Thousands of farmers from 21 districts of Maharashtra – among tens of thousands across India who are protesting against the centre’s new agriculture laws – gathered at Nashik on Saturday and are marching to cover the 180 kilometres to state capital Mumbai, where they will hold a massive rally Monday at the city’s iconic Azad Maidan.
NCP chief Sharad Pawar, whose party is a member of the ruling Maha Vikas Aghadi government, is expected to attend that rally.
Dramatic visuals showed a sea of farmers – many of whom were waving flags and carrying banners – snaking their way through the roads of the Kasara Ghat region between the two cities.
The farmers – who are drawn from several smaller unions and have gathered themselves under the banner of the All India Kisan Sabha – are expected to reach Mumbai in a few hours.
Less than two weeks ago Mr Pawar referred to the protesting farmers – particularly those who have braved winter chills to remain camped out around Delhi since November – and warned the centre of “consequences” if it failed to understand their sentiments.
Last month he issued a similar warning and said the centre should not test the farmers’ patience.
The Nashik farmers’ march comes two days before a headline-grabbing tractor rally in Delhi on Republic Day.
Over a thousand tractors are expected to take part in the rally that will be held along the Ring Road (which encircles the city), and permission for which has been sought from Delhi Police.
On Saturday, Delhi farmers said they had received permission but this was swiftly contradicted by the police; Commissioner SN Shrivastava told NDTV the cops had yet to get written details of the route.
A decision is expected this evening.
The centre, which has held 11 failed negotiations with the farmers, is against the rally; it told the Supreme Court the event would be an “embarrassment for the nation“.
A request to the court to halt the rally was turned down, with the decision left to the police.
The court had earlier upheld the farmers’ right to hold a peaceful protest, as long as it did not damage property or threaten lives.
Protesting farmers have turned down a proposal to suspend the laws for 18 months.
They continue to insist – as they have since their protests began over 60 days ago – that all three laws must be scrapped and that the centre provide legal guarantees for MSP (minimum support price).
The centre, which is equally insistent that the laws will benefit farmers, has said it will offer only written guarantees for MSP and that the laws will remain, although it is open to amendments.
Last week the Supreme Court put implementation of the agriculture laws on hold, and set up a committee of experts to resolve the long-standing dispute.
With input from PTI