Why do I trust and admire Anna Hazare?

The Anna Hazare phenomenon is sweeping the country as I write. On television I see faces of all classes together supporting his cause. I am trying to understand my own reasons that urge me to wish him success.

I work these days in a universe deliberately downsized by me. For four years now, I have sought to withdraw from an India whose development trajectory I no longer agree with.

pointReturn, my current project, was conceived to demonstrate what I believed to be the first thing for India to be doing if it wants its urban parts to be supported on a secure edifice; and that is, enabling the development of local surpluses of water, food and energy by a majority of Indians who live in rural India. Mine is a fairly withdrawn and passive life, you might say. You would think the noisy supporters of Anna should not matter to such a mission. I have experienced no transactional bribe-seeking in the project to be rallied by Anna Hazare’s call. There is money enough for the project, and in the last year and a half, three young people have committed to carry on the work with me and after me. What after all, can agitate those committed to restoring a wasteland with rain water harvesting, growing food naturally with least external inputs, reviving an esteem for native grains, and saving and distributing seeds to kindred spirits?

What makes me take time to say I believe Anna’s agitation is important. That is the explanation I want to share here and for that I must go back almost a decade.

In 2003 I traveled to Ralegan Siddhi to see for myself what was happening. It was a visit that was to play a major role in steering me to pointReturn.

Ralegan Siddhi at rain water harvesting

Having served the army for 15 years, Anna Hazare returned to his village in 1975 and immersed himself in rural development. When he began, the 4 sq.Km village with 500mm annual precipitation was deep in poverty. He proceeded to turn the village into a community self sufficient in water, food, educational and health institutions. All achieved by marshaling contributed work [Pic]. Villagers who had left looking for work, had returned. Farmers were harvesting 3 crops annually. Ralegan Siddhi seemed to me a ready template the rest of rural India could embrace

That was Year 2003. There was hope in the stories I published in GoodNewsIndia, expecting them to be tales of inspiration. Anna’s time then, was mostly devoted to issues of village development, and only marginally to agitate against corruption at the taluka level. What has transformed him into an unrelenting crusader against countrywide corruption today?

A giant leap in time lies between 2003 and 2004. In 2004, accelerated liberalisation under Manmohan Singh began. Its early windfalls, like freely available telephones and train tickets were indeed refreshing experiences. But within two years I was a disillusioned man, who now regrets some of the euphoric articles I wrote in praise of the new era. Rising income inequalities, cavaliar approach to environmental concerns and pursuit of growth numbers whatever the long-term cost were enough for me get off the bandwagon.

“The truly self sustaining projects, that can transform whole communities, ones like these in Karnataka, Rajasthan, Maharashtra lost their shine because Indias leadership was sending out the message that industrialisation is the future; and, that farming had none. The ancient wisdom of nursing water resources and soil fertility was given little thought or marked down as something that can be tackled once we hit a steady state of 10% growth. The Planning Commission may reel out rural investment statistics to prove me wrong but while the figures may even be right, the planners hearts were not in it.”

I stopped writing stories of positive news in GoodNewsIndia, not because there are not any, but because Manmohan Singh’s India made me wonder if my erstwhile readers would not be too preoccupied with stoking the GDP engine.My reasons for ceasing to publish GNI and begin the pointReturn project have been set out in detail in this article. [See box].

In the four years since, the situation has worsened. Today, from a perch away from all the action, though not affected by routine corruption as millions of Indians are, I see new and different forms of it. I sense collusive corruption in policy-making that is not easily visible, but of which, the transactional corruption visible in the streets is the inevitable fallout.

I am watching TV images of thousands of Indians taking to the streets in a process that is converting anger into hope. It is a surging river, to which everyone brings a different experience and prayer. I launch my boat of anguish into it and hope this river will take me to a fairer ground.

Let me begin with the mindset of the Prime Minister. In a rare meeting with the press in Sep, 2010 Singh said: “The only way we can raise our heads above poverty is for more people to be taken out of agriculture.” He also admitted that about 37% of Indians were below the poverty line- that would be 400 million Indians, to be re-employed in industries and services. What will become of agriculture? Presumably, it will be scaled up using biotechnology.

A bill is currently lurking in a dark corner of the parliament with clauses tailor-made to enable a single company Monsanto, to control the seed business in India. “The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill has been approved by the Cabinet and will be tabled in the Parliament soon.” BRAI will release a series of proprietary GM seeds and its decisions cannot be questioned by anyone using the Right to Information law. This Bill is the response of the Government to massed public opinion against Bt Brinjal. The policy is to let Monsonto feed India. The policy is to work around whatever transparency we have fought for and gained. Previously Indian monopolies were created; liberalised India’s policies are dictated by global monopolies.

Greenpeace virtually admits almost the only person who can cause the withdrawal of the BRAI bill is Sonia Gandhi. And you Anna-detractors, are proffering the collective wisdom of our wise parliament as our protector? The Bill to empower acquisition of land for creating trans-national enclaves of industries known as Special Economic Zones was passed in fifteen minutes. The parliament has been known to enact 12 bills into law in fifteen minutes. But it has required 40 years to enact an equitable anti-corruption bill, known as the LokPal Bill, whose cause Anna Hazare is now championing. Between the provisions of the Anti-Defection Law and diktats of various party High Commands, an MP today has no freedom to exercise his will. In this very fortnight too, a Delhi Court has charge-sheeted five MPs in a bribes-for-vote case, that made the India-US nuclear deal possible in 2008. So much for the majesty, wisdom and supremacy of the parliament. It is obvious a small group of people, without countrywide participatory discussion, can and do enact laws they at best, think is right, or at worst, find in it a juicy bribe.

In a single issue of the Outlook magazine of ten days ago are two instances of this government’s policy, which while it celebrates our industrialists’ entrepreneurial spirit, is killing off our farmer’s.

Citation-1: “Now, it is the farmer who is rising in protest against the government. In the fertile Konaseema region of East Godavari district, farmers have begun a satyagraha of sorts by declaring a crop holiday. The rice bowl of Andhra lies barren, as farmers are refusing to sow paddy on some one lakh acres this kharif season. The protest is against a poor minimum support price (MSP) and difficulty in getting bank loans. They also want input subsidies.”

Citation-2:“The farmers are agitating under the umbrella of Beej Bachao Andolan, a unique peoples movement aimed at saving indigenous seeds and traditional techniques of farming in the hills against rampant and thoughtless modernisation. The point of conflict is one such ostensibly progressive measure: the state agriculture departments mini kit of seeds, chemical fertilisers, fungicides and micro-nutrients being distributed free to small farmers to increase the yield of local milletsmandwa and jhangora….While the farmers are all for millet promotion, they are sceptical about the ways of doing it, contesting that the overt thrust on chemicals is against the very credo of the officially organic Uttarakhand; for years the farmers here have been growing pesticide-free crops.”

In the first case, help that is sought doesn’t come forth; in the second, unwelcome intrusion creeps in for takeover. Rural India has sensed that this Raj has no time for its cares; the middle class has concurred for reasons of its own.

Most biographies of Anna Hazare begin with his career as an army truck driver. To do that is to miss a crucial point: he is rightly, a child born into an impoverished farmer’s family in a bleak village that no one had time for. Like fellow villagers he ran away to escape poverty. Only, he returned to transform the same village into a prosperous one. He has had to fight hard to do that and he has learnt much about what that takes. His astuteness and grit were forged by that experience. Who can blame him for being intractable? Why would he not harbour a distrust of an apathetic, captive parliament? For myself, I would sooner trust his rustic wisdom than I would, an over-educated economist’s, whose lack of grit and knowledge of poor-India is reducing this country to misery.

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