Kisan March defies stereotypes, charms Mumbai | mumbai news | Hindustan Times
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Kisan March defies stereotypes, charms Mumbai

The farmers delivered a powerful message with utmost restraint, and Mumbai took the protest in its stride uncomplainingly.

mumbai Updated: Mar 16, 2018 10:02 IST
Ayaz Memon
Ayaz Memon
Hindustan Times
Farmers gathered at Azad Maidan on March 6.
Farmers gathered at Azad Maidan on March 6.(HT File)

The most remarkable aspect of the Kisan March was that it broke some time-held stereotypes.

The farmers delivered a powerful message with utmost restraint, and Mumbai took the protest in its stride uncomplainingly. This has not usually been the case: in fact, to the contrary.

Protests, from those within the city and certainly from those coming here from outside, are seen as severely disruptive. For protestors, Mumbaikars are insular, stonyhearted, uncaring.

Considering that one of the greatest civil disobedience protests – Quit India Movement – began in this city (Gowalia Tank, August 2, 1944) this must seem strange. But there is a backdrop as to why sentiment swung to the other extreme.

In the past few decades, morchas, protests and the like have often slipped out of hand, causing loss to business and property, sometimes to life, generally bringing Mumbai to a standstill.

Over the years, this has developed a certain fear and frustration in the citizenry that now manifests itself as apathy. Given its pace of life, Mumbai lives on edge anyway. Even a minor disturbance in the equilibrium can create mayhem.

The ordered, almost tranquil Kisan March was a dramatic departure from the usual. Not only were there no untoward instances, the farmers made it a point to not intrude into the city’s everyday life.

They even chose to get to the epicenter of the protest at Azad Maidan before dawn on Monday so as not to inconvenience students appearing for their Board exams, and regular office-goers.

That those who had trudged for miles over a fortnight and in great hardship should show such fine sensibility instantly melted the hard-boiled resistance of Mumbaikars.

The farmers were hailed, supported and fed along the way to Azad Maidan in the middle of the night – and the next day – by all sections, without consideration of caste, creed and class.

By Tuesday, all protestors had departed peacefully, their demands met by chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. Frankly, Mumbai hasn’t quite seen something like this in several decades, though sections still had compunctions.

Some believed the media could have been more purposeful and given the protest wider coverage. This may be correct to the time the march reached Mumbai, but thereafter the media, particularly newspapers, were not lacking.

Television news can be terribly abstruse, depending on which channel you watch, and social media can pull in all directions breathlessly. In any case, there can never be complete conformity on what makes `news’.

A strange note of discordancy came from BJP MP Poonam Mahajan who cavalierly stated that the Kisan March was a political exercise and propped up by `urban Maoists’, or words to the effect.

This betrayed ignorance of how politics has evolved in the state Mumbai and the contribution of stalwarts from the Left and socialists like S A Dange, B T Ranadive, Ahilya Rangnekar, Mrinal Gore to name some. To compare them to Maoists was pathetic.

Of course, the march was political. All protests are and the Left was clearly at its core. But every other party – Congress, NCP, Shiv Sena and Mahajan’s own – was also trying to extract mileage from it.

The more pertinent aspect in the current context, however, is the grave insensitivity shown by Mahajan to the reasons behind the march. This is acute and large-scale agrarian distress that has been bereft of remedy at the human level.

In a way, it reminds one of Ajit Pawar’s (in)famous address to a rally of farmers in 2013 seeking a solution to drought related problems.

`` But where are we going to get water from? Should we urinate? And when we are not getting water to drink even urine is not coming easily,’’ the then deputy chief minister said mockingly. The rest is history.

The tragedy of land usurpation and unfair prices for produce leading to farmers being trapped in never-ending debt and penury hit Mumbaikars powerfully this time, not the tugs and pulls of ideologies.

To be dismissive or blasé about it, however, reveals an arrogance of power that could be politically fatal.