(Dedicated to a new friend – Vishnu Subrahmanyam, with the sincere hope that the new will bring good times for all)
The state of Tripura in North-East India gave a decisive mandate to the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT) alliance in the state assembly elections this March. This brought an end to 25 years of continuous rule by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPIM) led Left Front government. By the time the election results were fully declared and the state awaited democratic transition of power, instances of violence and political attacks had sparked off. Amidst alleged reports of lawlessness throughout the week (fresh instances still being reported) and the media trying to decode the changing political landscape, two statues of Vladimir Lenin were brought down at Belonia and Sabroom.
Quite a few, mainly associated with the BJP or the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, tagged Lenin as an ‘outsider’ and passively (or at times, vocally) tried to justify the vandalism citing (mostly from memory) previous examples of statue vandalism under the Left Front Rule.
In retaliation, the founder of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh (Jan Sangh is the predecessor to the Bharatiya Jantana Party), Syama Prasad Mukherjee’s statue was attacked allegedly by some members of an ultra-left organisation in Kolkata. A string of statue vandalism followed- Periyar in Tamil Nadu, Ambedkar in Uttar Pradesh, Mahatma Gandhi in Kerala, Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose in Madhya Pradesh.
This was seen by the liberal media as a new form of politics, one that started off with attacks on Lenin statues, and raised serious concerns over the nature of democracy in India, especially under the rule of the Bharatiya Janata Party.
We have not only failed to protect statues of figures like Gandhi or Ambedkar, we have also failed them ideologically. Since decades, we have abandoned the ideals they stood for by moving away from the promises of Indian State to its people, articulated through the Indian Constitution, which itself is under a severe attack in contemporary times.
Since the initiation of neo-liberal economic reforms in the 1990’s, over three lakh farmers have committed suicide and the bubble of agrarian distress seems to have burst. Irrespective of regimes, the farmers are only remembered during the time of elections. The Congress and the BJP, make grand promises, which are left unfulfilled in the next five years. Inadequate subsidies, high debts and negative farm incomes often compounded with bad monsoon and harvest, along with a series of other reasons have rendered farming absolutely unviable.
Their helplessness, expressed through a huge number of suicides across the country, has taken a positive turn recently, with a number of farmers protests in different parts of India. By March 12, around 50 thousand farmers of Maharashtra are supposed to encircle the State Legislative Assembly in Mumbai from Nasik as part of the Kisan Long March, under the banner of the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), in order to press in their demands. The BJP governments at the centre and the state had made a number of promises to address the agrarian mess. In fact, the Prime Minister had himself promised to double farm incomes in five years. Almost none of the promises have, in fact, materialised on the ground.
The farmers of Maharashtra are demanding a complete waiver of loans and power bills, immediate implementation of the Swaminathan Commission recommendations, along with proper compensation for the recent hailstorm. They also insist on forest land being returned to those who have been growing crops on them.
In a country where privilege is, in practice, the only right, thousands of farmers walking into the streets of Mumbai, is certainly a message that the rights-based approach to politics is not all dead.
“In the fall the war was always there…..” (In Another Country, Ernest Hemingway).