In search of another Mahatma Gandhi

In search of another Mahatma Gandhi

Earlier, peasants sold land only in dire need – for marrying their daughters or for paying off huge debts. But, now the State has emerged as a middleman and has become an agency that is working in favour of the industrialists-capitalists-realtors nexus. Thus, the State has created multiple layers of commission-and-corruption that fill the deep pockets of its functionaries – the bureaucrats and the politicians. The saddest thing is that this corrupt system has been institutionalised by the State.

Perhaps this explains why Bhatta Parsaul, a Jat dominated village in Bulandshahr district, in west UP, is burning. The peasants have been fighting pitched battles against the police. Marginal and small farmers fear that they would lose their small tracts of land. One of the many faceless villages till now, it has emerged as a political hotbed, hogging headlines in the national media. Allegations and counter-allegations fly thick and fast.

In January this year, peasants of eight trans-Yamuna villages including Kachari, Kachra, Katka, Dewari, etc of Allahabad were up in arms against land acquisition for a power project. The peasants were united for their demand seeking compensation for land acquisition.

Be it Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal or Haryana – the politician bureaucrat combine has joined hands for its gratification. In Haryana, political observers point out that land use change is done with impunity. Green fields became concrete jungles for the Indian Shanghais like Gurgoan and Manesar to emerge. If the fine print of other states is read, it is clear that land use policy might be tweaked and changed for development. But, with the State emerging as middleman, its role and intentions are suspect.

The peasants’ relationship with land is deep rooted. Land for them means identity, honour and social status. Acquire (read grab or snatch) land and the son of the soil is rootless, listless and lifeless. In the folklore land is seen as the peasants’ mother. Can anyone pay price for his/her mother? This emotive relationship is the basic denominator and explains why peasants are ready to lay their lives for it.

All along the Ganga-Yamuna Expressway, between Noida and Balia, in Uttar Pradesh, peasants are under severe threat. They stand to lose their land to the avarice of the State machinery. The harsh reality is that though the State, by definition, is a democratic agency, its acting contrary to its avowed principles. Profit motives  changed ground realities.  

The Nandigram-Singur experience in Bengal is starkly different from the one in Bhatta Parsaul. In the former case, the Trinamul Congress, the main opposition party, joined hands with the civil society. Writers and intellectuals were out on the streets. But, in Uttar Pradesh the civil society is conspicuous by its absence and the NGOs that double up as civil society is aimed at filling its coffers. Perhaps that’s why no major movement could gain roots in Uttar Pradesh.

The role of the opposition parties has been dismal. Mulayam Singh Yadav, known as Dharti-putra, hardly has any connect with the villages.  The Left parties are severely marginalised and they seem to have lost their voice. There is perhaps no leader in the BJP, who would brave the sweltering heat and dust, for peasants. Rahul Gandhi is in confrontation with the Mayawati government. There are great expectations from the young leader and it is hoped that Rahul would walk through the villages of UP rather than just visit in Bhatta Parsaul. While most politicians are engaged in five-star politics, the peasants are left to fend for themselves.

In this scenario, there is a need for another Mahatma Gandhi – a selfless leader, who would walk through the villages of Uttar Pradesh, and India, galvanising the masses, once again!

(The writer is a social historian and professor at the G B Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.)

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