“During election time, all political parties talk about implementing the Swaminathan Commission report in their manifestoes, but nobody actually does (after coming to power). Do you know what the Swaminathan report really is? And how do farmers benefit from it?”
These are the brief opening points and questions raised in the board behind the sculpture erected in one half of a two-acre piece of land belonging to Manjit Singh Gill. The person depicted in the 46-year-old’s artwork is the Father of India’s Green Revolution — Mankombu Sambasivan Swaminathan — himself, with one hand of his placed gently on the shoulder of a Sikh farmer and the other holding a copy of the National Commission on Farmers’ report that was released nearly 13 years ago.
“Ask any farmer, he will tell you about the Swaminathan report without knowing fully what it is. All they are aware about is the suggestion that farmers receive prices for their crops, giving them a minimum 50% return over production cost. That basic idea has somehow stuck in their minds, thought they know nothing more about the report or even who Dr M S Swaminathan is,” notes Gill.
This farmer-cum-sculptor from Ghal Kalan village in Punjab’s Moga district, who has neither seen nor met the living legend, has made awareness about “Dr Swaminathan saab” and his report into some kind of a life mission. “I decided to do it after seeing my 70-year-old father, who has spent a lifetime tilling the fields, not being able to recognise the person whose report and earlier work as a scientist has made such a difference to our lives. My father did not have a clue even how Dr Swaminathan saab looks like; many people here thought he is a turbaned man who wears a dhoti,” remarks Gill.
Gill spent about two months to make the carbon fibre sculpture that also has gunmetal, sandstone, cement, and plaster-of-Paris: “I collected about 20 photographs to get his features right. I ensured that he was shorter than the farmer. In real life as well, he isn’t tall at all.” The farmer portrayed is strikingly someone ploughing his field with a pair of bullocks, rather than tractors that are ubiquitous in the land of the Green Revolution.
“I did it deliberately to highlight the current status of the Punjab farmer. The wheat varieties that the scientists led by Dr Swaminathan saab bred during the 1960s and 1970s helped boost our per-acre yields more than five times. Today, the farmer is back to what he was before. But Dr Swaminathan saab is still there. He stood with farmers then and is supporting us even now. No one understands the pain and problems of the community like him,” he says.
Gill feels “proud” to see farmers, including from neighbouring villages, visiting the “park” that is on a plot a few km away from his main five-acre paddy field. “It is open to all and I am charging no fees. Many farmers are even getting photographs and selfies clicked with Dr Swaminathan saab here. Further, they also read the information given on the board (detailing in Punjabi the Swaminathan report’s main recommendations, including fixation of the minimum support prices for crops at 1.5 times the weighted average comprehensive cost of production),” he adds.
Gill — he worked as an art executive with the Punjab government’s department of museums for four years, before taking voluntary retirement, in 2014, to pursue his farming and artistic passions — has also sculpted the former Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. “He was the one who coined the Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan slogan and empowered farmers the way
Dr Swaminathan saab did,” he points out. Gill is presently working on a sculpture of Mohinder Singh Randhawa, the man who helped in the resettlement of half-a-million displaced farmers from West Punjab after Partition and was vice-chancellor of the Punjab Agricultural University in Ludhiana from 1968 to 1976, at the height of the Green Revolution.
“Please convey my best wishes to this Punjab farmer,” was Dr Swaminathan’s reponse, when The Indian Express told him about Gill’s artistic tribute. The renowned scientist, who turned 94 on August 7, also recalled a large get-together of farmers organised a few years ago near the Golden Temple in Amritsar, “to celebrate my first visit (to Punjab) with the new seeds of wheat in 1964”. He, however, had a piece of advice for both the Punjab government and farmers: “The groundwater situation in the state isn’t good. Free electricity should be avoided, as it promotes excessive pumping of water”.