The upwardly mobile rural poor must be represented in Anna Hazare’s movement too
The movement against corruption deserves a lot more support than it is getting so far. Because, the truth is that the target for other countries to "control" India will be the wealth of agricultural production and potential thereof which rests in the hands of the upwardly mobile rural poor. Who seem to be terribly unrepresented in the movement so far
You don't have to go too far from the bright lights and shiny malls of South Delhi to find out what the rural poor and people from the agricultural heartlands are doing or thinking about the Anna Hazare and India Against Corruption movement. But you do have to take time out, let go the bonds of metal and glass, and if you cannot go "upcountry", then at least walk through the lanes of what are called "urban villages" or "lal dora settlements", within Delhi.
There are a few such habitats, their main streets have become commercial hotspots where everything can be purchased at prices way below what is charged in the main markets nearby, and where the bylanes provide dormitory shanty town accommodation for the people who keep South and New Delhi alive and ticking.
Delhi does not have the benefit of a Dharavi-type urban "slum" of massive size in the middle of the city, so the toiling masses, mostly recently removed from their rural settings, largely live in these invisible enclaves, scattered within the "posh" areas nearby.
For example, Kotla Mubarakpur village, located between Defence Colony and South Ex-I (NDSE Part I); Sadiq Nagar village, located between Ansal Plaza, South Ex-2, Andrews Ganj and Lajpat Nagar-4; ZamrudPur village, located between Greater Kailash, Kailash and Lady Sri Ram College.
Each one of these "rural urban villages" is less than 500-1,000 metres away from the "happening" markets of South Ex, Defence Colony, GK, Ansal Plaza and Lajpat Nagar, and lie within a square of about 3 km by 3 km within some of the costliest real estate in India. There are a few more around, like Shahpur Jat, Hauz Khas Village and Bhogal/Nizamuddin, which have similar attributes, but they've also become important for other reasons. Almost all of them appear to go back in history a few centuries, if not more, with ample archeological evidence.
It is important to provide these geographical and other details, because there is a generation of young people growing up in South Delhi who have never been there, inside their bylanes. Likewise, there is a generation of people living in those villages who do not come to the "posh" areas unless it is for reasons of working there. And not unsurprisingly, there is a generation of media people who are from the first group-that reflects in their reportage too.
So, when I went on a cycle tour of these three urban villages earlier today, what did I see?
Sure, it was raining, so there was the usual overflowing gutters, mud, slush and more on the roads, and chaos. But, I also saw what nobody else seems to have picked up so far: crowds of people standing outside television shops, watching the Anna Hazare movement unfold in front of their eyes, just like they would if there was a cricket match on. Only difference being, the cricket running commentary as well as scores in the case of cricket would also be carried on radio, while in this case, radio simply pretended that the whole movement did not exist.
It was even more interesting in the case of Doordarshan (DD). Barring a very short mention about Anna Hazare's release, nothing else, back to the usual. Same on All India Radio (AIR), almost violently different from the cable and satellite channels.
Now, for a moment, imagine that you and I are in the real poor rural areas of India, where disposable incomes are still very low, and satellite and cable TV have minimal penetration, if at all. The only option, then, are the LPT (low power transmitters) for Doordarshan in the tea shop nearby, and All India Radio. Why is this so important?
Look closely at the crowds thronging the Ramlila Maidan venue (which I have visited a few times already) and the other venues all over the country. As pointed out previously, the composition is largely middle class and urban or semi-urban-the rural poor who make up the numbers are simply not present. At the same time, despite the best efforts of DD and AIR, it is not as though they are not aware of what's going on. So where are they, our rural poor?
To get an answer I spoke with some of the people watching television on the streets of Sadiq Nagar and then subsequently at Kotla Mubarakpur. Anecdotal, sure, but valid all the same, and then re-confirmed this with a friend who is an authority on rural banking realities. Here is what emerged.
# In rural Bihar, especially North Bihar, for example, the success stories on growing maize as well as fish are much more than what the out-of-date numbers would reveal. But just a few parameters, like seed replacement, as well as repayment of loans taken, for example, tells you what is going on. Add NREGA to this, where is the time for Anna, and how is he relevant in a state where corruption has come rocketing down and which has not seen a single farmer suicide for debt reasons over the last few years? This is in a scenario where land reforms have led to fragmented small land holdings.
# In rural Kerala, which is mainly the mountain parts, the ground reality is the opposite-huge estates and plantations escaped the land reforms that swept other parts of India for particular crops like rubber, cashew and some others. Now, rural labour that has picked up best practices from other parts of the country, and has some money as well as staying power, is making moves towards these huge tracts, taking smaller parcels on sub-lease or profit-share, and going through some amazing agriculture models for high-value crops being grown quietly within the plantations.
# I was supposed to head into the mountains of Kumaon over the weekend, but had to cancel the trip due to heavy floods that caused massive dislocation of road and rail routes, as well as damage to life, limb and property. Elsewhere in the country, too, floods seem to be doing more this year than they normally do. This is being reported on DD and AIR, along with relief measures, but seems to be largely absent from the private "news" channels.
# FM radio channels, of course, do not reach the rural poor at all in most cases. But even where they do, it appears as though the prohibition on them talking about news now extends even to providing updates on traffic jams due to the processions being taken out in support of Anna Hazare. It is often forgotten how the urban poor, who may have a mobile phone, but not much access to cable and satellite television, invariably have a small radio built into the said mobile phone.
To sum up, the update from an ear on the ground here is that the Anna Hazare/India Against Corruption movement, if it at all claims to owe any allegiance to Gandhiji, needs to take some rapid steps to go to the rural poor. And very soon. Which, in the excitement of being blinded by the bright arc and halogen lights of television, does not seem to be happening.
What is happening, however, is that a certain element of squabbling between some other organisations that are trying to get involved, seems to be creating not just static and churn, but also reducing the effectiveness. This, along with the visible presence of some people who can best be called "opportunistic carpet-baggers", is not going un-noticed.
This movement deserves a lot more support, from across all segments, than it is getting so far. Blindly. Because, otherwise, the country continues to get sold down the river.
And that is the real threat, the huge uncontrollable monster which emerges from not being able to control corruption, when those who do not have the interests of the nation, realise that they can continue to buy their way through. Matters are way beyond street level corruption now and the emerging rural agricultural strength of the country must be brought into the equation. Food prices globally are rising faster than energy prices, and while it is easy to talk about "development" of India being put to risk because of this movement, the truth is that the target for other countries to "control" India will be the wealth of agricultural production and potential thereof which rests in the hands of the upwardly mobile rural poor.
Who, as was said before, seem to be terribly unrepresented in Anna Hazare's movement.