MUMBAI: Social activist Anna Hazare today extended his support to the agitating farmers in Maharashtra and expressed his desire to mediate between the state government and the agriculturists if asked to.
He also expressed hope that the stir be conducted in a peaceful manner.
"I extend my support to farmers' agitation and the cause behind it. It is better if they resort to a peaceful way of protest," Hazare told reporters.
The Gandhian's appeal for peaceful protest came against the backdrop of farmers' agitation turning violent in some parts of the state with incidents of stone pelting and vandalising of vehicles carrying milk and vegetables to Mumbai being reported on Wednesday night.
Appealing to farmers to shun violence, Hazare said he was ready to join discussions between the farmers' leaders and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis if he was asked to.
Yesterday, Fadnavis expressed willingness to hold talks with the agitating farmers.
"'Satyagraha' is a birthright of all. The government should not use police force when there is a peaceful agitation," he said.
The septuagenarian alleged that farmers have resorted to protests due to "anti-farmer" policies of the government.
"Farmers must get an assurance on price of their agricultural produce based on expenses incurred by them on production. This demand has always been neglected by all the past governments," the anti-graft crusader said.
A non-political movement of farmers is necessary to pressurise the whole political system to meet the demands of farmers, he said.
"If farmers' leaders wish so, I am ready to initiate a dialogue with farmers and the government," Hazare said.
However, farmers in Nashik district hit back at Hazare over his appeal for peaceful protests.
Speaking to a regional television channel, Ramesh Chougule, a farmer from Nashik said, "When farmers were committing suicides, Anna never uttered a word for the families of those farmers. "Therefore, now when they are protesting for their rights, he should not interfere. What is wrong in asking for our rights of getting better returns for our produce."
Ravindra Bhasme, another farmer from Satana tehsil in Nashik said, "I am a part of farmers' group and we produce leafy vegetables and fruit vegetables to supply to Mumbai.
"We have decided not to harvest it and support the strike. We will not send our vegetables to Mumbai so that the government will feel the heat."
He also said that the social activist had been selective when it came to farmers' issues. "Hazare should have been with us from the beginning," he added.
Farmers from many parts of the state including Nashik, Pune and Ahmednagar districts have joined the stir, which entered the second day today.
The agitation is mainly spearheaded by farmers' activists though parties like the Swabhimani Shetkari Sanghatna, led by Raju Shetti, an ally of the ruling BJP, have extended moral support to the stir. Among the demands raised by agitating farmers are waiving loans owing to crop failures and indebtedness, besides ensuring a guaranteed minimum support price (MSP) for their produce. Farmers in Nashik district are opposing acquisition of land for the proposed Super Communication Expressway connecting Mumbai and Nagpur.
A curfew was imposed in Yeola town of Nashik district yesterday, following a clash between the police and a mob of stone pelters.
At Lasalgaon in Nashik district, protesters stoned a police jeep, damaging its windshields. Agitators had dumped onions, chillies, mangoes and tomatoes on the road as weekly markets in 82 places in the district remained closed.