A view of the main plenary session of the Bharat Vikas Sangam organised at Gulbarga in Karnataka from Dec 23, 2010 to Jan 1, 2011.
It was in the last week of December that I travelled to Gulbarga in Karnataka to partake in a 10-day conclave organised by Bharat Vikas Sangam. Called 'Kalburgi Kampu', the conclave aimed at bringing together "good thought and good action".
The 10-day conclave began on Dec 23 and ended on Jan 1. You can read more about what Bharat Vikas Sangam is all about at http://www.bharatvikassangam.com/?p=113
Steered by K N Govindacharya, the 10-day event daily attracted on an average between 70,000 to 100,000 people. The enthusiasm, commitment and the expectation that was amply displayed by the massive representation from all parts of the country certainly gives hope, but at the same time throws up challenges. How well we are able to utilise the swell in human energy towards equity and justice, towards sustainability and social transformation, and thereby bring about a change in mindset and attitudes will determine the future. But what seems amply clear is that the masses are keen and desperately looking for an honest leadership that can provide a viable roadmap.
In many ways, the Bharat Vikas Sangam conclave did provide an insight into what the other India looks like, what are its aspirations, and what it clamours for. To me, more than anything else, it showed that another India is possible.
It isn't easy to hold on to such large crowds. Each day, since it was divided into thematic sessions, a few thousand would pour in, while an equal number would depart after their participation. To manage this motley crowd, making suitable arrangements not only for their stay but also food was in itself a mammoth task. Every day, on an average, some 50,000 to 70,000 people were served food, and at no time did I see any brawls over food resulting from shortages, quality or simple indiscipline. Since I had earlier been at the World Social Forum in Mumbai some years back, I must say that the organisers of the WSF have a lesson or two to learn from Bharat Vikas Sangam.
Anyway, the thematic session on agriculture and rural development too was attended by thousands of people from across the country. After the main plenary, parallel sessions were held covering various aspects of farming and development. Among those who spoke and addressed the workshops were Subhash Palekar, Sangita Sharma, and Narayan Reddy.
Addressing the main plenary, I spoke about the prevailing agrarian crisis and the need to understand the reasons behind it. At a time when over 2,00,000 farmers have taken the fatal route to escape the humiliation that comes along with growing indebtedness there is a need to look into the role agricultural science and technology has played to hasten the demise of the farm. Farmers as well as the civil society therefore need to question what is promoted in the name of science, and it is only through public pressure can we force the agricultural universities and the Krishi Vigyan Kendras to change.
Farmers are also to be blamed for the present crisis. They have blindly accepted what has been told to them. In the process they have poisoned their soils, mined the underground water and contaminated the food chain by excessive use of chemical pesticides. My suggestion was that farmers need to look inwards and adopt sustainable technologies that can enhance their incomes. They need to learn from the likes of a fellow farmer Subhash Sharma who farms in the Vidharba region of Maharashtra. While hundreds farmers in his neighbourhood have committed suicide, Subhash Sharma ends up providing annual bonus and leave travel concession to his workers.
His Holiness Swami Raghvendra from Shimoga very nicely summed up the session with his brief explanation about how a greedy society is usurping the natural resources.
What kindles hope is that the message was just not lost. I was delighted to find that the audience was keen to forge linkages to not only create a wider awareness but also work out strategies for change. Across various age groups and economic levels, the urge to come together and work collectively certainly provides a lot of excitement. I am sure the organisers are aware that the hope generated by Bharat Vikas Sangam has now to be translated into a meaningful action.
The words of an agitated and visibly restless activist still haunts me: "We have come here in thousands. We have shown our solidarity. But what next?"