By: Ramu Ramanathan

When farmers gathered at CBS Chowk in Nashik on March 6, no one knew what to expect. During the following week, 50,000 farmers marched to Mumbai. It culminated in a promise by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and his council of ministers to look into the farmers’ demands. In this day and age of political cynicism, the Kisan Long March has been acknowledged for its brilliant use of tactics. Mumbaikars speak with awe about the weary farmers’ midnight walk of 10-15 km to Azad Maidan in Mumbai, in darkness and pain. It placed the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) — a people’s organisation — and the agrarian crisis, on the political map of India.

So, what next, I ask the national president of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) and Central Committee member of the CPI(M), Dr Ashok Dhawale? He replies, “On September 5, the Kisan Sabha, along with other organisations of workers and agricultural labourers, will lead a gigantic march on Delhi, and have the farmers speak to the Indian nation from there.” He adds, “Plus, we are insisting on a 20-day special session of Parliament to discuss nothing but the agrarian crisis.”

This is not tattle and talk. Since March 12, Dhawale has been busy. The AIKS has held sabhas and protests in over 70 tehsil offices across Maharashtra. The struggle is on. For four issues: land rights, loan waiver, remunerative prices and increased pensions. Dhawale says, “The AIKS plans to collect 10 crore signatures from farmers, workers, students, and the middle class. And court arrest in each and every district of the country on August 9, in the 76th year of the Quit India movement.”

Dr Dhawale, who was born in 1952, practised medicine as a general practitioner in Mumbai from 1976 to 1983. In 1983, which was Karl Marx’s death Centenary year, he became a full-time activist of the CPI(M). He cherishes the memories. He recalls his meeting with Comrade Pandurang Bhaskar Rangnekar. Dhawale says, “It was PBR whom I first met before joining the party, 40 years ago in 1978. I remember the apprehension with which I climbed the two tall staircases of his house to meet him and tell him that I wanted to join the CPI(M)! I had then completed my MBBS and was in medical practice, but was also doing my MA (Political Science) from Bombay University. That is why the party asked me to work on the student front. For the next 17 years, I was one of the activists working first in the SFI, and then in the DYFI.

PBR was in charge of both these fronts and thus was also my in-charge. We came closer when I gave up my medical practice and became a party whole-timer in 1983.”

Ashok Dhawale: The Good Doctor

Dhawale speaks about his “hero”, Godavari Parulekar, who along with her husband Shamrao Parulekar, were a revolutionary team. They led the Warli Adivasi Revolt, which swept Thane district during 1945-47. Dhawale says, “It is an extraordinary life. Godavari Gokhale was born on August 14, 1907, in a well-to-do family in Pune. Her father was the renowned lawyer Laxmanrao Gokhale, who was a cousin of Gopal Krishna Gokhale. Godavari graduated in economics and politics from Fergusson College, Pune, and among her contemporaries were SM Joshi, NG Goray and Achyutrao Patwardhan, all of whom would become leaders of the freedom struggle and of the Socialist Party. She studied law, gaining the distinction of becoming the first woman law graduate in Maharashtra. Her father wanted her to join his law practice, but it was not to be. She went on to become a legendary national leader of the Kisan Sabha and the Communist Party.”

He remembers the contribution of Krishna Khopkar. “For 10 years, from 1995 to 2005, Krishna Khopkar, LB Dhangar, Narendra Malusare and I, along with other AIKS state office bearers, toured the state several times for AIKS struggles, conventions, conferences, study camps and meetings. These tours and the struggles on manifold peasant issues that the AIKS organisation supported reached 25 districts of Maharashtra and a united team of hundreds of dedicated cadres was formed. On the basis of this collective effort, the 31st national conference of the AIKS was held at Nashik in January 2006 with a one-lakhstrong rally. AIKS membership in Maharashtra crossed the two-lakh mark for the first time.

Today the AIKS has leaders like JP Gavit, Kisan Gujar and Dr Ajit Nawale, among others.” I ask him the question that was posed to EMS Namboodiripad, that if the Communists in India are working so hard, why is there such little electoral success? During the recent Palghar Lok Sabha bypoll, it became a show of strength between BJP’s Rajendra Gavit, Shiv Sena’s Shriniwas Wanaga and the Bahujan Vikas Party. Dr Dhawale replies, “Three reasons, really. Religion and caste, as EMS had then replied, and money-power. We need to fully understand the impact of caste atrocity and caste exclusion. At the same time, we have to be aware of economic exploitation and focus on class. We also need to have radical electoral reforms.”

Is he hopeful? Yes, he says. “The recent Kisan Long March was a coming together of the first two issues.” How so? He explains, “The biggest and most spontaneous reception to the Long March was in the Dalit locality of Mata Ramabai Ambedkar Nagar at Ghatkopar in Mumbai, the very place that had seen the shooting down of 11 Dalits in police firing under the BJP-Shiv Sena regime 20 years ago.

The Dabbawalas of Mumbai also contributed their might to the cause. In the most touching move, farmers from Raigad district, under the leadership of the Peasants and Workers Party (PWP) brought 1.5 lakh rice bhakris and dry fish for the marchers on the last day at Azad Maidan.”

In this day and age of rabble rousing, Dhawale’s conversational style is measured, and the cadence is gentle. Our morning chitchat stretches into the noon, and you realise that his words are tentative but self-assured.

Chai arrives from the local tapri. Dhawale signs a receipt book. I look around at the walls of the Janashakti office. The lofty Left leaders who adorn the Janashakti walls have passed away. Dhawale is the only one who has survived from the generation of greats.

He has matched their cadre-building and polemical clout, with a quiet modesty of his own. But he is aware of the gravity of the situation even as he shoulders the legacy of the Left movement in the most troubled city in the country.

Short takes

What is the best place in Mumbai:
The Janashakti oice in Worli, which is the party headquarters. For the past 50 years, it has been the centre of activity for the Left movement in Maharashtra — be it meetings, planning for rallies or publication of the party’s state weekly, Jeewan Marg, and other magazines and pamphlets.

A day in Mumbai which you shall never forget: It’s January 19, 1982, when the great textile workers strike was declared in Mumbai. Mill owners stopped paying wages. More than 2.5 lakh mill workers in the city did not receive salaries, beneits and bonuses and were arbitrarily suspended. Day One of the strike was an example of great class solidarity.

One event in Mumbai which cast an everlasting impression on you? The defeat of the Emergency on March 21, 1977. The day before the votes were being counted for the general elections. By evening, the results started coming in. The Janata Front won all the seats in Bombay. Stalwarts like Ahilya Rangnekar and Mrinal Gore were elected to the Lok Sabha.