The massive, seven-day march by the farmers of Maharashtra led by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) from Nashik to Mumbai has ended in victory, with the State government accepting the demands of the struggle. (Watch this space for updates.)
Notably, the movement attracted some attention from the mainstream media.
The usual custom followed by the corporate media in India when the working people hit the streets for their legitimate demands is to completely ignore it, like it did when two lakh workers from all over India gathered at Jantar Mantar, New Delhi for three days in November 2017. If it doesn't manage to do that, the other option is to denigrate the protests, claiming that they are causing traffic jams!
The Kisan Long March, for a change, is being covered by many mass media outlets, possibly because the pictures and videos of the march are being shared too widely on the social media to be ignored.
But going by many corporate media reports, it would seem that the Kisan Long March is some sort of leaderless protest where peasants for some strange reason happen to be carrying Red Flags!
Nevertheless, the fact remains that the Kisan Long March is no accident; it is the result of painstaking efforts by the All India Kisan Sabha, which has worked among the farmers in India to inspire them to rise up against the policies which are sowing misery in their lives rather than to commit suicide. The Kisan Sabha is the peasant organisation linked to the Communist Party of India (Marxist) – the CPI(M).
Four lakh farmers have taken their lives in the years since 1995, and the Kisan Sabha's slogan "No to suicide, Unite to fight" has been increasingly resonating among the farmers.
The Kisan Long March in Maharashtra is the latest agitation led by the Kisan Sabha, after the huge peasant protests it led in Rajasthan in September 2017 as well as in February 2018, and the earlier protests in Maharashtra itself which began in 2016.
So, let us get to know some of the leaders of the AIKS in Maharashtra who are spearheading this agitation which is even winning the support of middle class Mumbaikars, who have been distributing food and water to the farmers, and even showering flowers on them.
Ashok Dhawale, the current all India President of the AIKS, is a medical doctor by training. He came to the Left movement through the Students Federation of India (SFI) while studying at the Bombay Medical College. He later joined Bombay University to study MA (Political Science), where he became a full-fledged activist of the SFI. He went on to become the Maharashtra State Secretary of the organisation. After student life, Dhawale became active in the left youth movement, and became the State President of the Democratic Youth Federation of India (DYFI).
Under the influence and tutelage of Krishna Khopkar, senior working class and peasant leader, and L B Dhangar, veteran Adivasi leader of Thane, Ashok Dhawale began working with the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS). The Maharashtra unit of the AIKS had weakened after the demise of legendary communist leader Godavari Parulekar, and Ashok Dhawale took the lead in building it up again, travelling from village to village all across the State. Activists in Maharashtra say that a lot of credit for the current strength of the AIKS in the State goes to Dhawale. He served as the State Secretary and President of the AIKS.
In 2005, Ashok Dhawale was elected as the State Secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), a position he served in until 2015. He is currently a Central Secretariat member of the CPI(M) and All India President of the AIKS. He is married to Mariam Dhawale, a prominent left leader and General Secretary of the All India Democratic Women's Association (AIDWA).
Jiva Pandu Gavit
JP Gavit, an Adivasi leader of great vision, is a seven-time CPI(M) MLA. He was elected to the Maharashtra Legislative Assembly six times from Surgan in Nashik district, and is currently MLA from Kalwan.
He joined the Left movement after he saw the work of Godavari Parulekar and Nana Malusare when they toured rural Nashik during the drought of 1972 and mobilised villagers to demand better relief.
Gavit's work in the Adivasi regions of Dindori, Surgana and Kalwan has been largely in ensuring land rights to Adivasis and education. Out of the 12,000-odd land claims made by Adivasis under the Forest Rights Act until 2014, Gavit and the All India Kisan Sabha had ensured that over 7,300 claims were accepted by the government; the Kisan Sabha is on a struggle path for the rest.
JP Gavit is at the forefront of the current struggle, where the proper implementation of the Forest Rights Act is a crucial demand. A large number of participants of the Kisan Long March are from the region where he has worked most actively over the last four decades.
An educator for thousands of Adivasi children and youth, Gavit has built an extraordinary educational complex in his village of Alangun in Nashik district: the Adarsh Samata Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, which also runs several schools and hostels for Adivasi children in the district.
Gavit and the local CPI(M) unit also initiated a "Doorstep Ration Scheme" which significantly reduced large-scale corruption in the Public Distribution System (PDS).
Ajit Nawale is the Maharashtra State Secretary of the AIKS which is leading the Kisan Long March.
An Ayurveda doctor by training, he has played a stellar role in building up the AIKS in Akole in Ahmadnagar district.
Nawale is the grandson of Bhuva Nawale, who was elected as the first President of the Maharashtra unit of the AIKS when it was formed in the State in 1945 at a large conference at Titwala.
Ajit Nawale was not so much of an activist while in college; his family had not retained much links to the Left movement after the demise of his grandfather. It was a purely coincidental meeting with Ashok Dhawale during a long distance train journey that brought him into the movement. During that journey when they happened to travel together, Dhawale asked his co-passenger whether he was related to Bhua Nawale. It turned out, however, that Ajit did not know much about his grandfather's work until then. After that life-changing conversation, Ashok Dhawale and Ajit Nawale kept in touch continuously, and with Dhawale's mentorship, Ajit Nawale became a committed activist and leader of the Kisan Sabha.
Nawale's work in the Adivasi-dominated belt of Akole has made him a hugely popular figure in the region.
His leadership and intervention during the peasant movement in Maharashtra in 2017 attracted much attention, particularly his act of calling the bluff of the Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis who tried to cajole the farmers with empty promises.
He is the Maharashtra State President of the All India Kisan Sabha. A peasant himself, Gujar is known as a relatively “silent player”. He keeps a low profile, but is a master of the nuts and bolts of organising and mobilising the peasants for their concrete demands. He was in the trade union movement, working with the Centre of Indian Trade Unions (CITU), before he became active in the AIKS.