New Delhi (Sputnik) — Thousands of distressed farmers from India's west-central state of Maharashtra are camping at Azad Maidan in the state capital of Mumbai after marching 180 kilometers on foot. The demonstrators comprise members of the All-India Kisan Sabha — the farmer's wing of the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPM) as well as farmers' unions backed by other political parties active in the state.
According to local reports, farmers from across Maharashtra first gathered in the city of Nashik, from where they started their foot journey to Mumbai last Tuesday. While the unions have claimed their numbers to be more than 50,000, independent media reports have suggested there are around 35,000 currently camping at the site.
Mondays are a time to share quotes about Motivaton to get to work.Over 35K farmers have walked for days to get to Mumbai.We Mumbaikars are fed by them..Seeing the elderly amongst them with calloused feet,I cannot preach about motivation.Their determination is enough of an example pic.twitter.com/DsEHwRawAw
— anand mahindra (@anandmahindra) March 12, 2018
The farmers are basically demanding the effective implementation of the loan waiver scheme announced by the Maharashtra government. They are also demanding a waiver of electricity bills as they claim to have incurred heavy losses in the last few seasons due to the failure of monsoon resulting in low crop yield. They are also demanding a higher MSP — minimum price for procurement of farm produce, which is fixed by the government every crop season. Meanwhile, aboriginal tribes engaged in farming activities in forest land are demanding that they may be given complete ownership of the land they have been cultivating.
The protesting farmers have earned the empathy of the urban population, who have come out in large numbers to provide them with humanitarian as well as moral support. A large number of Mumbaikars were seen distributing food, water, and footwear to the farmers marching in the heat and dust, most of them barefoot.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has assured the farmers that their concerns would be taken care of.
Chief Minister of Maharashtra Devendra Fadnavis told the media that the government was positive about answering their demands, and that since the first day of the Morcha (demonstration), they'd discussed various issues with the farmers. However, he said, they were firm about going through with the march.
We're positive in fulfilling demands. Since the 1st day of the Morcha, we tried to discuss various issues with them. Girish Mahajan was in touch with them from day one. But they were firm on taking out the March: CM Devendra Fadnavis. pic.twitter.com/EgHuCgKtYt
— ANI (@ANI) March 12, 2018
Opposition parties including the Indian National Congress (INC), the Shiv Sena, and the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS) have also extended full support to the protesting farmers.
Noted Bollywood actor and leader of ruling BJP Shatrughan Sinha commended the discipline of the protesting farmers on Twitter.
"The whole nation supports and salutes our farmers protest march for their democratic rights in the most disciplined manner. It is a learning experience for many of us. Hope wish and pray that good sense prevails upon our people and all the demands are met and settled amicably."
The whole nation supports & salutes our farmers' protest march for their democratic rights in the most disciplined manner. It's a learning experience for many of us. Hope wish and pray that good sense prevails upon our people & all the demands are met & settled amicably..1>2— Shatrughan Sinha (@ShatruganSinha) March 12, 2018
INC President and leader of the opposition in Parliament Rahul Gandhi described the farmers' demand as "just."
"The mammoth farmers march to Mumbai is a stunning example of people's power. The Congress party stands with the farmers and trials marching to protest against the Central and State Government's apathy. I appeal to the PM Modi and the CM to not stand on ego and to accept their just demands," Rahul Gandhi tweeted.
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
Although more than 50 percent of India's population is engaged in agriculture, the sector contributes only 15% to the nation's total GDP. Recurrent drought, a scarcity of water for irrigation combined with a lack of modern farming equipment have led to a steep fall in productivity and income, forcing farmers to take out huge loans. It is estimated that more than quarter of a million Indian farmers have committed suicide in the last 16 years after being unable to repay a loan taken from financial institutions as well as private lenders.