Farmers near Jaipur launched on October 2 “Zameen Samadhi Satyagrah” by burying themselves in sand pits.
Jaipur: A former JNU student’s skill at organising innovative protests has brought Jaipur’s agitating farmers, fighting to save their land from making way for houses, into international media focus and made even seasoned politicians in his party and Rajasthan’s Opposition Congress to sit up and take note of him and the peasant’s cause.
Meet Nagendra Singh Shekhawat, 40, convener of the Ninder Bachao Yuva Kisan Sangharsh Samiti, who credits his 2006-12 stint in JNU’s school of international relation and his doctorate for the unique idea of launching agitating farmers’ “Zameen Samadhi Satyagrah” (burying themselves in a sand pit with only their neck sticking out) to draw attention to the farmers’ plight.
On Gandhi Jayanti, farmers in Ninder near Jaipur launched the satyagrah as a last-ditch effort to grab public attention and support for their agitation to save their land that was acquired by Jaipur Development Authority (JDA) to develop a housing colony.
Farmers were losing hope as the JDA had renewed its efforts to take physical possession of the land. “Something drastic was required to be done, which was effective but peaceful,” said Mr Shekhawat who had joined the protest in 2012.
“We were fighting to save our land so the protest had to be connected with the land,” added the former president of Rajasthan University students’ union, explaining the logic behind digging pits for the “Zameen Samadhi”.
The farmers’ leader credited his alma mater for the his agitation skill. “JNU developed in me the understanding of issues and passion to fight for a cause,” he said.
Mr Shekhawat’s strategy to grab attention worked successfully. Photographs and visuals of men, women and children buried in the ground, made for a sensational story that the media couldn’t have missed.
Even, international media including Al Jazeera, Arab News and Daily Mail gave the protest prominent space and coverage. PCC president Sachin Pilot reached the spot and assured farmers of his party’s support.
Finally, the BJP-led Rajasthan government invited the farmers for talks. Though nothing substantial came out of the talks, Mr Shekhawat’s efforts, at least, managed to put focus back on the farmers’ plight and generated public sympathy for them.
According to Mr Shekhawat, it had been seven years but no one among the government, political parties and media were paying attention to the farmers’ protest. Even the public showed no concern to their problem so he decided to start the one-of-its-kind agitation. Politics and serving the community are his first love, he claimed.
In 2001, he became the first National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) member to win the post of student union president in Rajasthan on its ticket. With avid interest in politics, he even contested the last Assembly election as an independent. He, however, did not get elected. He denies that he plans to use the farmers’ agitation to boost his political career.
“I just wanted to draw attention to the farmers’ problems and force political parties to respond to the farmers’ issues,” he said.
“For me this cause is bigger than my political ambitions. This agitation is not about politics. I didn’t shy away from protesting when the Congress was in power ,” said Mr Shekhawat, who belongs to a family of farmers.
He claimed that he was disappointed that the land acquisition was initiated during the previous Congress government, going against party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s concern for farmers.
“It was contrary to Rahul Gandhi’s stand on land acquisition. While, he was against displacing farmers and tribals from their land and advocating a farmer-friendly land acquisition bill, the state government should have waited and not acquired the land in Ninder ,” he said.
Since the land was acquired by the Congress state government, the current BJP government led by Vasundhara Raje Scindia seemed least bothered about the farmers’ concerns. The issue, apparently, offered the BJP government a chance to point an accusing finger at the Congress for the farmers’ misery.
Ninder is a part of Vidyadhar Nagar constituency, which is largely an urban area, and voters in the seat are also cold to the farmers’ concerns. The urban voters see the proposed housing project as another investment opportunity.
Fight for land