By Justice Markandey Katju, former judge, Indian Supreme Court
“Let the sleeping giant sleep. For when he awakes, he will shake the world”
The above statement, attributed to Napoleon, was said about China. But I submit it now applies to the Indian subcontinent too.
I must confess I had become despondent as I used to wonder whether India would ever get rid of its backwardness, its massive poverty, record unemployment, appalling level of child malnourishment ( every second child in India is malnourished, according to Global Hunger Index ), almost total lack of proper healthcare and good education for the masses, ( half of the Indian women are anaemic ), etc, or whether conditions in India will remain as they are forever.
However, the present ongoing farmers agitation in India have shattered my despondency and totally changed my perspective.
Transformation of India from an underdeveloped to a developed country requires rapid, large scale, industrialisation, and only such transformation will enable the country to escape from the socio-economic evils mentioned above. Today, India is the most developed of all the underdeveloped countries of the world. It has all that it requires to become a highly developed country like USA, Canada, European countries, Japan, China etc. It has a huge pool of technical talent–thousands of bright engineers, technicians, scientists etc ( many of whom are manning Silicon Valley in California and are professors in science, engineering, maths, and medicine departments in American and European universities ), and immense natural resources. So it can easily be transformed in 15-20 years into a highly industrialised country.
The problem, however, was its disunity. India has tremendous diversity, with many religions, castes, lingual, ethnic and regional groups. These were till now fighting each other and thereby wasting our resources and energies, instead of launching a mighty united people’s struggle for making the historical transformation abovementioned. Indeed in recent years, religious polarisation in India had increased.
However, the present ongoing farmers’ agitation has radically changed the scenario.
Till now most of the popular agitations in India were either religion-based e.g. the Ram Temple agitation or caste-based e.g. the Jat, Gujar or Dalit agitations. The historical significance of the farmers agitation is that it has shattered the boundaries of caste and religion, and risen above them. It has thus forged unity among the Indian people for the first time since Independence in 1947–something which appeared only a forlorn dream earlier.
India has a huge population of between 1.35 and 1.4 billion people, of which 60-65% are either farmers or dependent on agriculture. Thus about 700-750 million of our people are connected with agriculture. If this huge mass was united it would constitute an irresistible force, like a typhoon or tornado, which would sweep away all obstacles before it. Unfortunately, however, our people were till now divided by feudal forces like caste and religion ( manipulated by our crafty politicians for securing vote banks ), and so could make little progress.
Suddenly like a bolt from the blue has come to this farmers agitation. Its significance lies in the fact that it has risen above caste and religion, and has united not just farmers ( who, as mentioned above, are over 60% of our people ), but almost all Indians. The Bar Council of India, intellectuals, artists, industrial workers etc, have expressed their support to it, and even children, women, and old people are camping near Delhi along with the farmers. It is true that all 700 million Indian farmers have not gathered in the vicinity of Delhi ( they could not possibly do that ), where the agitation is going on, but almost all are supporting it in various ways. Earlier most of the agitating farmers were from Punjab, Haryana and western UP, but now some from Rajasthan, Maharashtra, West Bengal, South Indian states, etc have joined them.
The farmers are demanding the repeal of the 3 laws relating to farmers made by the Indian Parliament, at the instance of the Indian Government, made without consulting the farmers’ organisations, which they feel will adversely affect them and only benefit the corporates. However, I submit that it is not important whether these laws will be repealed or not. What is important is that the farmers’ agitation has laid the foundation of Indian unity.
Some people have tried to depict the farmers struggle as inspired by Khalistanis, Pakistan, China, Maoists, etc but this Goebbelsian propaganda has fooled no one. Opposition political parties have given support to this agitation, but the farmers’ leaders, while accepting their support, have told the politicians to keep away, knowing that the politicians have their own axes to grind.
Two forces are presently at work in India, the divisive forces, instigated by some politicians, and the uniting force, represented presently by the farmers agitation. In the short run, the divisive forces may succeed, but in the long run, the uniting forces are sure to triumph. The Indian people are now realising that their problems of poverty, unemployment, malnourishment, lack of healthcare and good education etc are common to all, not to any particular caste or religious denomination, and only a mighty united people’s struggle is the way for their emancipation from these evils. The ongoing farmers agitation has laid the foundation of our unity.