Thress years after India Against Corruption (IAC) imploded and the Aam Aadmi Party was born, its activist core minus the saffron periphery have launched what is arguably the largest movement against the NDA government over the land acquisition ordinance.
About 5,000 farmers from across India descended on the dirt tracks of Palwal, Haryana, in a sea of green and white flags on Friday. Over the next four days, they will walk to Jantar Mantar in the national capital to assert their right over the land that is their livelihood. Flagged off by social activist Anna Hazare, the march under the banner of P V Rajagopal’s Ekta Parishad saw the likes of Medha Patkar, Dr Sunilam and RSS idealogue K N Govindacharya walk some distance with the farmers.
Though there were no overtly political banners or individuals, most opposition parties are likely to unite in Parliament against the government on the land acquisition ordinance.
Patkar, Rajagopal and Sunilam were members of the IAC core committee. Govindacharya has on various occasions talked about how he was behind the scenes player in the anti-corruption agitation that brought Hazare into national limelight and launched the political careers of Arvind Kejriwal and Kiran Bedi. The saffron elements like Ramdev and Sri Sri Ravishankar have since cosied up to the NDA government.
“This is India Against Corruption minus Arvind Kejriwal and Ramdev, but where IAC was targeted at the urban middle class, this is pro-poor, pro-villages. We had been pushing for amendments to the 2013 land acquisition Bill and now that there is an ordinance that also needs amendments… There is no bar on political parties joining but they cannot join as an organisation, they should be here as individuals,” Govindacharya told The Indian Express. Amendments that he talks about include deletion of the provision to acquire land for industrial corridors and compensations at market rates.
“Corruption is not just about spectrum. There is immense corruption in allotment of land. This is the politics of the people, politics is not just about elections. We have not sat down with political parties but they have extended their support,” says Patkar.
As the procession meandered its way out of Palwal, there was little support beyond the obvious curiosity about Anna Hazare who left Ralegan Siddhi after attacking the NDA government. Bikers looked on in apathy as impatient motorists tried to beat the traffic. Only construction site workers in yellow helmets waved at the motley group trudging along.
Dinesh Dubey, from the PM’s constituency Varanasi, is pleased about the association but that does not mean he trusts the government. “They have taken land between Varanasi and Bhadohi near a village called Kacchuabhoj saying they will do some irrigation project. But we know they will find some way or the other to set up industries there. We do not want that,” he says.
Sabubai has come from a village near Gwalior. She is tribal and has come with “600-700 others”. She not only talks at great length about how the government is robbing tribals of their rights on land, but also has her own success story to share. “The farmers near our village sold off their land to the government, they wanted money and the land was to be used for a sugar factory. We are sharecroppers, we never owned the land. But we wrested it back from them. We have it now, but not the patta… we want the patta too,” she says.
The mood of the march is that of a carnival as they sing tribal songs to the beats of drums. As the sun begins to set, they halt at Prithla, 10 km from Palwal, for the night.