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'Dialogue and peaceful movement can ensure success'

Oct 24, 2008

After the process of liberalisation started in India in early 1990s, newer ways are being found everyday to take away resources from people’s hands, says Ekta Parishad leader Ramesh Sharma in an interview to OneWorld South Asia. It has become difficult to identify the enemy or weigh his prowess, he adds.

Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh: Ramesh Sharma has long been associated with Ekta Parishad, a Gandhian organisation working with people at the grassroots level. He is also the member of National Land Rights Committee, which was formed by the Government of India last year to prepare a national land policy. He has played a crucial role in drafting the policy, which is going to be soon submitted to Prime Minister.


He talked to OneWorld South Asia in Gwalior during a two-day national dialogue on land issue organised by Ekta Parishad on October 18-19.

Here are the excerpts:

OWSA: Why is it that Gwalior is so central to all Ekta Parishad activities?

Ramesh Sharma: In the decade of ‘70s, the veteran Gandhian S.N. Subbarao ji and P.V. Rajagopal ji had played an instrumental role in making hundreds of Chambal Valley dacoits surrender at Mahatma Gandhi Seva Ashram. It was here only the seeds of Ekta Parishad were sown. That is why Gwalior has been a historic and inspiring place for us.

OWSA: Tell us about how Janadesh was conceived?

RS: In December 2005, on the World Human Rights Day, we had given the call that if this country’s federal government did not support our demands and did not provide land to landless, people would launch a bigger struggle.

From this very Gwalior city, we announced the launch of people’s movement for resolving the problem of landless people in the country. One year later in 2006, again 5,000 people gathered and organised a padyatra to warn the government. They went up to Delhi and submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. The memorandum had urged the PM to constitute a committee to resolve the problems of landless people and prepare a national land policy.

A whole year passed and the government did not act. Then last year, on October 2, we marched to Delhi with 25,000 people under the leadership of P.V. Rajagopal. We named it as Janadesh 2007. It was named so because we wanted to tell the government that it was a People’s Verdict and that we were not coming to beg for anything.

Janadesh rally turned out to be a huge success in which large number of people from as many as 17 states of India participated. By the time we reached Delhi, the central government had made up its mind to talk to us. The government agreed to constitute a national land reform council and a national land rights committee.

P.V. Rajagopal is the member of the council and I am in the committee. We have prepared a draft national land policy and which will soon be handed over to the central government after a formal presentation in the Prime Minister’s Office later this month.

OWSA: What else has happened after that?

RS: The government took many positive steps since then. It announced the Forest Rights Act and the Resettlement and Rehabilitation Act. It also carried out amendments in the Land Acquisition Act and for the first time a national tribal policy was made.

As we always say that political will is one thing but there is something beyond this also. There is a need to make laws and restructure government machinery in such a way that people get justice.

We have gathered here for this convention to remind ourselves of the objectives with which we started the Janadesh and to review our successes and failures, as also to ponder over future strategies. These decisions will be announced in today’s public meeting.

We are aware that one Janadesh perhaps is not enough to change the entire picture of the country India or even to ensure land for every landless person. For this we will be requiring many more Janadesh or even bigger movements than this.

OWSA: Can you also tell us about the challenges that you are facing?

RS: There is a paradox in what the government actually intends to do. On the one hand, it constitutes a national land council and a national land rights committee and on the other hand, it is passing the Special Economic Zones Act. On one side it is distributing four acres of land to landless and on the other side, it is snatching 40,000 acres from them. And it’s happening at a huge scale.

The newer ways are being found for land grabbing for contract or corporate farming, for SEZs and for special tourism zones. It enacts a new mines and minerals policy; it makes changes in Land Acquisition Act; it increases the scale of industrialisation; it scraps the Urban Ceiling Act, allowing the land mafia in big cities to usurp the rural land, etc. So there are many examples, where you see the negative trends. We believe that unless you hit at the root of the disease and plug all those loopholes from where the land is slipping out of the hands of people, the process of redistribution of land will always remain under the shroud of suspicion.

OWSA: So the fight has become really tough?

RS: Yes, it is getting tougher by the day. The reason why any struggle around land is getting tougher is because in the past there used to be a landlord and a landless and that struggle was primarily between them. The government was a party, which was found to be standing sometimes in favour of the landlord and at other times in favour of the landless. More often than not, it played a neutral role. It was very difficult to say when would it take whose favour. But after the 1990s, when the whole process of liberalisation started, everyday newer ways are found to take away the resources from people’s hands.

This new situation has given rise to two more players – global forces represented by corporate world and the government itself whose character has changed into a multinational company.

Presently there are four players in the game. There is government; there are MNCs; there is entire government machinery playing a supportive role; and lastly the poor people.

The interesting aspect of this is that landless people are also fighting for the same land, which the corporate entities are eying to set up mines or industries or use it for urbanisation. That is why the fight is becoming more complicated. With the entry of new characters, it has become difficult to identify your enemy, or for that matter to weigh his prowess.

OWSA: What is the way forward?

RS: We have to keep two things in mind for future struggles and strategies. First, engaging in the dialogue with the government. Because when you have accepted democracy, then you don’t have any way other than knocking the door of democratic institutions to make them more accountable to get justice for people. Thus I believe that in future all movements should embrace the path of dialogue from bottom to top level.

We have seen that many problems can be sorted out by dialogue alone. There are many examples before us in the world as well as in India, whereby dialogues have paved the way for solutions for the most complex of problems.

Secondly, we realise that dialogue alone is not sufficient. You are listening to me because you know I have roots in the ground. You know that there is a force of hundreds of thousands of people behind me. So the combination of both dialogue and peaceful non-violent movement can only ensure success.

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