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Mainstream, Vol No 46


Saturday 3 November 2007, by SC


With Congress President-cum-UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s visit to China and the Left leaders’ painstaking efforts to assuage the ‘hurt’ feelings of PM Manmohan Singh getting frontpage prominence in our national dailies ‘Janadesh 2007’ has predictably received less than adequate attention in our media thereby once again mirroring the skewed priorities of the contemporary media scene in this era of consumerist culture in a ‘globalised’ world. Even some of the otherwise progressive newspapers have found it worthwhile to tuck photographs of the ordinary men and women comprising the Janadesh in the inside pages while the Delhi Half-Marathon 2007 hogs the limelight. That is not as it should be because the 27-day-long march by nearly 25,000 landless tillers, labourers, Dalits and tribals to eventually storm the citadel of power in the Capital city of the country was an extraordinary event by any standards of journalism, that is, journalism of the period when India unequivocally projected itself as a welfare state. [One wishes to underscore that we are still a welfare state even though the objectives and purposes of the welfare state are being fast jettisoned under the impact of the alien forces of commercialisa-tion and corporate consciousness.]

Starting from Gwalior on October 2, the birthday of the Father of the Nation who always upheld service to Daridranarayan as the essence of the politics he preached and espoused, the marchers traversed a distance of 380 kms through 15 States to reach Delhi on October 28. These marchers represented the salt of the earth, the real Indian populace, without whom the country cannot surge ahead. Even the Vice-President at a book-launch function at his residence the other day pointed out that without taking note of the problems, difficulties, concerns and hardships of those toiling masses the nation cannot hope to register concrete advance regardless of the spectacular rise in its GDP.

Land reforms was the central slogan that these people—the genuine aam aadmi to whom our politicians of every hue turn at least once in five years for ‘votes’—highlighted during their memorable march. Among their demands was the setting up of a National Land Authority. They also called for fast-track courts and a single-window system to deal with land and livelihood disputes. As the Ekta Parishad (which organised this unparalleled demonstration of people’s power) founder President P.V. Rajagopal cogently explained, “this is an initiative to bring land reforms to the centre-stage in rural development policies.”

If that was the basic aim of ‘Janadesh 2007’ it has had a positive effect in the high echelons of power. The Centre, prodded by UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi who was approached by Rajagopal and some other social activists working at the grassroots, announced on October 28 the formation of a National Land Reforms Council headed by PM Manmohan Singh as well as a Committee on State Agrarian Relations and Unfinished Land Reforms (to be constituted within a month under the chairmanship of the Union Minister for Rural Development); this Committee has been tasked to look into “all land-related issues, including land reforms” while also making recommendations on a detailed land reform policy, distribution of land to eligible persons and speedy disposal of cases relating to land-disputes—and these recommendations are to be submitted to the Council headed by the PM.

Addressing the marchers assembled at Delhi’s Ramlila Grounds on October 28, Union Minister for Rural Development Raghuvansh Prasad Singh observed: “Land reforms has been a neglected field but this Council will actively pursue the unfinished work on land reforms.” He further promised that the Council headed by the PM will supervise a new land reforms policy.

How has corporate India reacted to this new upsurge of the landless and the Centre’s response to it? In one of its most vocal mouthpieces, the decision to set up the Land Reforms Council was criticised on the following ground:

The large point is that there may be a case for redistribu-tion in some local cases but giving land rights nationally as a way to increase economic security is a non-option. This is because economic, social and agricultural dynamics are different now.

This view is nothing new. This is how the ‘globalisers’ try to obfuscate the basic issue. As Rajagopal lucidly underlined while emphasising the landless people’s fundamental desire to secure ‘dignity’ and ‘bread’,
Today village land in thousands of acres is being acquired in the name of special economic zones, small shopkeepers are being forced to close their business as corporate giants are entering the retail business. The government does not want the people to become self-reliant and is doing everything to ensure that we come dependent on ‘outsiders’ for everything.

This is the crux of the problem which is being sought to be pushed under the carpet. The fight for land rights is thus the struggle for self-sufficiency, genuine independence, real development of the people at large.

The government may speak in different voices but the Centre’s response through Raghuvansh Prasad Singh is doubtless a positive development. The presence of leaders of different complexions—from CPI General Secretary A.B. Bardhan to Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia—at the Ramlila Grounds on October 28 was testimony to the broad consensus in defence of the poor and landless, something we were able to forge long years ago in the flames of our freedom struggle. This will definitely help to build broader movements in the coming days.

Herein lies the unique significance of ‘Janadesh 2007’ far beyond the narrow outlook of corporate India and its accomplices hellbent on perpetuating and widening the existing socio-economic disparities in our polity.

November 1 S.C.

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