They come from everywhere, the farmers of India, now laying siege to Indraprastha, much as Burnam Wood came to Dunsinane.
And they come prepared for the long haul. Sturdy as the soil they nurse, they deflect the tear gas shells and the water canons as the earth absorbs calamities. Their faces bear a calm ominous to the adversary, and their words are few but steely. Most disconsolately for a slick government, they come armed with knowledge of things, saying with Bartleby how they “would prefer not to” be fibbed with disinformation.
They are the organic intellectuals of India, hardly a “sack of potatoes.”
An insouciant government seems at sixes and sevens, for once unable to divide them on religious, caste or regional lines.
Nor are they victims of any “love jihad” sponsored by this party or that faction, nor agents of any “anti-national, terrorist” outfit. The calumnies thrown at them pass them by as the wind passes by imbecile obstacles, however canny.
Nor are they any flaming anarchists come to overthrow an elected government.
Their demand is devastatingly simple: assure us a dignified return for the food we provide you in good and bad times. Do not pretend to be our benefactors; we are wise to the wolves on whose behalf you speak.
Enough of disingenuous rigmarole.
Do not chat us into believing your professed goodwill.
And they are not susceptible to the ED, the CBI, the NIA, or the Income Tax battalions of the state.
And they are honed to survive on bread and onion.
They are “we the people” assembled in hundreds of thousands for a simple reckoning.
Unlike the protesters against the Citizenship Amendment Act and the dilution of Article 370, they are proof against being dubbed enemies of the nation.
And they know they are up against a regime that seeks votes but disregards the voter.
So, where is this contest headed?
More than 80% of the farmers plough pieces of land less than five acres. They have understood that the class of exploiters closest to the governing heart means to inaugurate a putsch through the three farm-related legislations, namely to turn them into cheap labour for hungry cronies who, unlike the farmer, fail the economy. They have seen this to happen in many countries where at least farmers get hefty subsidies, most of all in that richest of nations, the US. Their sentient knowledge of the intended putsch steels them to the task of saving the earth they have and to ask that the fatcats pay duly for what they eat. They have no wish to be robbed of the intertwined community relations which sustain them in bad times when those they elect may or may not throw a pittance of relief their way.
So they realise that the hammer and the sickle must come together to ward off the intended grab.
They know that the renaming of cities and towns, the building of new temples, the targeting of minorities, the tirades against imagined enemies, and the bogey of threats to the security of the nation from inimical conspirators have little bearing on their immiserated lives, and they refuse to be deflected into culture wars that only spell further doom for “we the people”.
So, faced with such a sentient wall of resistance, how may the powers-that-be answer to their simple demand?
Will they declare war, or will the logjam oblige them to yield to the just ask of the sons and daughters of the soil who plough in peace and hardship at the worst of times?
We do not know.
But in the coming days those who take their tomatoes and pasta for granted may be forced to take time off from the lives of glamour artists and nationalist slogans to ponder their relationship with the food grower, and yield captive media space to rice and wheat, garlic and onion, mustard oil and mushroom, fruit and vegetable and come alive to some 70% of the people of India.
A great writer once asked the question: how much land does a man require? He should have asked the farmer—sufficient to grow enough for everybody and bestow a dignified life to his own.
Badri Raina has taught at Delhi University.