On this the second last day of the jatha, as we drive into Rohtak, we are met with the news that 70 comrades in the town, led by Jagmati Sangwan, party secretariat member have been arrested for protesting the inauguration of an agri-mall, where reportedly Wal-Mart has been given the largest area stretching across the first floor. Jagmati and her fellow protesters were ultimately released, but their arrest is symptomatic of the situation in all the three states the jatha has passed through, which is the growing intolerance against protests organised against the anti-people policies being followed.
In Rajasthan's Hanumangarh, several of our comrades are still in jail because they had protested against the additional cost to the farmers bringing their produce to the markets by the numerous toll booths which charge substantial amounts for loaded tractors passing through the toll. In all the three States there was vocal discontent against government policies and positive responses for the need for alternative policies.
A striking feature of the meetings in the twenty districts that the jatha stopped at was the presence of the rural poor and particularly women. Across the states, the most urgent issue is that of food security. The exclusion of the poor in the present targeting system was repeatedly in evidence when in meeting after meeting and in discussions with delegations who met the Jatha, the issue of exclusion whether in the denial of ration cards, or as in Haryana, the cancellation en masse of over one and a half lakh BPL ration cards, was raised. The relevance of the demand of the all India Jatha for food security through a universal distribution system found resonance throughout the Jatha.
A critical issue which came up through the Jatha is the plight of the kisans. The cut in subsidies in petrol and diesel as also fertilizers and the increasing cost of inputs was a recurring theme. MNREGA workers, especially women came in large numbers to the meetings. Shockingly in some places, through manipulation of work measurement and high productivity norms the women workers are getting only 40 to 50 rupees as for example in Gangannagar district of Rajasthan.
The overall experience of the jatha is two fold – while people have appreciated the initiative of a Jatha which raises their demands as the basis for alternative policies, at the same time the message from the people is also loud and clear – they want the CPI (M) to take up the daily challenges they face and help them to get some immediate relief. It is the fight for alternative policies backed by struggles at the local, district and state level, which will help the Party expand its mass base in these areas.