The farmers who participated in the 2012 Jan Satyagraha March have been non-violent so far. But a cruel joke can provoke them to take up a violent protest. Manmohan Singh is facing a historical test. The UPA has two choices : fulfill the promises and give the farmers their rights back or face the music of exponentially increased dominance of Naxalism and violence in rural India.
Jai Jagat.. Jai Jagat.. Victory for the world.. Victory for the world went up the spirited cries from thousands of people. On 11 October, nearly 50000 landless and shelter less farmers were singing the victory song at Agra. They had been walking for more than a week. They had tramped over the dry countryside of the Chambal Ghatis. They were sun-browned and dusty. They had been sleeping on the road. They ate just one meal a day but were strong and resolute. They were disciplined and cheerful. They had set up such a perfect example of a non-violent protest march that even Mahatma Gandhi would have been impressed. The historic march had come to an end with hopes and a guarantee. The Union Government has promised to give them land rights and shelter. Now these satyagrahis can go back to their villages and tell stories of their struggle and victory.
The Jan Satyagraha March began from Gwalior on 3 October 2012 and was supposed to continue for one month. The original plan was that 1 lakh people, representing different rural communities, especially tribal, landless and small farmers would walk 350 kilometers from Gwalior to New Delhi. It was a non-violent march to show the strength of rural India, the importance of agriculture, of food production, and to build a common destiny for all people, as a base for urban India. This march was organised by the Ekta Parishad under the leadership of P V Rajgopal. The main demand was the implementation of the land reform policies of October 2009 by the Land Reforms Council. Secondly, to have guarantees that the Forests Rights Act will be implemented involving the Gram Sabha and providing land entitlement. Thirdly, all Government Acts and Policies meant to provide assets, entitlement and benefits to the rural and urban poor are to be implemented. At Gwalior, on 2 October, the protesters held their first round of negotiations with the Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh. The Minister appealed to them to call off their proposed march. But the protesters felt that it was an attempt by the Government to sabotage the protest. The offer of the Government was too little and too late. While the Yatra was on, the second round of negotiations were held on 8 October. An agreement between the Ministry of Rural Development and the Ekta Parishad was reached and 10 point resolution were drafted.
The agreement between the Ekta Parishad and the Ministry of Rural Development clearly states that the Union Government will announce a National Land Reforms Policy. The Government has agreed to put out a draft of the National Land Reforms Policy within the next 4-6 months. The draft Land Reforms Policy prepared by the Jan Satyagraha organised by the Ekta Parishad will be an important input in the preparation of this draft. Civil Society Organisations will also be actively involved in this exercise. The Ministry of Rural Development has also promised to provide statutory backing to the provision of agricultural land and homestead land under which landless and shelter less poor from rural areas all over the country will get land. The Minister of Rural Development also promised to double the unit cost to enable provision of 10 cents of land as a homestead for every landless and shelter less poor family as a component of the Indira Awas Yojana. Another achievement of this march : the Ministry of Rural Development will issue detailed advisories in the next two months exhorting the States to focus on the effective implementation of various laws enacted by legislatures aimed at protecting the land rights of Dalits, Adivasis and all other weaker and marginalised sections of society.
The Ministry of Rural Development agreed to initiate a dialogue with States to establish Fast Track Land Tribunals/Courts for speedy disposal of cases pending in Revenue and Judicial Courts. In addition to the Central Scheme for legal aid, States too will be exhorted to extend legal aid to all the persons belonging to socially deprived sections, whose lands are involved in litigation, particularly Dalits and tribal communities. Jairam Ramesh also promised effective implementation of the Panchayats Act, 1996. In addition, he promised that the Ministry of Rural Development will work with the Ministries of Tribal Affairs and Panchayati Raj to complete stakeholder consultations over the next four months so that detailed circulars to States could be issued for ensuring effective implementation of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas (PESA) Act by empowering the Gram Sabhas to exercise the powers given to them under the Act. The Agreement also declares that there will be effective implementation of the Forest Rights Act. Further, the Ministry of Rural Development agreed to issue an advisory to States to set up joint teams of Forest and Revenue Departments to undertake a thorough survey of the forest and revenue boundaries to resolve disputes. The Gram Panchayats and Gram Sabhas will be fully involved in the survey and settlement process. The Ministry of Rural Development promised to exhort and support the States to carry out surveys of Common Property Resources (CPRs) with the direct involvement of the Gram Sabha and the Gram Panchayats concerned. The States will also be advised to ensure full implementation of recent Supreme Court directions on this matter. Lastly, the Ministry of Rural Development will immediately set up a Task Force on Land Reforms headed by the Union Minister for Rural Development to implement the above agenda. Members of the Task Force will include representatives of the Ministry of Rural Development, State governments, civil society organisations working on land reform issues and all stakeholders concerned.
The recent Jan Satyagraha March was organised for several reasons. For this march, farmers across 26 states were mobilised. The 2012 March was built on the Ekta Parishad’s experience of the Janadesh 2007, which had 25000 farmers participating. In 2007 the Government had agreed to formulate a land reform policy and then implement it under the leadership of the Prime Minister. But the Government did not carry out their promises. So the Ekta Parishad decided to organise another Satyagraha March.
The most difficult task was the mobilisation of 1 lakh people. This Herculean task was carried out by a management committee which was responsible for each and every aspect of this march. The satyagrahis slept on road at night and for rest of the time they walked. They marched together, ate together and slept together. The Jan Satyagraha may have ended but the hope is alive. The UPA government may have succeeded in reaching an agreement with the Ekta Parishad but the main question is : will the Government fulfill its promises? Will the Government give these poor farmers their land and shelter rights? The Satyagrahis have returned to their villages with hope that in the next 6 month the Government will give them land. Now, if the Government retracts from the commitments then it will be the cruelest joke ever played on the poorest of the poor. We must not forget that these people come from Naxal dominant areas. These farmers have been non-violent so far. But a cruel joke can provoke them to take up a violent protest. Manmohan Singh is facing a historical test. The UPA has two choices : fulfill the promises and give the farmers their rights back or face the music of exponentially increased dominance of Naxalism and violence in rural India.