Kolkata: Over 30,000 farmers and agricultural labourers from six North Bengal districts held a long march at Siliguri in North Bengal on December 27, protesting against the anti-farmer policies of the Modi-led Union Government and the Mamata-led State Government. It was organised by the All India Kisan Sabha and the All India Agricultural Workers’ Union.
Siliguri city area residents, mostly from urban working-class background, joined hands with their peasant brethren, providing over 1 lakh rotis for the marching people, many of whom had come from far flung mountainous belts or distant rural areas in the Bengal-Assam or Bengal-Bangladesh border.
Later, a delegation led by AIKS leader Khagen Murmu went to the North Bengal Secretariat and submitted a 13-point demand charter, which included loan waiver, increased Minimum Support Price for agricultural produce like paddy and implementation off the Teesta Barrage project (started by the Left Front Government but currently in limbo).
Thousands of people carrying red flags marched along the 5 km long route from the Mahananda river embankment to the North Bengal Secretariat Uttorkanya in Siliguri. Originally, the Long March had been planned from the Dagapur Tea garden to the North Bengal Secretariat. But it had to be curtailed as a fearful state government refused to give permission. Even the alternative route suggested by the AIKS and AIAWU was refused by the police and administration.
Participating farmers accused the state government of encouraging middlemen to practically take control of the government-run Kisan Mandis, coercing the farmers to sell their produce at very low prices. From Sachindranath Roy, a farmer from Sitalkuchi in Coochbehar district to Malati Debnath of Jalpaiguri, farmer after farmer complained about the same experience under the Trinamool Congress regime. Darjeeling district AIKS President KB Oater alleged that the TMC-aided tea garden owners are playing with the lives of the tea workers. Due to non-cooperation of the state government, orange trees are also dying en masse in the state. After abolition of the Hill Milk Grower Cooperative by the TMC government, the hill people are now at the mercy of the Sikkim state government for selling their produce.
Another prominent hill leader, Saman Pathak, secretary of Chia Kaman Tea Workers’ Union said that the growing confidence of the working class and the farmers will be reflected in the forthcoming All India General Strike on January 8-9.
“Forget about loan waiver, we are not even getting the government declared Minimum Support Price in North Bengal where paddy is being sold at Rs. 800 to 1100 per quintal,” said Maya Thapa, a young woman who had joined the March despite suffering from a painful insect bite.
Later, when AIKS President Ashok Dhawale spoke about the Left-front government in Kerala providing Rs. 2,350 MSP for paddy as per MS Swaminathan Commission’s recommendation, Maya’s reaction indicated her obvious appreciation of the left-front’s initiatives.
When AIKS President Ashoke Dhawale speaking in a rally organised after the culmination of the Long March spoke of Modi and Mamata as the same imprint of a unitary mould who have destroyed democracy and adopted anti-farmer policies, the rally thundered in spontaneous applause. He also appealed to the people of Bengal to reclaim the legacy of stalwarts like Muzaffar Ahamad, Jyoti Basu, Pramod Dasgupta, Harekrishna Konar and peasant leaders Ratanlal Brahmin and Rupnarayan Roy. Many speakers also recalled the famous Tebhaga movement in Rangpur District in North Bengal.
Earlier this year, over 50,000 thousand farmers and agricultural workers had marched from Singur to Kolkata Raj Bhawan highlighting the growing farmers discontent against the anti-people policies of the state and union government.