Pune : Sharad Joshi, veteran farmers’ leader who spearheaded several campaigns across the country to press for remunerative prices for agriculturists, died here on Saturday. Joshi, 81, was active till the end despite age-related ailments and the end came at his residence here, according to his family.
Joshi also had a term in the Rajya Sabha in 2004-10, elected with the support of the BJP and Shiv Sena, and served on as many 16 parliamentary committees during the tenure. He gave up a decade-long lucrative assignment with International Bureau of Universal Postal Union (UPU) based in Switzerland in 1977 to return to India and take up the farmers’ cause.
He formed his trend-setting outfit Shetkari Sanghatana in 1979, galvanizing the unorganized farmers’ movement in the state. After launching the outfit from his farm at Chakan near here, Joshi shot into limelight by leading a prolonged agitation of onion growers in Nashik district, which took a violent turn leading to his arrest.
He soon expanded his sphere of activity by taking up the issue of remunerative prices for a wide range of farm produce like sugarcane, rice, cotton, tobacco and also milk and joined hands with Mahendra Singh Tikait, another farmers’ leader from north India, to set up a non-political co-ordination committee of all farmers’ organisations in the country 1982.
Launching his initial stir from his home state Maharashtra, Joshi later spread his wings and influence in Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Gujarat and also to the south by organizing agitations for remunerative prices in Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Liberal and progressive in outlook, he also sought to amalgamate the farmers’ cause with that of women’s empowerment and organized a massive rally of women farmers and farm labourers at Chandwad in Nashik in 1986 attracting about two lakh women.
He, however, happened to be the only RS member who opposed the women’s reservation bill when it came up in the Upper House of Parliament as he was of the view that the reservation would not lead to the emancipation and empowerment of women.
Known for his deep knowledge of agricultural economics, Joshi had famously sought to distinguish between the conceived image of “elitist India” and “Bharat”, rooted in the country’s soil and ethos. Entering the realm of politics, he floated a political party in 1994 named “Swatantra Bharat”, envisaging in its manifesto a complete revamp of the country’s social, economic and political system aimed at minimal government interference.
He also served as chairman on central government’s Agriculture Consultative Committee in 1990-91 with a Cabinet rank. Active till the end, Joshi had authored many books in English and Marathi dealing with various issues concerning agricultural economics and also women’s empowerment. Having recently turned 81, Joshi had expressed his desire to rejoin the farmers’ cause dear to his heart on the issue of the controversial Land Acquisition Bill.
Asked as to what prompted Joshi to take the stand against the women’s reservation bill, current Shetkari Sanghatana leader and trusted lieutenant Raghunath Patil said that although he advocated women’s empowerment he believed that the system of reservation would not lead to the desired emancipation and empowerment of women.
He believed in social and economic justice but did not favour the rush for reservation in various segments, Patil added. Joshi also maintained that while developed countries granted substantial agricultural subsidies, in India the farmers actually received “minus subsidy” and gave statistics to prove his point.