Farm leader Shiv Kumar Sharma ‘Kakkaji’, formerly associated with the Sangh Parivar, last hit national headlines when police in Mandsaur shot dead six farmers in June 2017, and sparked a nationwide farmers' agitation.
Sharma, 70, the face of the agitation in Madhya Pradesh, who swore to unseat then chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, was in Delhi on Thursday to protest the RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) free trade agreement and announce more protests in the months to come.
Sharma, the convener of the Rashtriya Kisan Mahasangh, an umbrella organisation of 136 “non-political” farm outfits, had campaigned against the Chouhan government’s “anti-farmer” policies in the run up to the Assembly polls in Madhya Pradesh in December 2018, but had to restrict his activism after he suffered a stroke last year. The BJP had lost that election.
The prospect of India negotiating the RCEP in Bangkok over the next two days, which farmers’ organisations believe would hurt India’s dairy industry, has galvanised Sharma and his associates to announce protests against the move.
In Delhi, Sharma-led Mahasangh, and 15 other organisations, including Communist Party of India (CPI) backed AITUC and representatives of Indian dairy industry, met to decide on future strategy.
Sharma and his associates held a protest against the government at Jantar Mantar. “We will hold protests in several districts across the country on October 18 and submit memorandums addressed to the prime minister through district collectors,” Mahasangh spokesperson Abhimanyu Kohar said.
If the government does not protect the interests of dairy farmers, the outfit has threatened road blockades, sending letters to MPs and ‘gaon bandh’ movement to stop supply of milk, fruits and vegetable to cities in the months to come, Kohar said.
The Swadeshi Jagram Manch (SJM), an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, has also opposed the trade agreement. On Thursday, it announced a 10-day nationwide protest against the RCEP.
“The nation is currently facing a crisis in both in manufacturing and agriculture which is resulting in job losses in the country. The crisis in the manufacturing sector is due to the lack of a comprehensive industrial policy since 1991,” the co-convenor of SJM, Ashwani Mahajan said.
Kohar said the Mahasangh had no alliance or tie up with the SJM. He said the Mahasangh has also distanced itself from the All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee as several of its member outfits – including those headed by Raju Shetti, Yogendra Yadav and V M Singh – participated in electoral politics.