New Delhi, Sept. 2: The rally was billed as the mother of all sit-ins, as it had the combined strength of three weighty progenies of the RSS — the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh, the Swadeshi Jagran Manch and the Bharatiya Kisan Sangh.
To cap it all, Dattopant Thengadi, the grand old patriarch of the swadeshi school, was the key speaker, a point underlined on the billboards and hoardings the organisers had put up all over the capital.
The posters had two highlights: Mahadharna against the World Trade Organisation and Thengadi’s portrait. Read in tandem, it implied that the SJM founder could be expected to focus his attack on his pet bugbears — Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, liberalisation and the NDA government, in that order. That is how he has marked his priorities in the four years or so Vajpayee has been in the saddle.
But if the gathering, drawn primarily from BJP-ruled states, expected fireworks, it was disappointed. From a trenchant critic, Thengadi was today transformed into a patriarch who offered benign advice to the government on how to conduct itself at the next WTO meet in Cancun, Mexico. Vajpayee was not mentioned even once, nor were his ministers, barring a former well-known columnist. But Thengadi took care not to reveal his name.
So the listeners at Ram Lila Maidan had to be content with sundry speakers raising slogans like “Cancun, kaan khol kar sun lo (Cancun, open your ears and listen to us)” and making assertions with mixed mythological metaphors.
“Today, it is Balaram’s (Krishna’s brother) birthday,” one of them said. “So, let us take a pledge to liberate the country from the Ravana called WTO here from Ram Lila Maidan.”
The strongest line from Thengadi was India should take the lead in banding together poor and developing countries to form a parallel trade organisation that could answer the “challenge” of the WTO, which, he said, was “essentially an instrument of repression”.
Thengadi said today’s Mahadharna was meant to “boost the morale” of the government and the swadeshi delegation expected to land in Cancun. He urged the former to quit the WTO if developed and developing countries were not treated on a par and his swadeshi comrades to ensure that Cancun turned into as “great a fiasco” as the Seattle and Doha jamborees.
The swadeshi patriarch cited the example of farm subsidies to beef up his advice to the government. The “gora” (white) countries, as he labelled the West, were not prepared to whittle down subsidies governments offered to farmers.
As a result, their production costs were low and they were able to market their surplus produce to the developing countries at a cost much lower than that offered by local farmers. “This is what is driving our farmers to suicide. We demand a parity on all fronts,” he said.