From the broken statue of Lenin in Bilonia in Tripura to the sea of red, created by agitating farmers, led by All India Kisan Sabha, in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan, the Indian political spectrum has been a saga of surprising contradictions over the last fortnight. But perhaps that is not really a surprise. This is a land of multiple temporalities where apparent anomalies are unblinkingly commonplace.
Yet, there is no denying the fact that it came as a shock to many when the Left suffered a chastening defeat at the hands of the BJP in Tripura, despite having a rather satisfactory performance record, a leader whose austere and honest lifestyle is not even blemished by opponents and the dearth of any concerted popular opposition against the ruling party. More than the electoral defeat of the Left, which happens at regular intervals in Kerala and more often now in West Bengal, what was shocking was the rise of a polarising and divisive force like the BJP in a state that had witnessed sustained peace for more than two decades after terrible episodes of violence. And almost to confirm widespread apprehensions among anyone tinged with sanity, secularism and sagacity, the electoral success of the BJP was followed by rampant violence against CPM workers in different corners of the state, acts of plunder and vandalism and of course, the visually telling demolition of the statue of Lenin at Bilonia. None of this could be termed unforeseen. The ideological progenies of Nathuram Godse are past masters of murder and mayhem as evident from the many traces of barbarism which can still be seen and heard in corners of Bhagalpur, Ayodhya, Mumbai, Naroda Patiya in Gujarat, Kandhmal in Orissa, Muzzaffarnagar in U.P….and many other sites. Tripura became and will continue to be, for at least a few more years, yet another laboratory of the religio-fascist violence which is the hallmark of the Sangh Parivar and its hydra-like branches. The unquiet corpses of Akhlaq Ahmad, Rohith Vemula, Junaid, Gauri Lankesh, M.M. Kalburgi, Govind Panesaar or Narendra Dabholkar continue to howl in the wind about these ongoing atrocities which the notorious sieve of public memory lets so easily slip by. All these murders, as well as the aforementioned examples of organised violence, are the handiwork of various groups directly or indirectly affiliated to the Sangh Parivar and the centre therefore either ignores these crimes or abets them through provocative remarks of one kind or another. Given such political realities, what would prompt voters to vote for BJP en masse? One has to wonder if we Indians are, after all, contrary to popular perception, a people which condones and at times even encourages various forms of brutality without either remorse or redress. While a statue of Lenin is less important than his historical role and his ideas, and breaking a statue does nothing to weaken belief in his ideas, the assault against the statue of course stands for a virulent form of intolerance which is embodied not just by ordinary karsevaks but also by those occupying administrative positions such as the existing Governor of Tripura. Since then, similar attacks against statues of Ambedkar and Periyar have been seen in different parts of the country, all symbolising this rising discourse of intolerance which of course has a fair amount of popular support as well. Had it not been for such support, the murder of Junaid in a crowded train would not have been possible, nor would the murderer of Mohammad Afrazul in Rajsamand in Rajasthan receive thousands of rupees for legal assistance nor would BJP secure a victory in Dadri in UP where Akhlaq Ahmad was murdered on the suspicion of possessing and consuming beef. Each such event bares the stained conscience of a nation whose people grow more intolerant, more violent, more inhuman. And if that is the case, why should we hope for a popular upsurge that might bring a better world? Couldn’t it well be, if ever, a more diabolical monstrosity?
And it is in the midst of such despair that the sea of red in Maharashtra brings such relief about the idea of the ‘people’. 50000 farmers marching barefoot to the state capital and also the financial capital of the country, in a peaceful and organised procession, without disrupting either citizens or students sitting for examinations, with a clear set of demands for mitigation of long-standing agricultural crisis, and eventually securing written assurances from the government for fulfilment of every single demand – is an unprecedented resource for hope in crisis-ridden age which has virtually forgotten the possibility of collective movements by subaltern populations for social good. What is also interesting to note is the great outpouring of support which the march has received from urban citizens who have greeted the protesting farmers with flowers, food and footwear for their sore and bleeding legs. Such actions signify a sense of solidarity which also overcomes divisive machinations of religion or caste or even gender, especially since the agitating farmers included men and women in equal measure.
Interestingly, while most media outlets have identified this as a proverbial long march, thus drawing a parallel between this one and that led by Mao in China, a more apt international comparison would perhaps be with the Zapatistas. Just as the Zapatistas from Chiapas in South West Mexico would march to the national capital to present their charter of demands to the elected representatives, so did the farmers led by AIKS. Just as the Zapatistas mostly consisted of landless peasants belonging to indigenous tribes, so also were the farmers in this march mostly landless people belonging to various Adivasi communities. And like the Zapatistas, these farmers were also not trying to stake a claim to political power; they are simply trying to assert their right to lead a dignified life which would not be beset by the constant menace of rising debt, inadequate prices and unavailability of sanctioned compensations due to bureaucratic rigmaroles. Demands met, like the Zapatistas, they will go back to their fields and till their lands, hoping that the governments would not renege on their promises. Could this then be India’s ‘zapatismo’ moment? Will it trigger further concerted struggles of the same vein in other parts of the land where there are similarly uncaring governments? This is too early for that. But for now, there is hope. Hope in a politics of the people that does not include violent, destructive mobs, videos of cold-blooded murders and barbaric glee over crumbled statues. Hope in the belief that the right kind of organic leadership might uplift the downtrodden from being cretinised instruments of havoc to inspiring agents of collective welfare.