An Open Letter to Rahul Gandhi - farmers don't need you to be their saviour
news Thursday, August 06, 2015 - 05:30
Â Dear Shri Rahul, You have, in the past few weeks, been hopping across places sharing the distress with the farmers and showing concerns on their suicides. It is, indeed, important for those in public life to reach out to the people and especially when you are in the opposition. Let me make it clear at the outset that I am not yet among those who have turned cynical to all such political activities. On the contrary, I still believe that changes are not only inevitable but are possible in the lives of individuals and more so in those in public life. In other words, like it happened in the life of Jawaharlal Nehru, your great grand-father whose life from a rich kid with a law degree whose father had a flourishing legal practice was transformed into one who dared incarceration in the cause of independence. He could have inherited his fatherâ€™s briefs and even flourished as a lawyer; but he refused to do that and if I am right, wore the black gown only once and that was to defend the INA soldiers charged by the British legal regime of treason. It is, hence, that I thought of conveying a few things to you with regard to the crisis in the farm sector and hoping to see you transform and in the course of such a transformation help bring about a change in the lives of those who feed us even in this age where everything is sought to be done in the virtual world. The point I want to make here is that it is not the first time in history that the farmers have faced a crisis of the kind they are facing now. The peasant in our own history (as well as in the history of all societies) had been exploited and this is a fact ever since agriculture was transformed from being an activity for subsistence into an activity for trade. In other words, the coming of the market and trade exposed the sector to externalities and the earliest crisis in that context led to Ricardo describing as the Primary Accumulation of Capital. Karl Marx joined issues with Ricardo and compared this with the `original sinâ€™ as in the biblical tradition. The so called Primitive Accumulation of Capital, is a chapter in Capital Volume 1 and unveils the violence and the sinful way in which the peasantry was dispossessed during the Enclosure Movement in England. This approach to land as property and commodity was at the base of the colonial governmentâ€™s policy over land and agriculture in India. The peasantry was forced into cultivating crops such as Indigo and Cotton, whenever the textile industry in Manchester and Lancashire wanted that and they were forced to sell their produce cheap or sometimes dump it according to the vagaries of the metropolis. The peasants were forced into debts in the course of this (what historians call the commercialization of agriculture) and when they were forced to dump their produce, they landed in a debt crisis. It should be easy to comprehend that the crisis in the farm sector we are now witnessing has a lot in common with that the great grand-fathers of the present generation of farmers are facing today. If it was colonial some two hundred years ago (when the Deccan peasant was lured into shifting to cotton because the American Civil War had disrupted supply of raw cotton bales to the European textile industry) the neo-colonial context has led to the same consequence even while the cause may be the shift to GM seeds and crop failure for reasons that we may not get into here. But then, there is indeed a substantive difference in the manner in which the great grand-fathers of present day farmers responded. In the Deccan, they rose in revolt, setting fire to the buildings where the titles to their land (that were pledged by them when they took loans from money lenders) were preserved and the money lenders were attacked. In North Bengal, around the same time, the farmers who were forced into indigo cultivation and left at the mercy of the planters revolted too. They set fire to the factories and attacked the planters. Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, whose Vande Mataram turned into a battle cry, captured the insurgency that had rocked the tracts of Bengal in the wake of a famine and the challenge these posed to the colonial administration. Such examples from our history, are many and let me leave it here as such. It was this tradition of insurgency that Mahatma Gandhi could invoke and put to use in Champaran, where the impoverished peasants stirred into revolt. Champaran and Kheda were the template on which the mighty struggle against colonialism was conducted subsequently. The lessons learnt from this laboratory â€“ let me insist that it includes the glorious tradition of the Deccan Riots, the Indigo Riots and such insurgencies across the country culminating in Champaran and Kheda in 1917-18) that went into the making of your great grand-fatherâ€™s transformation into a leader of the masses. His contribution to the making of the Karachi resolution in 1931, when the peasants and other such sections of our people were brought into the core agenda of the Indian National Congress, led him to push the movement to draft the Congressâ€™ Agrarian Programme in the 1930s. All these, you may note, influenced the making of what is known among historians as the Nehru-Mahalanobis model and the post-independence economic policies. You will have to concede now that your own Prime Ministers acted against this principle and exposed the farmer, once again, to similar pressures as did the colonial regime. The Neo-liberal policies that you and your party were pushing since 1991 are behind the current crisis. It may be argued that you were not involved, directly, in pushing such policies through. Those were times when you were in school and then in college before entering public life. It is also possible for you to transform yourself, at least now, when you can not only afford to but also will have to. In that event, it is imperative for you to embolden yourself to admit that your perspective then was based on incorrect reading of the situation. Your great grand-father did that when he realized his idea of India while writing his autobiography (in 1934) had changed significantly between 1935 and 1937, thanks to his exposure travelling into the villages across the country campaigning for the Indian National Congress in the provincial elections during that period. In other words, you may spend some time reading all that your great grand-father wrote by way of letters to his daughter, i.e. your grand-mother. Incidentally, your mother enjoys the copyright for these publications now! This will help you to evolve into a leader and in the process the make a difference in the lives of the farmers. In doing so, you will have to remind yourself that it is no use to present yourself as their savior. Neither did your great grand-father try doing that and more importantly his mentor, Mahatma Gandhi resisted that temptation and even detested that idea. `Real Swarajâ€™ he stressed, `will come not by acquisition of authority by a few, but by the acquisition of the 'capacity' by all to resist authority, when abusedâ€™. You may consider reminding the farmers, whenever you decide to visit them, that they are the proud inheritors of the legacy of the insurgencies in the Deccan, in Bengal and elsewhere and that such acts by their own grand-parents had not only liberated them in their own times but also the nation on August 15, 1947. You may remind them that they may have died too. But then, they did not kill themselves but were killed while fighting their oppressors. Meanwhile, let me recommend a book to you: John Steinbeckâ€™s The Grapes of Wrath, first published in 1939 and among the greatest works of fiction around dispossession of the peasantry. In the event and if you are too busy with more important things, please make it a point to read Chapter 14 of that classic which is just 4 pages and striking. I am marking a copy of this letter to Sitaram Yechury, general secretary of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) for the reason that many of these that have been raised are also relevant for his party too. Regards Â
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