With nothing exciting, as in TRP-fetching, eyeball-grabbing exciting, happening in Lutyens’ Delhi, our national media, especially television channels, pounced upon the rather tragic incident at AAP’s rally on Wednesday. Thanks to saturation coverage for the past 72 hours, everybody knows the basic facts: a man from Rajasthan died during the rally, ostensibly organised to protest against the Land Acquisition Ordinance.
After enthralling volunteers and mediapersons at the AAP rally with his antics atop a tree (waving a broom, shouting slogans) he made a show of using his gamchha to tie a noose around his neck and commit suicide. What was meant to be a made-for-cameras farce turned into a real life tragedy. He slipped and died. Pic/PTI
It is really not material, though arguably a point could be made, that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal had no business organising an “all India rally” against a proposed law. He would be serving AAP’s constituents and Delhi far better were he to focus on his remit. The few farmers left with land in Delhi are waiting for the right buyer with the right amount, though not necessarily the right kind, of money.
Nor are those who have bought agricultural land in Delhi to build fabulous, sprawling farmhouses, terribly bothered about their land being acquired by the government ‘against their wishes’. Such terrible things do not happen in Delhi. The Supreme Court, which wants Campa Cola flats demolished for FSI violation, has shown no inclination to be equally even-handed with the ‘farmers’, among them the Nehru-Gandhis, of Sainik Farms and Chhattarpur.
There are farmers and farmers in India. There are farmers who use their loose change to buy BMWs and Range Rovers, and can be spotted at the fanciest watering holes of India’s National Capital Region. Then there are farmers who have leased their land to others, work for corporates and wax eloquent on India’s farm crisis. We also have politicians who describe themselves as agriculturists and pose as spokesmen for those who till their fields.
Yet another category of farmers, small, marginalised, at times even landless, exists. There are also those who belong somewhere in between the swaggering Gucci-clad big farmer and impoverished bhukha-nanga marginal farmer. The kulaks, as Communists would refer to them. Caste, community, class and control over land fuse seamlessly in the categorisation of India’s kisans.
But let us return to AAP’s rally in Delhi. We don’t quite know which category of farmers AAP wants to fight for, though it would appear from those who turned up for the rally Kejriwal and his chosen loyalists wouldn’t know the marginal farmer from the BMW owner.
Such nuances proved to be meaningless as the show was stolen, literally and metaphorically, by Gajendra Singh Kalyanwat from Dausa district in Rajasthan. After enthralling AAP volunteers and mediapersons with his antics atop a tree (waving a broom, shouting slogans) he made a show of using his gamchha to tie a noose around his neck and commit suicide. What was meant to be a made-for-cameras farce turned into a real life tragedy. He slipped and died.
Kejriwal did not abandon the rally. He kept on exhorting farmers to resist the Modi government (I doubt he has even read or understood the amendments to the Land Law). Later AAP spokesmen responded with cynical, caustic comments while everybody else jumped in to shed tears over a poor farmer committing suicide.
The tragedy was not manufactured, it was accidental. But there is nothing accidental about the media’s hyena-like response and the treacly sentiments voiced by politicians. A narrative was manufactured in TV studios; it was then tailored by each party to its own seeming advantage. Lost in the cacophony of voices were facts that should have been upfront.
Gajendra Singh was not an impoverished farmer. His family owns substantial land, a gooseberry orchard and a teak plantation, and is politically powerful. He was, as Hindustan Times rightly described him, a ‘reluctant farmer’ who wanted to become a politician. He was a party hopper, he had contested elections twice on a SP ticket, he had recently migrated to AAP.
Yet his death is being showcased as the leitmotif of India’s hapless farmers who commit suicide by the scores. The New York Times ran a story reminiscent of the purple prose of Manohar Kahaniyan; our desi media did not lag behind. Who is to stand up and say, farmers do not necessarily commit suicide because of crop failure? That reasons of impoverishment are not limited to land or crop price or crop failure?
We live in strange times when truth is truly stranger than fiction and strangest of all is the ease with which media and politicians can force-feed the masses with garbage, day after day, relentlessly, without even the slightest trace of remorse. For evidence, look at AAP’s tamasha after Wednesday’s tragedy. And how media is going to town projecting it as ‘new politics’.
The writer is a senior journalist based in the National Capital Region. His Twitter handle is @KanchanGupta