A stream of red on the streets of Mumbai has been the cause of much debate and discussion on social media. On March 6, more than 35,000 farmers from across Maharashtra, led by All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS) - the peasants front of the Communist Party of India (CPI) - began their 180-km-long march from Nashik to Mumbai. Late on the night of March 11, they entered the state capital.
But why are the farmers out on the street? Among other things, they want complete farm loan waiver, implementation of the recommendations of the MS Swaminathan Commission, providing forest rights and better compensation for land acquired by the government.
Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis, as per a Hindustan Times report, held a high-level meeting to discuss the demands on March 11, where he said: “We are positive on the demands of the farmers. We have set up a six-member cabinet committee to discuss their demands.” The BJP CM (as is the whole party), after all, is under the spotlight, with the farmer’s march receiving vociferous support from the Shiv Sena, Congress, NCP, Raj Thackeray-led Maharashtra Navnirman Sena and AAP.
But as is the case with all issues in this day and age, it is not always the actual action, rather the perception on social media that makes a difference. Fadnavis may or may not be making headway with the farmers, but there are those who are already keen of making the BJP look good in this situation. Alt-News founder Pratik Sinha reported about a 22-page document that provides instructions to trend the hashtag “KisanThanksDevendra” on Twitter. He added that this document has been making the rounds on pro-BJP WhatsApp groups.
A 22 page document with instructions to trend #KisanThanksDevendra is being shared in BJP WhatsApp groups.https://t.co/jgoG6yH4WNScreenshots of the same can be seen below. Do observe the people accessing the document on the top right. pic.twitter.com/w3FGQU9Bkw— Pratik Sinha (@free_thinker) March 12, 2018
In a similar vein, there were those who tried to change the narrative of the movement itself. That it was a march organised by the Left (AIKS), many criticised it on the grounds that it was a politically jacked affair - and not actually meant to benefit farmers - organised only to attack the right-wing government. While BJP MP Poonam Mahajan told CNN News18 that the farmers' protest is being propelled by urban Maoists; filmmaker Vivek Agnihotri, a known right-wing commentator, called it “Red terror”.
Red terror is coming to cities. The organisational and communication management all handled by #UrbanNaxals. Front organisations and media handling narrative. Dangerous times ahead leading upto 2019. Ignore it now, repent later.— Vivek Agnihotri (@vivekagnihotri) March 11, 2018
Next target is labour. Students, farmers, labours, feminists under the organisational support of media managers, intellectuals etc. Who is funding it?— Vivek Agnihotri (@vivekagnihotri) March 11, 2018
They want farmers to keep suffering. How else will they showcase them?— Vivek Agnihotri (@vivekagnihotri) March 11, 2018
I think real issue of Farmers is being hijacked by these urban naxals holding red flag are nothing but like hyenas among sheep herd. https://t.co/7ymzJC5wO1— Amit Dubey ???????? (@iAmitDubey_) March 12, 2018
This #KisanLongMarch would have looked a lot more credible without the laal jhanda overload. Farmers struggle with a lot of challenges but even without zooming in the pictures you can tell that this movement is certainly not meant to address those.— Shuchi Singh Kalra (@shuchikalra) March 12, 2018
Of course, there were those who were quick to point out that a political party organising a farmers’ protest is far from uncommon, and the Left parties doing so is even less so. Farmer uprisings in several states have been part of communist movements historically.
Ridiculous, the righteous objections to Left organising Maharashtra farmers. Thru ages, politics has rallied farmers & vice versa. It’s perfectly legitimate. In fact, must admire their discipline & organisation— Shekhar Gupta (@ShekharGupta) March 12, 2018
All the people who are saying "It's not about left or right" about the farmer protests are just wilfully ignoring the red flags carried by thousands of farmers. Baba it is about left and right. And it should be. Matlab how arrogant can your centrism be?— Bitch Please (@AListRap) March 12, 2018
#KisanLongMarch proved 2 things: 1. The Left's power lies on the ground, irrespective of the MPs & MLAs it has. 2. Shiv Sena, by giving safe passage to farmers into Mumbai, has proven to be a wily opponent to BJP even as an ally— Aditya Menon (@AdityaMenon22) March 11, 2018
Few days ago sanghis were claiming that Left is left only in Kerala, JNU, and in Lit fests, now they are saying that this massive farmer protest is organised by Left . #KisanLongMarch pic.twitter.com/bMfPRTKbcq— Md Asif Khan (@imMAK02) March 11, 2018
72 years ago the British said the exact same thing about 1946 naval Mutiny. The sailors were instigated by the communists acc to Attlee.The British later branded the Mutiny as a “larger communist conspiracy raging from the Middle East to the FarEast" against the British crown. https://t.co/nnrmbeIuE7— Advaid (@Advaidism) March 12, 2018
There were also those on social media who pointed out the difference between movements in the Left and the Right.
Left: Urban Maoist Anti National Farmers waging war against the state under the name of #KisanLongMarch Right: Patriotic Karnisena Warriors fighting at the border to stop Mughal invasion. pic.twitter.com/IZuprCNEqR— The Last Caveman (@CarDroidusMax) March 12, 2018
'Fake' farmer protest organised by Communists changed their plan to avoid inconvenience to exam writing students while 'real' nationalist protestors like karni Sena attacked kids. Choose your priorities you entitled middle class.— ivansikorsky (@ivan_sikorsky) March 12, 2018
One has to admire this peaceful protest by the farmers in Mumbai!!!And then we had the Karni Sena protest, where a school bus was attacked because an unreleased Bollywood movie hurt the sentiments of the Karni Sena. #KisanLongMarch https://t.co/wHWLrjM8rU— Advaid (@Advaidism) March 12, 2018
Karni Sena riots - okay, let them do it because sentiments.Farmers march peacefully - urban Maoists, anti national, freeloaders— NoToSilence (@akdwaaz) March 12, 2018
Not everyone, however, was concerned with the movement’s political leaning. There were those who chose to analyse why a movement as big as this has not dominated the newsroom.
the only time the media reports issues of farmers or tribals is when they threatento choke a big city, or burn buses. am surprised they don't do it more oftenhttps://t.co/ZePRUP2ncz— Hartosh Singh Bal (@HartoshSinghBal) March 12, 2018
An editor of a leading English language once said that agriculture was not a beat for mainstream English newspapers. So much so that the paper ignored farm issues for years except when they become a threat for a city. It continues to do so. ???? https://t.co/tBilq9MqK1— Chetan Chauhan (@chetanecostani) March 12, 2018
TOI wrote one line about it on the front page. Yup, one line. Followed up on page 8 and 10. pic.twitter.com/f2ev2IACdZ— Karnika Kohli (@KarnikaKohli) March 12, 2018
Indian Expess - the only newspaper worth reading anymore - carried a report on front page and another big story on page 2. pic.twitter.com/7Wi5GAFtHI— Karnika Kohli (@KarnikaKohli) March 12, 2018
And finally there were those interested in the ones walking. Stories of several farmers dominated social media, among tales of how the city of Mumbai welcomed them.
Favourite photo from #KisanLongMarch this afternoon -- Farmers have no access to electricity so Lakshman Bhasre from Tryumbakeshwar Taluka has been marching for 6 days with a tiny solar panel on his head. He uses it to charge his phone and help other marchers charge theirs. pic.twitter.com/3He32abd4z— Pragya Tiwari (@PragyaTiwari) March 12, 2018
It's 4.30 am. When #KisanLongMarch reached Byculla junction, a large group of Muslim brothers distributed water, dates and biscuits to the marching https://t.co/AjIbNdij2I was an extraordinary act of solidarity, which the peasants reciprocated with loud slogans of Lal Salam. pic.twitter.com/teIOnA76iq— Sudeep Sudhakaran (@SudeepSudhakrn) March 11, 2018
50,000 farmers walked 180kms, asking for the rightful compensation for their crop. On their last stretch they walked all night making sure they didn’t disturb the SSC board examinations. #Compassion #respect #Salute #JaiKisan - ???????????????? pic.twitter.com/epa0a90A6u— Riteish Deshmukh (@Riteishd) March 12, 2018