1,500-km and visiting most of the sensitive districts of Vidarbha and Marathwada, where farmer suicides are the highest.
After the protest march ended, the state government announced a slew of schemes under its ‘Unnat Sheti, Samruddha Sheti’ (upgraded farming, prosperous farming) initiative. Moreover, the chief minister initiated direct interaction with farmers, which will be telecasted on ‘DD Sahyadri’, the government-owned Marathi TV channel, over two episodes. The first episode was aired on Sunday and the second episode will be telecasted the next Sunday — April 16.
The final day of the protest march saw participation from NCP president Sharad Pawar, who said that the movement will be intensified by organising more rallies. Pawar also accused the Fadnavis government of not keeping its waiver promise made in the run up to the state Assembly polls in 2014. Shiv Sena chief, Uddhav Thackeray, also said that the state government should follow in the footsteps of the UP government and waive off the farmer loans.
Following this, Devendra Fadnavis has asked the finance secretary of the state to study the UP model on the basis of which loan waiver was declared.