The process of conquering the past has claimed stellar scalps like Aurangzeb, Jawaharlal Nehru, et al. Obviously, with enthusiastic support from the masses. But no revolution gets historical legitimacy without validation from the intelligentsia. Sadly it is not trendy for the Indian elite to champion the cause of a vast section that comprises both Hindus and Muslims—farmers. Gohatya evokes more fury than the suicides of over 12,000 farmers every year.
Perception decrees that the intelligentsia is urban. The unintended backlash of both the Green Revolution and liberalisation was surplus and mechanisation that undermined farmers’ incomes. Farm loan waivers by poll-affected parties do not bring real change. Needed is an impartial opinion leadership that highlights agrarian distress in post-Independence India.
During the colonial period, it was the Indian intelligentsia that took up the cause of farmers and famine-affected. Dadabhai Naoroji, the first Indian MP in the British Parliament, damned colonial greed for causing famines. Indian agriculture had prospered during Mughal times. But the British weaned production patterns away from food crops to cash crops, thus destroying self-sufficient farming communities. To support the cheap textile industry of England that sought a market in India, the high-quality Indian handloom industry was hobbled. Riots ensued.
The Indigo Revolt of 1859 had the full backing of the Bengali intelligentsia, which campaigned for the farmers through the media, pamphlets and protests. From the 1870s-1880s, Indian intellectuals like Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and R C Dutt supported the anti-Zamindari Pabna Agrarian Leagues. The intelligentsia of Maharashtra supported peasants during the Deccan riots. The elite upheld subsequent agrarian causes like the Ekta movement in 1921 and Bardoli satyagraha headed by Sardar Patel. It were the women of Bardoli village who gave him the title of ‘Sardar’.
If the BJP is to rescue farmers, forget loan waivers and subsidies. Reconquer the past in a different manner. Restore modular farming communities that once used indigenous seeds and practices for both food and cash crops. Set up an indigenous Farming Commission that will operate single window markets and restore soil quality. Break the back of the fertiliser lobby to shift agriculture from synthetic to zero-budget natural farming. Along with the Nehru Memorial, bring nationalism to agriculture.
Since Indira Gandhi destroyed powerful political leaders with agricultural bases, farmers have no strong lobby in government. Independent kisan leaders are not effective enough. Farmers are votes. But they are Indians too. They need erudite champions to articulate their cause instead of rabble-rousers mouthing slogans.