March to Parliament

In March this year the remarkable Nashik-to-Mumbai protest march of farmers took place. Forty thousand peasants and rural workers from rural Maharashtra trekked to the shining financial capital of India in the hope that their plaintive pleas for justice will be heard.

It was remarkable because of the extraordinary reception they got from the citizens of the city of dreams. Instead of cursing them for disrupting the normal life of the urban money-making machine, blocking the traffic and dirtying the streets, Mumbai-ites displayed a rare empathy for their cause.

The State government, which initially condemned the rustic invasion as civic terror tactics by 'Urban Maoists', soon realised that the peasants had struck an emotional chord with the common people—not only the urban working class, but also the middle classes and even some from the upper middle classes, stepped out in sympathy. The orderly manner in which the farmers conducted their dharna around the State Assembly complex added to the impact they made and the support and solidarity they generated.

Seven months later, the Nashik-to-Mumbai model of agrarian protest was being reenacted in a different setting. The capital of India, the seat of political power, was besieged by an influx of cultivators and farm labourers from the agricultural hinterland of neighbouring States.

The umbrella organisation of 200 farmers unions organising the Long March—All India Kisan Sangharsh Coordination Committee—pledged not to cause needless disruption. The aim was to encircle Parliament House—and compel the powers-that-be to hear, listen and act. The mission is to make the deaf hear, the blind see and the dumb speak.

The agrarian crisis in India is no longer just a result of any one single set of factors. It is not just a question of loss of land, nor the number of farmers driven to committing suicide nor even the loss of jobs or productivity and the lack of a remunerative price for farm products. They demanded a special session of parliament to focus exclusively on the agrarian crisis in its entirety and the precarious plight of the millions who live and work in rural India.

Anger and pain and suffering are mounting in the countryside. And not just among farmers but amongst labourers who find the MNREGA being dismantled by design, amongst artisans, anganwadi workers, fisher-folk, forest communities. And amongst those who send their children to government schools, only to find the State itself killing its own schools and humble government employees and transport and public sector workers whose jobs are on the anvil. Made even more unbearable after demonetisation.

And the crisis of the rural is no longer confined to the rural. What is taking place silently is the greatest distress-driven migrations from rural to urban in independent India. Apart from that millions of poor and dispossessed families are fleeing the collapse of their livelihoods to other villages, other rural towns, not just towards urban developments or the big cities. They are desperately searching for jobs that do not exist. The new locations they go to are equally bereft of opportunities for earning a basic income.

But nobody in the government listens, nobody cares. Hence the march to Parliament—to plead for a special session to discuss agrarian crisis only.

The million dollar question is : Will persons in authority agree to hold such a special session of parliament?


Vol. 51, No.27, Jan 6 - 12, 2019