|Rajagopal addressing one of his mammoth rallies in 2012|
Two years ago, driven to his wits end by the news of such a march approaching New Delhi, then Minister of Rural Development Jairam Ramesh had rushed to meet Rajagopal in Agra and stop his procession right there. It was the ultimate build-up. But it was not an Anna-type media celebration that could not sustain the momentum beyond 2011 [Anna was all ready for another showdown in New Delhi, but the activist who was egging him, former Aam Aadmi Party legal head Ashwini Upadhyay, dumped his non-partisan Adarsh Bharat Abhiyan to join the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)].
|Rajagopal talking to fellow activists in course of Jansatyagraha 2012. His wife, Canada-born Jill Carr-Harris, can be seen in the frame, too|
After consolidating a membership of 200,000 people (majority women) across six states, Rajagopal had begun using the Gandhian technique of foot-march or padayatra to galvanise greater support among the poor for their right to a roof over the heads of each family. With a track record of 10 state-level foot marches, he led a national march to Delhi in October 2007. In the march, Janadesh 2007, 25,000 people marched 340 km from Gwalior to Delhi and compelled the government to take action and land reforms and forest rights. Delhi-based newspapers relegated the news to some inside pages, and television did not pick it up at all.
Yet, in 2012, a Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government wary of the poor man’s power — to damage the ruling dispensation’s image further — was forced to sign a historic 10-points agreement at Agra, culminating the Janstyagrah foot march from Gwalior to Delhi. Ramesh and Rajagopal signed on the dotted line. The rally Ekta Parishad had named as Janadesh 2007.
|The rally Ekta Parishad had named “Janadesh 2007”|
The main promise the UPA government had given to the leader of an intimidating procession was that to bring into effect a national Land Reform Policy. Rajagopal had, of course, warned in Agra that his Jansatyagrah would resume if the government did not work on the agreement. And we know it did not. This is how far the government went:
- It increased the grant amount of Indira Awas Yojana from Rs 45,000 to Rs 75,000 and made necessary allocation to the states in the Budget.
- It formulated a draft National Land Reform Policy for radical land reforms in the country by a GoI-constituted National Task force on Land Reform, but then the government could not pass the Bill.
- It formulated a draft on “Homestead Bill”, but did not introduce it in Parliament.
- Then Minister Ramesh sent many advisories to the Revenue Ministers of different states on the issues pertaining to land rights, but no satisfactory follow up action was taken up by the state governments.
- Then Minister of Tribal Affairs Kishore Chandra Deo sent many letters for a fair implementation of PESA and FRA, but State Governments did not take any action.
|The stratum of society Rajagopal caters to|
Instead, the NDA government brought changed the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement (Amendment) ordinance, 2014, which is “very unfair and unjust to farmers and small landholders of the country” according to Rajagopal’s organisation.
“Now it is very much clear that the new government has no intention of giving any importance to the agreement of Janstyagrah 2012 and Government of India, which was took place in Agra during the Janstyagrah 2012 movement,” the email communiqué says.
Hence, Ekta Parishad has decided to launch yet another foot-march on 15 March, resuming the movement it had called off on 11 October 2012 stopping in Agra instead of reaching Delhi. The president of Ekta Parishad will lead this foot-march along with thousands of farmers, labourers, tribal and landless people across the county. This foot-march will start in the afternoon of 15 March from Agra with more than 3,000 marginalised, poor, tribal people and farmers from across the country.
The much smaller size of the procession owes to two factors: crowd management and politics. Rajagopal had confided in this correspondent in Hardwar in 2013 that it was a herculean task for him to monitor a queue of one lakh activists, moving from its head to tail with a medical team again and again, and sending off those who couldn’t withstand the gruelling, long journey. In terms of politics, Ekta Parishad is more optimistic about this government’s sensitivity towards the poor than it was about the UPA’s. The question is whether this will help the negotiations, or Modi’s government will take these people for granted, forcing them to come back with a much larger strength that Rajagopal has shown in the past he can command. The third possibility: This government has been imposing restrictions on foreign-funded NGOs; Ekta Parishad can hit the same roadblock.