Wednesday, February 1, 2023
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Wanting an ‘apolitical’ Kisaan Long March is just an extension of middle class arrogance

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The desire for an apolitical Kisaan Long March smacks of an assumed ownership over the idea of ‘politics.’

“Man, I really feel for the farmers and stuff. I know they’re dying, but does this protest have to be so political? With these lal jhandas (red flags) and all? Do they even know what communism is? Why can’t you just say you want a better life without being political?”

This is the cumulative, average gist of multiple conversations I’ve had with friends and strangers, both offline and online, as the Kisaan Long March made its way (with astonishing doggedness, tenacity and patience) from Nashik to Mumbai. The morcha, consisting of nearly 50,000 farmers and organised by the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the farmers’ wing of the Communist Party of India-Marxist or CPI (M), and other farmers’ unions, has a few basic demands — a waiver of loans and electricity bills, the implementation of the Swaminathan commission recommendations (12 years after they were submitted), and a pension scheme for farmers.

A lot of people grumbled about traffic woes, more about how “you can’t upset the taxpayers’ routine!”, and some about how the “farmers don’t know anything, yaar”. It’s been an incredible number of frustrating conversations that ultimately boil down to – why is poverty political?

To claim that the Kisan Long March is political isn’t just correct, but imperative, because that’s what it is. An extremely political act of democratic dissent by stakeholders who have found themselves cornered with no possible way out. The amplification of disadvantaged voices must be understood and categorised as political because, at the end of the day, it’s politics that brings about any lasting, overarching change.

The idea of wanting an ‘apolitical’ march is essentially saying “you’re allowed to agitate, but only till you don’t have access to the mechanisms that create tangible impact out of the diffused anger and helplessness that has been accumulating over the years”.

This is not only a disservice to the farmers, the constitutionally mandated backbone of our nation, but also an assumed ownership over the idea of ‘politics’.

This is an extension of middle-class arrogance — the belief that we’re central to the political system. Which is, in context, hilarious, because we are truly the most apathetic to it. We have no large stake here, because despite how ‘hard’ life may seem, we’re almost obnoxiously insulated from political happenings. If you go to any village and sit down for a conversation with someone there, you’ll find yourself feeling like you don’t know anything at all (because, well, you don’t).

The in-depth, constantly updated knowledge people in villages have of the government’s schemes and abilities is directly due to the fact that every little political change has a seismic impact on them. We claim false ownership because we’re cocooned in multiple layers of privilege like those of education, caste, class, and simple access. Being tied fundamentally to the land without even owning it, however, equals to no protection. When the powers you trust fail you, you fall. Hard.

The amount of political investment villages across India have is important to understand and reiterate because the villages have most to lose if someone without their interests at heart is voted to power. When we sit in our living rooms and fume over the latest scam that embezzled money from ‘us’, we are not ruing our losses. We’re bemoaning the bruises to our unearned, unwarranted patriotic egos.

A simple exercise in analysing our privilege is to scale down this idea of being cheated out of our ‘right’. Imagine a village with a majority of landless, Dalit farmers where everyone is technically above poverty line by government-sanctioned metrics. An informal loan of a few thousands can, in this situation, amplify into a life-wrecking situation. An easily curable illness can throw a family into a debt-cycle for the next three generations. A politically created understanding of poverty has led to, according to the UN, a farmer committing suicide every 32 minutes since 2002.

When we look at the ‘lal jhandas’ and see a threat to our exploitative way of living instead of a clarion call for worker rights and dignity, we underline how afraid we are of change, of inclusive growth, and of human rights. With all our education and exposure, we haven’t managed to translate learning into empathy.

It’s a damned shame, and one we should feel acutely. We’ve become a mockery of all that we once pledged to be, and all we once stood for. Watching this march should have been a moment of acute pride, a reaffirmation of how inclusive we have the capacity to be. Unfortunately, we’re too busy complaining about traffic jams and how we’re going to be late for jobs we don’t even like.

Harnidh Kaur is a poet and feminist.

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  1. Such a brilliant and much-needed perspective. So rare to find such gems amidst the cacophony. Thank you.

  2. For me the problem is very simple… india has far to many farmer with very less amount of land, if we consider it to be an industry you are not creating producing products in scale ( I mean individual land owner) it is natural that their costs are higher and profits less.
    Every policy that gov’s (any gov) makes should be to move ppl out of farming, remember agri products have inflationary effect, with any changes to the price of these produces. Policies to remove middle man by introducing giant wholesalers directly dealing with the farmer (again by creating farmers with big pool of land) with cold storages. If you want to fix this issue in short term you will always cause bigger problems in the long terms. simple example is our banking system, loans where given out freely to industry during the recession which are now being declared as NPA.
    Any sort of loan waivers to anyone(with no exceptions) will be like pumping money in Air India, money never comes back nor the company gets better. because the issue is systemic, when the gov’s are put under such kind of pressure they will always plan for the next election and commit all sort of waivers on which I have already mentions my views.

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