Yatish Mehta is a diamond merchant. He has had three bypass surgeries and has walked 33 km in the last three days in a procession of 5,000 against the Narendra Modi government’s land acquisition ordinance. He hails from Surat, the city from where another businessman has paid more than Rs 4 crore for a suit with a name weaved in it.
“I handed over my business to my sons and joined Ekta Parishad some years back. I am working with weavers in Mahakoshal in Madhya Pradesh, trying to build a market for their products. I am walking ahead of these people because I cannot walk fast; I have a heart condition and diabetes. I start before the others,” he says, while the crowd breaks into yet another song about Modi.
“Humse dosti ladai, aur phir… Modi laga laga ke yaari humka pagal kar gaye re, ghayal kar gaye re (he made friends with us, he made friends with us and then drove us mad, left us wounded)” go the lyrics of one song.
Many of these people from Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh did vote for the prime minister and his lotus in the Lok Sabha elections last May. “Then he was on TV saying all the right things, his men came and sweet-talked us, so we voted for the kamal,” says Maya, a sharecropper from Jhansi. “They talked about land rights and development, food and what not. But when they become kings they do not remember us lesser mortals. If he does not give us land rights, we will go to Delhi, throw him out of his house and say we will live here now.”
The group has been surviving on a single meal a day for the last three days, the idea being that in a satyagraha some penance is inevitable. After the women leading the march for two days, it is now the turn of children to lead. They do so enthusiastically, shouting slogans with zeal but tripping on the “Jal jangal zameen” tongue twister.
In the background, Ajuddi, the lead singer, is persistent with his musical Modi bashing. Ask him who wrote the lyrics and he grins. “These songs are sung during every movement, we just do minor tweaks here and there to suit the occasion. This one nobody wrote, it just emerged from the crowd.”
Among the leaders of the march, though, there is perceptible unease about the government’s statement on Saturday about not having any intention of taking a relook at the land acquisition ordinance. They talk about their meeting with BJP general secretary Ram Madhav to drive home the claim that the ruling party is divided on the issue of land acquisition.
Madhav confirms he did meet them. “They came to my office three or four days back and highlighted five or six issues they have on land acquisition. I told them we will look into the matter at a suitable time,” he tells The Indian Express.
There are also murmurs about whether getting Anna Hazare to flag off the journey was counterproductive to the cause. Hazare is identified with anti-corruption and the issue of land as a scam is something that the public might not connect with him easily. Functionaries of Ekta Parishad who are in the know of deliberations with the government and opposition, however, are in no mood to lend any credence to these concerns for fear of the government taking advantage of a divided house.