Mahesh Vijapurkar

It is said Mumbai has no heart but only purses, either filled or otherwise. But after the midnight of Monday, a huge contingent of farmers showed that they have demands but big hearts.

Instead of marching into the city to lay a siege to the legislature to secure their demands, they woke up and walked through the night to the city from a distant suburb. That was because the farmers didn’t want to inconvenience Mumbai, and because it could affect students who had to take their exams.

A helpless government, unable to decide how to deal with the long march of the 30,000 – to me, an understatement – farmers had asked the HSC students to go to their exams earlier, anticipating a dislocation of traffic. But the farmers solved the problem: they avoided the planned peak hour march and advanced it by several hours.

The demands of the farmers are aplenty, not because they are greedy but because their lot has been thrown to the wolves over a period of time robbing them of their only means of livelihood. The long march had started from Nashik, 160 kms away, and organised by the All India Kisan Sabha, a Left group.

Day after day they walked on the highway with a few placards and nary a slogan. The silence, of course, was deafening, and the Mumbai media hardly bothered except – exceptions are few and far between – carrying an occasional photograph perhaps taken on a mobile phone and shared via the social media.

They woke up to it only when the march reached Thane, cheek by jowl to Mumbai because, to Mumbai, traffic dislocation is a serious hardship and also a measure of the success of an agitation. So nonplussed were the media that a TV discussion held in Thane in an abandoned octroi post, the anchor kept asking why they were marching at all.

The list of demands had been publicised long ago: unconditional loan waiver, halt to acquisition of land for building a superfast highway between Mumbai and Nagpur, implementation of the Swaminathan Committee report, awarding the forest land rights under a statute enacted 12 years ago, including in the records the names of the tillers of lands which are unclaimed, revamping the PDS.

Monday morning was a pleasant surprise for the Mumbai residents because the agitators were hearing a different drummer. They walked, and then they walked, but even if the highway from Nashik to Thane saw dislocated traffic, they chose to spare Mumbai.

This is bighearted, yes, but also a wise public relations gambit for now the government wouldn’t have any elbow room to easily wriggle out. The chief minister himself has spoken out – even before they left Thane – that he was positive on the demands. One thing remains unexplained however.

Why didn’t the chief minister spare the farmers the agony of walking on a tar road, some so poor they had not footwear, send someone or go himself towards Nashik, to meet them? The demands are not new but have been clubbed together and the state’s honesty in the loan waiver is suspect.

Perhaps the enormous public sympathy now evoked, and the nimble moves by all opposition parties to go and announce their support after the long march reached Mumbai should unnerve the BJP. Even its quarrelsome bedfellow, the Shiv Sena announced support. One has to only recall that Bal Thackeray used to refer to the Left as the red monkeys.