We’ll be at corporates’ mercy: Farmers march in Mumbai in solidarity with Delhi protests

23 December 2020
Thousands of farmers gathered in Mumbai's Bandra area on 22 December to protest against three recently enacted farm laws.
Thousands of farmers gathered in Mumbai's Bandra area on 22 December to protest against three recently enacted farm laws.

On 22 December, farmers associated with various farmers’ organisations in Maharashtra gathered outside the office of Milind Borikar, the district collector of Mumbai Suburban, in the city’s Bandra East area. The farmers were protesting against the three recently enacted farm laws. From there, they marched on to the nearby Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar Udyan, a public garden. Thousands of protesters streamed into the circular garden surrounded by a heavy police presence. On 17 December, Raju Shetti, the chief of the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmers’ union based in Kolhapur district, had announced that farmers would march to the corporate offices of Reliance Industries and the Adani group in the Bandra Kurla Complex. “We are going to ask Ambani and Adani, ‘Oh god, how greedy are you? How much more do you want?’” Shetti said, in a video posted on his Facebook page two days before the protest. He was referring to the industrialists Mukesh Ambani and Gautam Adani.

The protesters remained in the garden for around two hours before marching towards the corporate towers in BKC. However, Shetti told me that the police stopped the protesters from demonstrating in front of the corporations’ offices. “The police had blocked the road with barricades,” Shetti said. “The police said that the route ahead is narrow and it can cause commotion. Their second point was that there are foreign corporate offices there. They said you cannot go because there could be a law and order problem. I asked whether Ambani and Adani have been given any special protection. What is their status?”

Subsequently, the farmers sat down before a makeshift stage in Bandra East, two kilometres from the Reliance office and leaders of the participating organisations addressed the crowd. Pratibha Shinde, the general secretary of the Lok Sangharsh Morcha, a civil-rights organisation, told the farmers that “the police have stopped us from going to the offices of Ambani and Adani,” and accused the police of sympathising with the “agents” of the government. She then implored the gathering to raise slogans of solidarity that could be “heard all the way at the Singhu border.”  

The call for a march to the offices of the two corporate giants took place in the backdrop of the ongoing farmers’ protest at various points along the Delhi border since 26 November. The protesting farmers believe that the three controversial farm laws will benefit corporates at their expense. The farmers camped at Delhi’s borders have called for a boycott of Reliance and Adani products. Protesters in Mumbai too backed the boycott calls with the slogan, “Ambani ka Jio SIM jala do, jala do. Ambani ka Jio SIM tod daalo, tod daalo.”—Ambani’s Jio SIM, burn it, burn it. Ambani’s Jio SIM, break it, break it. “They are capitalists. They will purchase from us and resell it for the price of gold,” Tarachand Pawra, a farmer from Maharashtra’s Jalgaon district, told me. “We will be at their mercy. They are the ones who run the government. It is Ambani and Adani who fund the elections as well. They have captured the state.”

The protesters in Mumbai came from a range of farmers’ organisations in Maharashtra such as the Satyashodhak Shetkari Sabha, apart from the Lok Sangharsh Morcha and Shetti’s Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatana. A former Lok Sabha member of parliament, Shetti also founded the Swabhimani Paksha, a political wing of his union. His party contested the 2019 Maharashtra assembly polls in alliance with the Nationalist Congress Party. He has previously also allied with the National Democratic Alliance. Members of the Prahar Janshakti Party, a small Vidharba-based political party led by Bacchu Kadu, the minister of state for education in the current Maharashtra government, also participated in the protest.

Pawra told me that he had earlier travelled to Delhi to participate in the ongoing protests at the interstate borders. “It is continuing with vigour. The farmers are standing up for their rights,” he said, adding that he will rejoin the Delhi protests shortly. This was not the first time that Pawra has participated in a farmers’ protest. “In 2018, I had come from Jalgaon to Mumbai on foot. It took 17 days to reach here,” he said. He was referring to the historic Kisan Long March to Mumbai, during the then chief minister Devendra Fadnavis’ tenure, to press for a complete farm-loan waiver, and guarantee of the minimum support price, among other demands. Several other farmers I spoke to at the protest on 22 December had participated in the 2018 march.

Aathira Konikkara is a reporting fellow at The Caravan.

Keywords: Farmers' Protest farm laws 2020 Farm Bills 2020 The Farmers' Produce Trade and Commerce (Promotion and Facilitation) Ordinance, 2020 farmers' march