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Invoking farmers’ Revolt at Champaran ‘Kisan Morcha’ paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi On his Death Anniversary

On “Sadbhavna Divas”, January 30, marking the 73rd death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi at Amritsar, Sanyukat Kisan Morcha, farm workers, labour, employees and trade unions observed fast to pay homage to Father of the Nation who’s message of truth, non-violence and co-existence remains a source of inspiration for all humanity. The farmers’ ongoing protest is a typical example of Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent movement against the colonial cruelty during India’s independence struggle.

Mahatma Gandhi was also faced with the agrarian crisis in 1917 at Champaran, Bihar, that saw farmers revolt against the British colonisers. Before it, Shaheed Bhagat Singh’s uncle, Sardar Ajit Singh, had led the farmers’ agitation of 1906, popularly known as ‘Pagri Sambhal Jatta’ movement. It was the farmers’ agitation against the three British Laws, and can be related to the ongoing farmers’ agitation which has been also against three Farm Laws introduced by the Government of India. (‘Pagri Sambhal Jatta’ song was written by Banke Dayal, editor of the Jang Sayal newspaper. The song soon became an anthem against three British Laws). 

Today, in this age of severe inequality, farmers’ are once again fighting for their rights, demanding the government to repeal the three farm laws that will open them to corporate exploitation. In thousands, they have been camping at several Delhi border points since November last year. The protest today has fully internationalised.

Farmers believe their plight has been ignored for decades and that the changes, aiming at bringing private investment into agriculture, will only put them at the mercy of large corporations. It has really turned out a historic confrontation.

After 26th January ‘Tractor March’ in Delhi, while police violence and political backlash against the protesting farmers escalated, the settlements on the borders of Delhi have only continued to grow in response. Addressing a big gathering, the leaders stated that the farm laws were rushed through the Parliament and sentiments and aspirations of the farming community and poor sections of society were totally ignored. These contagious and pro corporate farm laws are not only unconstitutional but also an attempt to disregard the existing constitutional institution and destroy the very foundation of our socio-economic structure. Despite over 170 farmers died during the protest, the government was still resorting to state repression and false accusations of anti-national activities and sedition.

Agriculture employs more than 40% of India’s population but it is a sector plagued by poverty and inefficiency, with farmers often selling their crops at less than cost. Rates of farmer suicides in India are among the highest in the world.

Experience across the world has shown that corporatisation of agriculture, contrary to improving farm incomes has often depressed them. There are leakages in the current system, and it needs to be reformed, but replacing one failed model with another is not the solution. So to start with, the government needs to come out with a written law that they will not withdraw the MSP or the ‘mandi system’. Also keep in mind M. S. Swaminathan’s recommendation that, ‘don’t count agriculture growth in terms of produce output but look at it in terms of growth in farmers’ income.”

Besides, government cannot engage with the farmers’ by ignoring issues, like the ‘rights and entitlements of women farmers, Dalit farmers, Adivasi farmers, and without addressing forest rights.’ Also, there is no meaning of increased MSP (minimum support price) if there is no assurance of procurement.

Furthermore, we must keep in mind that led by the Modi regime the Indian capitalist class, in league with multinational corporations, is continuing the greedy legacy of Western colonialism by looting the country’s land and mineral resources while driving most of the population to destitution. It is this connivance with the super rich that put BJP in power with its massive flow of funds. The Indian capitalists pour huge sums of money into the election campaign, now particularly in the garb of electoral bonds scheme, introduced by the BJP government in January, 2017.

[Since, the identity of the donor of electoral bonds has been kept anonymous it could lead to an influx of black money. Virtually, the scheme was designed to help big corporate houses to donate money without their identity being revealed.]

Therefore, as Modi government is leaning toward markets, promising to turn the entire country into a free trade area, farmers will find it difficult to go up against massive corporations that distort the market. It is seen as an end to institutional state support, which they fear will allow profiteering corporations to rush into the resulting vacuum. In that situation it could cause chaos in food markets and potentially derail the post-Covid recovery. Reforms must be farmer-friendly and not pro-corporate. Speaking at the Punjab Kala Bhawan, Chandigarh, P Sainath, scholar on rural India, noted that,The farmers are directly confronting the corporate. India now is a corporate-led state, with socio-religious fundamentalism and market fundamentalist ruling our lives. This protest is in defence of democracy and we are reclaiming the republic.”

Evidently, corporate-led market supremacy won’t reform India’s agriculture; Public sector investment in agriculture is essential. There’s still a way to turn this crisis into an opportunity. It is time to rethink our design and policy.

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Mahatma Gandhi whose values were as relevant yesterday as are today, was shot dead by Nathu Ram Godse, on 30 January 1948 in the compound of Birla House (now Gandhi Smriti), in New Delhi. Godse being an activist of Hindu Mahasabha (formed in 1915), was a devoted follower of ‘Hindutva’—a political ideology expounded by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar, commonly known as Veer Savarkar.

Veer Savarkar was an Indian independence activist and politician formulated the Hindu nationalist philosophy in his 1923 pamphlet ‘Hindutwa’).

Murder of the Mahatma was hatched at the Savarkar Sadan, residence of Veer Savarkar, in Mumbai. A group of four, namely Nathu Ram Godse, Narayan Apte, Digambar Badge (an arms dealer), and Madan Lal Pahwa were the followers of Savarkar. A five-time mercy-seeker from the British government to evade life-imprisonment from the Kala Pani jail (a Cellular Jail, also known as Kālā Pānī, was a colonial prison in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands), Savarkar had entrusted the work to finish Gandhi, Jawarhar Lal Nehru and Suhrawardy to this group of four.

[Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre’s book, Freedom at Midnight]

They were not successful in the first attempt made on Gandhi’s life on January 20, in the Birla House in Delhi. The plan to assassinate Gandhi during his public prayer failed and Madan Lal , Pahwa, who had set off a bomb near the podium over which Gandhi sat addressing the crowd, was arrested

{According to Bage’s testimony, before the enquiry commission; Bage had turned approver.}

After the failed attempt, they went back to Mumbai to seek further guidance from Savarker, their guide and philosopher. After returning to Delhi, Godse shot Gandhi thrice at point blank range on January 30, 1948.

Sardar Vallabhai Patel, then the deputy prime minister and Union home minister of India, was convinced of Savarkar’s guilt. In a letter he wrote to Nehru on February 27 that year, he clearly stated: “It was a fanatical wing of the Hindu Mahasabha directly under Savarkar that [hatched] the conspiracy and saw it through.”

(Sardar Patel’s Correspondence, Volume 6, page 56)

The Gandhi murder trial opened in May 1948 in Delhi’s historic Red Fort, with Godse the main defendant, and his collaborator Narayan Apte and six others as the co-defendants. Godse and Apte were sentenced to death on 8 November 1949. They were hanged in the Ambala jail on 15 November 1949. Today Nathu Ram Godse is held in high esteem by several members of the ruling BJP, and to honour him a temple in his name exists in Gwalior.

Veer Savarkar turned his back on his lieutenants in order to escape charges in Gandhi’s murder. But an enquiry commission established his guilt posthumously. Based on the statements of Savarkar’s bodyguard, Appa Ramchandra, Justice Kapur stated in the commission’s report: “On or about 13th or 14th January, Karkare came to Savarkar with a Puniabi youth (Madanlal) and they had an interview with Savarkar for about 15 or 20 minutes. On or about 15th or 16th Apte and Godse had an interview with Savarkar at 9.30 P.M. After about a week so, may be 23rd or 24th January, Apte and Godse again came to Savarkar and had a talk with him for about haIf an hour.”

The findings of Kapur Commission which implicated Savarkar in Gandhi’s murder did not, however, discourage the first BJP-led NDA government led by Atal Bihari Vajpayee from installing a portrait of Savarkar, alongside that of Mahatma Gandhi, in the central hall of the parliament building in 2003.

The BJP, by following an ideology of ‘Hindutva’, from time-to-time has insisted that its Hindutva icon Veer Savarker be recognised as a “Jewel of India” by conferring nations highest civilian award ‘Bharat Rattan’ upon him. But, in 2003, Dr K.R. Narayanan, President of India,  didn’t acceded to a recommendation by the Vajpayee government to confer ‘Bharat Rattan’ upon Veer Savarker. This is because the needle of suspicion always points at Savarkar’s involvement in the conspiracy to assassinate Mahatma Gandhi, although he was acquitted for want of corroborative evidence.

Besides hatching a murder conspiracy of Gandhi, Savarkar has been controversial for several other reasons – his many mercy petitions to the British seeking his release from life imprisonment; his support to the British during World War II and his call to Hindus to join the British army in large numbers at a time when Mahatma Gandhi had launched the Quit India movement, and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose had established the Azad Hind Fauz to drive out the colonial rulers. Also, in 1944, to disseminate hatred against Gandhi, Savarkar gave Godse an advance of Rs. 15,000 in 1944 to start a newspaper called Agrani (Forerunner). Godse was its editor and Apte the manager.

Neither do these findings of the Kapur Commission – or for that matter, the listing of the various incidents of Savarkar’s collaboration with the British – discourage Narendra Modi and other ministers in the government from celebrating Savarkar’s birth anniversary, year after year, and glorifying him as a great freedom fighter and a patriot.

Indeed, BJP’s idea of India is Veer Savarkar’s idea of India – that those people whose religion’s founders (Islam and Christianity) were from outside India are not Indian. Hinduised ideas are a part of BJP’s culture and curriculum. This is not just about Modi. It has been happening for some time. The difference is that now people are in the open about it.

No one likes social disturbances and communal tensions, barring vested interests playing vote-bank politics that use rogue and lumpen elements to polarise society.

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Actually, we cannot make sense of the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi without understanding Veer Savarker’s “Hindutva”. Breathing violence, Savarker’s idea of Hindutva is based on the principle of exclusion—far from Gandhi and Tagore’s wisdom that imagined India as “an ocean, a confluence of multiple traditions, faiths and religions.” 

Mahatma Gandhi was striving for something qualitatively different from the doctrine of assertive Hindutva. For him, secular meant the spirit of plurality and inclusiveness, the principle of non-discrimination, and the dignity to every soul, irrespective of birth and location. Further, his faith in religion added yet another meaning to secularism—cross-religious dialogue, constant experiments with truth, resisting all sorts of communalism, and seeking to spiritualize politics through ‘satyagraha’. These principles made him strive for an inclusive idea of India. 

In fact, the murder of Gandhi swung the public mood, but not in the manner Godse had expected. Instead of Godse being hailed, Gandhi became an even bigger icon. After the initial shock, there began a massive wave of public and government backlash against the RSS and the Hindu Mahasabha.

Further, it’s worth mentioning that at the international-level, in Reuters Personality of the Millennium contest, held in December, 1999, Albert Einstein, the great man of science, was adjudged Personality of the Millennium — just ahead of two people who dedicated their lives to dismantling Western institutions: Mahatma Gandhi and Karl Marx. This is the verdict of leading figures from politics, business, the arts and academia invited by Reuters to select their greatest human being of the past 1,000 years. Voting was widely spread, with participants voting for 39 candidates, but Einstein came out ahead with 15 points, one ahead of Gandhi and Karl Marx.

[London: Dec 18, 1999; David Stamp Reuters News Service]

Today, ‘Hindu nationalism’ is not even 100 years old—but it has dramatically reshaped politics in India. Giving his opinion about ‘Hindutva’, Dr B. R. Ambedkar, father of the Indian Constitution has said that, “Hindutva is a menace to liberty, equality and fraternity . . . incompatible with democracy.”

[Dr B. R. Ambedkar, Thoughts on Pakistan (Writings and Speeches, Vol 8, p 358).]

For about seven decades, India has been held together by its constitution, which promises equality to all. But today’s rulers are remaking the nation into one where some people count as more Indian than others. Behind the ‘Achche Din’ slogan, India of today stands deeply mired into divisions, often resulting into intolerance and violence.

Therefore, at a time when the state has abdicated from people-centric governance and a large section of mainstream media seem to have forfeited their role to provide the checks and balances that keep democratic processes in balance, the farmers’ protest has been like a shot in the arm of Indian democracy. We believe farmer’s rebellion remain strong in their resolve to see poorly conceived and market-friendly farm laws repealed in order to protect their future against corporate takeovers and exploitation.

–Dr. P. R. Kalia, Editor, Asian Times, Edmonton

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