Farmers march: A spontaneous outpouring of agony
In India’s farmers and their distress, India’s democratic parties have found a loan of strength that can and should be their fuel for the coming test. But be it noted that this loan of a wave is not going to be waived. India’s farmers will recover it, with interest, as is their due.Updated: Dec 03, 2018 17:30 IST
He will not like my saying this, in fact, will strongly disapprove of my even trying to say it, and, given half a chance, will intervene and stop me from saying it. But I have to say it.
Palagummi Sainath has done what no one else could have, no one else tried to, no one else dared to do : Mobilise more than a lakh of farmers from different parts of India to converge on the national capital and say from Ramlila Grounds: “Here We Come”. What Delhi watched with its eyes and millions like me through television and online airwaves, was unprecedented. It was so, first, for the numbers that came. It was so, next, for how identical the purpose was for the farmer from India’s east, west, north or south. And it was so, most of all, for its uncompromisingly non violent intensity. There was something elemental about the convergence, something tectonic, in that it brought the impulses of the earth and the earth tiller to the centre of power, of authority, of government. India’s farmer stood eyeball to eyeball with Bharat Sarkar. “Here We Come”, the farmer said, “Look At Us”.
The convergence recalled Ramdhari Singh Dinkar’s unforgettable words, which Jayaprakash Narayan quoted from the same Ramlila Grounds in 1975: “Janata Aati Hai” (Here Come The People). Dinkar’s full line, of course, was “Singhasan Khali Karo Ki Janata Aati Hai” (Vacate The Throne, For Here Come The People). Sainath did not mean to and did not goad the concourse to say to anyone “Vacate The Throne”. What he did mean to say and got everyone watching to understand by the Great Convergence is “You Cannot Stop Us Now”.
Ever since his landmark work, Everybody Loves A Good Drought, appeared two decades ago, Sainath has become indistinguishable from the immiseration of India’s peasantry, its heroic struggles against a weather that shows no mercy, a market that knows no compassion, and an administration that bestows no time for farmers’ mounting woes. Through his columns and his speeches, his advocacies and his activism, he has for the last several years been telling India and the world that cares for India and for the earth, that preoccupied by neo-liberal free-marketing and a hyper nationalist capitalism, India is letting more than half of itself, rural India, live and die in misery.
Whenever drought sweeps across a part of India, or floods drown it, government moves — moves cash, which becomes corporate cement and industrial steel — to “manage disaster”. And that “moving” does help. But does first aid, with its band aids, stem the unmitigated poverty and deprivation that make natural disasters doubly disastrous? Does that which is behind the chronic distress, depression and decay of our farmers get alleviated ?
Sainath has shown that it does not, for the taproot of a farming economy, namely, the sustainability of farming, that of the livelihood of farmers and of their very lives, is what is at stake. In fact, in peril. Before the world began to take serious notice of them, Sainath showed us what Bibhutibhusan Bandyopadhyaya’s Ashani Sanket, Sunil Janah’s iconic photographs of the Great Bengal Famine and Somnath Hore’s woodcuts and etchings had shown us — the dance of death in man made destitution. Corpses do not lie, for they can be counted — empirical evidence. But corpses’ truth can get to be shunned for being too raw to see, too harsh to accept. One can keep updating the statistics of farm suicides. But statistics have ceased to really mean something when what is happening is a tragedy in real time progress — ‘kramashaha’ ( ‘continued’).
The farmers’ rally of November 30, 2018, will go down in the history of mass protests, like the silent trek of 35,000 farmers from Nashik to Mumbai, last March, to protest the cynical disregard by the authorities of their felt real-life needs and travails. Catalysed by Sainath and his associates and other leaders of farmers’ unions from across the country, spokespersons of peasant unrest like the Kisan Sabha and Yogendra Yadav’s Swaraj Abhiyan, the Great Convergence was ultimately, all said and done, the work of the farmers themselves, powered by them, propelled by them, proved by them to be what it was — a spontaneous outpouring of their agony.
That leaders of national parties were at the helm of the protest was natural. That they were there courtesy the farmers, by their leave, so to say, was what made their participation unusual. Loan waivers were key to the voicings. As it only had to be. But, to fall for a pun, what happened was not about waiving loans but loaning a wave — the wave to India’s democracy of a national discontent.
In India’s farmers and their distress, India’s democratic parties have found a loan of strength that can and should be their fuel for the coming test. But be it noted that this loan of a wave is not going to be waived. India’s farmers will recover it, with interest, as is their due.
Gopalkrishna Gandhi is distinguished professor of history and politics, Ashoka University
The views expressed are personal