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First Interview with Rajagopal P.V. Conducted at Cesci, Madurai, Feb. 16th, 2009 P.S.

What keeps you going? You have been doing this work for over 40 years, often in an atmosphere of hostility. In the last few days, I have seen you working from early morning to late at night, day after day. What motivates you? Rajagopal: The real drive is the problems. It is your desire to see that things are changing in the society. I think that is the motivation, that you would like to see justice being done, see poverty being removed. This is a kind of non-acceptance of reality as it is today. And nothing is going to change unless people themselves are organized, people themselves are trying for it. So this has to be a peoples effort. This cannot happen in a society like India unless you reach out to them, talk to them, motivate them, rally them, get them to fight against the system. So what is driving me is the desire to see change and the very understanding that unless you move very fastwell, lets say, that there are others with different motives moving faster than you move. It is almost like in a fast-flowing river. If you put one handful of earth it is not going to stop. Many handfuls are needed. So the speed at which you have to work is very high, if you really want to prevent the process that is happening. Even then there is no guarantee that you are going to prevent it, but at least there is the satisfaction that you didnt sit down watching things fail. That is one motivation. The other motivation is the very fact that I do not like to see suffering. I dont like to see anybody suffering. I have seen a lot of suffering as I have traveled around India and it is a very undignified way of life when a person has to spread their hand in front of everybody. Then you ask yourself this question, if your mother had to spread her hands in front of othersthen, how would you feel? That is the question you have to ask yourself, will you let that happen? That should be the level of reaction you should feel for everybody. So try to reach out to as many people as possible, try to see as many young people motivated as possibleknowing very well that it might not be making enough change but it is good that you keep doing it. PS: You have many people looking to you now, so I imagine you feel a lot of responsibility. How do you cope with that? Rajagopal: Sometimes I feel it is too much. When you are not really able to cope with the number of places you need to reach, the number of people you need to meet and interact with and the never-ending telephone calls and demands. Then you feel it is too much. But then too you realize that it is your own creation. You have options in life. You can be an individual and take the responsibility of the family. You can be a social person but take only the responsibility of an institution. You also have the option to create a network of organizations and coordinate it. But you also have the option to get to the masses. It is almost like putting your hands into a beehive--you let them come with all their expectations and desires to do things, you know. Then you will face the music and I think I opted for that very demanding format of training many young people leading them to defend villages, leading them into areas where they have to work in a very hostile

environment. As a result there has been hostility and misunderstanding; you get accused and abused by the system. And so it has been necessary for me to talk to the state and convince them that we are trying to do good and also to work with the media and the international community. I am working on a large canvas, and when you do that you are also hoping that there are people who will come and help you. And I do get a lot of help, so many people doing things for each other. This Centre (Cesci) is a good example. At the same time, the convenor of Ekta Parishad, Ran Singh, must be doing as much work as I do and Ramesh Sharma must also be doing as much work as I do. There are hundreds of people doing that. Dr. Jeypragasam for example, doesnt draw a salary from us, he is a volunteer but he does much more work than I do. So I was very lucky. Even Ekta Europeall of those people fundraising for us, is remarkable. I was lucky to have a lot of friends who do a lot of work to support us. But that doesnt reduce your work because you continue to create, you have the capacity to do more. Help is very interesting but as you get help you also feel like expanding. Even in India, we are only in 11 states out of 24 so your desire to reach out expands. And I have got this larger canvas called south Asia900 districtsand we want to train 10 young people in each district. So there are going to be 10,000 young people across south Asia working for peace and justice. And then you have the desire to have an Ekta Europe, an Ekta Canada, an Ekta Africa I strongly believe that in a globalizing world, a small mobilization is not going to create the impact. If I am in charge of an organization, the impact that I can create will be at the block level not at the state level. If you work in one district in India you cant create any impact at the national level. You can write to the Prime Minister but he is not forced to listen to your voice. So, through experience I have come to understand that it is only size that will help. If the government of India knows that you have a mass base in about eleven states and you can impact the process of the elections, then they will listen to you. PS: Janadesh has made a difference then? Rajagopal: Janadesh has made a big difference. 25,000 people walking for a month makes a difference. Ten people walking for a month makes little differenceeven ten people walking for a year will make little difference. So if you calculate then what you are saying is 25 million people are poor, are desperately poor, so 25,000 people will represent those 25 million. Next time, what I am saying is that we have a hundred million people in this country so, next time, they should be represented by 100,000 people. It is what you call the critical mass--unless you have the critical mass nothing is going to change. You are not heard because your intentions are good or because you have good ideas, you are heard because you have a mass base, that is how it works in democracy. PS: And Gandhi understood that? Rajagopal: Gandhi understood that. He knew how to mobilize people to have his voice heard by the British. I think we need to use that technique of mobilizing people. You have to have the capacity to reach people. Unless you can, the state wont listen. It took

twenty-five years of work before I could get twenty-five thousand people on the road. So mobilizing people, getting their confidence to increase,making them believe that you mean what you say through your life and your actions. All of this takes years and years of work. You know in order to boil water you need to create 100 degrees of heat. If you create 25 degrees of heat in four places, the water is not going to boil. You need to concentrate it in one place. So that is what I contemplate, what is the boiling point at which things can change? So creating that non-violent heat is how I understand what I do. I do all these things in order to create that heat. When I train young people, I know that through these young people I can reach all these villages. When there is mobilization, I know that one day this mobilization can be brought into a larger action that will create that heat. So create small heat and change small things but create a bigger heat and at some point in time you will be able to change a bigger thing. You cant do it everyday because it costs you too much, it costs time. But then in a country like India where things have gone really wrong, when you want to have a non-violent, democratic action this is the only way to do it. This is the only thing I can think of, the ordinary persons tool is to walk, the ordinary person, ordinary poor persons tool, that is, to fast. Walk and fast, fast and walk. Because you dont have food anyway, so you know how to fast and you have to walk everyday, so it is easy to walk. So use ordinary peoples tools in a way that it is difficult for the state to find a way to contain. The tools are so ordinary and yet so powerful that the state cannot find a way to contain them because it is too ordinary and too powerful. And nobody can say this tool is bad. I am still searching and learning. Gandhi was innovating and he had innovative ideas to get at his opponent. To some extent it was easier in that the opponent was an outsider and people could understand that getting the opponent out was important, so the freedom struggle had that emotional backing. So that the we and them was very clear. Now we have our own people, the black leaders, and there are no more the whites so you cant accuse them of coming to occupy our space. They are all our relatives, our friends, so it is very difficult to fight because they are all our own people. And that is a dilemma now so we need a second freedom struggle, the freedom struggle that is geared to your own people at the national level. PS: Lets expand this a bit. If you look in the broader context of the world it seems that violence is still the first choice, even for a new President like Obama who has decided to bomb the Taliban in Pakistan. For ordinary people, violence seems like the first choice. What would you say about non-violence as an option? Why is it a good or better choice? Rajagopal: Well our ancestors, who weren't considered civilized, behaved differently. We call ourselves civilized, but to my mind civilized means being able to talk rather than using force. Muscle power will be more and more used in an uncivilized world and the power of argument will be used in a civilized world. What is happening now is that though we want to claim we are civilized we havent yet understood that civilization means shunning muscle power and using the power of argument. I think civilization is also about using new tools of reason. This is a difficult notion--that civilization is not just

about using modern tools but about using new ways of dealing with problems. This has to be a grassroots change, it has to begin with the educational system. When I look at the world I find that uneducated people are more civilized in terms of not using violence. Modern man, educated modern man, is very violent, very very violent. They are violent in terms of their consumption and they really dont care. They are violent in terms of how they argue for their positions, violent in terms of cutthroat competition and violent in terms of grabbing what they want to grab. Its violence that is built into a system where theyre too arrogant, too competitive, too much consumeristic. Everything is so violent, its not just the use of the gun but the whole life is violent. Compared to the poor people, who are hardworking less greedy, less grabbing, and less prone to using force because they dont have the capacity to use force. The problem is not with the ordinary people the problem is with the so-called educated people. So I think if you really want to bring a change in the world you need to begin with the educational system. It can begin in the classroom the moment a child understands that there is nothing wrong with being second or third. I dont have to be first. The parents and children theyre all into this game that my child should be first. And in order to make your child first you need to make others second and third and fourth. No home is teaching children that when you become fourth or fifth in the classroom you should enjoy it because there were many other people who could become second or first. Even this mental capacity to understand that others can go ahead of me and I dont have to be firstthat is hard to grasp. PS: Is that what Gandhi meant by Sarvodaya (the well-being of all)? Rajagopal: To some extent, yes, because if you want to care for everybodys wellbeing you will have to compromise with your own want. Because want has no end and you really dont know where need will end and greed will begin. There is a very fine line therefor example when you have three sets of clothes and then buy the fourth one, is that need or greed? How do you decide? Unless you have a control over what you need, sarvodaya cannot be brought about. PS: Is the control to greed really seeing other peoples needs? Rajagopal: Also that yes, also. You need to look around. If you are so self-centred you will only see your need. You will look around and justify why you are fulfilling all your needs, by saying you are a responsible father or a responsible mother. Because then you have an argument of being responsible for your family. But that is why this question comes of being a responsible citizen of the world, how will you behave? I would say, 'be responsible not just for yourself but for the world, care for the world and for society'. So Sarvodaya is an ability to look around and see in comparison to the world, what do we have? And do we have the right to enjoy all that we are enjoying when many others are deprived and are suffering? So this is where awareness needs to develop. Awareness is not just about fighting for your own rights only but also understanding society and behaving in a way that your rights dont impinge on the lives and rights of others. When you are conscious of your rights you also need to be highly responsible about protecting the rights and lifes of

others. I think when we speak of rights today we mean it in a highly individualistic way, I speak about my rights. I dont speak about the rights of anybody else. A good mix of responsibility and rights is what can lead to a sarvodaya society because it is a society of sharing. And we also have this wordantodaya, it is the well-being of the last person, the least person. Really sarvodaya cannot come until you care for the well-being of the least person. That will lead to the well-being of all. Otherwise it is just a theory. I think sarvodaya is a very radical theory and people havent understood it yet-especially if you look at it as a political theory. We used to say dictatorship was the well being of one. From that we move on to socialism--the well being of the minority. And then democracy that is the well-being of the majority. From that political positioning when you say 'the well-being of all' you are identifying a very radical position. People say, oh, that is a very old idea. But I ask, what more can you say? What is more radical than that? Well-being of all shall be the conceptual agreement and clarity of all. Resources have to be equally redistributed. I find it is a very radical position and unfortunately it hasnt become a popular position. Thinking about others is hard for us. Insecurity is a big problem for people: I need a lot and I need all this money in my bank and if cant keep it here I have to send to Switzerland to keep it safe and then I convert it into a credit card and put it in my pocket so when I travel I take it with me. Many years back, people would say a tree is a tree, so if you want to transport a tree you need to take it to the market and sell it. But now you can convert the whole forest to a credit card. So today, you can say all this forest is mine and I am mortgaging it to the bank and converting it all to a credit card. In todays world people have found ways to convert resources into money and put it into their pocket. Once you have it you have all the freedom to spend it and you dont care about people who have to spend eight hours toiling to fill their stomach. So we are faced with a world where millions of people are just thinking about filling their stomachs and a handful of people are spending money and wasting resources.That is where Sarvodaya needs to be articulated and articulated as a challenge. PS: I want to ask you now about why land and land rights are so important in India? This is something that is sometimes difficult for us in North America or Europe to understand. Rajagopal: Well first of all, in India, land is called 'mother earth' and so people have an emotional attachment to the land which is very real. Then, there is an old proverb which says that the best thing is to be a farmer, the worst thing is to be someone else's servant. And now that is reversed, everyone is trying to get a job (and that means to be the servant of someone else) and the worst thing is to cultivate your own land. So there is a shift in terms of values. Previously, agriculture had very high credibility. But times have changed. Then you see land as a possession, like the credit card you were talking about, rather than as something to sustain yourself. Yes. The moment you feel that land is not going to sustain me, then you move on. What we are saying is that people who don't have any other opportunity who are really

working on the land and who respect the land--they should have the land. That is where the value shift is: for some people land is a commodity for selling and buying, for others it is mother earth, they respect it. So we say we have two Indias. One is Bharat, the other is India. India is the word in English, Bharat is the word for India in Hindi. So the country is divided in two; India, the country of the English educated people, their notion, their understanding and Bharat, the country of the people who speak a local language and live on the land. So we are against the commercialization of land because seventy per cent of Indians are living on the land either as farmers or as farm labourers. And in India, however great the government may be, they will never employ more than 1 or 2 per cent of people. That is the maximum capacity. Maybe the private sector will come and they will employ 2 or 3 per cent of people. At no time will you find more than 5 per cent of jobs in the service market and government employment. So how are these 95 % of people living? They don't live because of any government. No government is giving them any job, no government is giving them any pension or security So they are all making a living somewhere else. 70 percent of people are living on the land. 8 to 10% of people are tribals, so they depend on the forest. And about 5 % of people are setting up small shops and selling things on the road. So 95% of people live on their own. This is a self-employed way of living. Of late, the government is trying to say, okay, 'No small shops, we'll have malls'. So you take away the jobs of 5 % of people. Then you say 'the forests are for tigers, you get out'. So another 10% of people are out. Then they say 'the land is for special economic zones, construction of dams and six lane highways', then that's all gone too. So a government which has no ability to create jobs is using its force to evict people from the land and the forest and their livelihoods. Its only adding to the size of slums in this country. A good example of this is Brazil, a country three times bigger than India with a population of one hundred and seventy million. Eighty per cent of people are living in cities and slums and only twenty per cent of people living on the land and in the villages because a large area of land--40-50 thousand acres--is occupied by multi-nationals. So we all learned as children that India is a country of villages and Gandhi also said that he wanted to see self-governed, self-sufficient villages uniting into a country called India. He didn't say 'Delhi will be powerful and they will decide everything for all the 500,000 villages'. Every village should be an independent republic, he thought and they will unite into a country called India. So when you have such a wonderful concept of self-sufficient, self-governed villages, why destroy their empowerment by taking their water, their land, their forest? Why don't you invest into developing their agriculture? Because growing food is not a crime. Why destroy people who grow food? Why invest more into industry and take water and other resources only to promote industry? Why so much subsidy to industries? Why give such great support to industrialists and not to the farmers? So we are basically saying if you want to create a self-sufficient nation you need to depend on agriculture and if you want to depend on agriculture you need to invest in rural people and respect what they are doing. So it is altogether a way of looking at how you can make this country a happier place. So land is not just land. Land is related to food, It is related to agriculture. it is related

to self-sufficiency. It is related to self-sufficiency of villages. It is related to happiness. And it is also related to the dignity of people. If you have a piece of land you are somebody. It is like your laptop. If you have a laptop you are somebody. If you don't what do you do? (Laughs) We feel land is very important. Not just for Indians. Go to the Philippines. Go to Bangaldesh. Go to Pakistan. Go to Brazil. Go to Kenya. It is the same everywhere other than the industrialized world where industry has become most important. There the welfare state is taking care of everyone through unemployment pension, and old age pension etc. There they have exploited the world in order to create so much wealth that you can take care of everyone. They can make industries and having polluted the earth and air and the water and then they can shift those industries to other countries and take their resources and pollute them. This is only violence. This way you are using violence on people who can't defend themselves. This way you are grabbing the resources of others and perpetuating a system of violence. So then don't cry about terrorism. You can't sow the seeds of a thorn tree and speak of beautiful mangos to come out of it. In India, people are using violence to win elections. They are engaging young people to capture votes. You are using force on people and gaining votes too. The banks in India are using goons to recover loans. Industrialists are using goons to go and get the land of the indigenous poor people. If industry banks and elections are involved in violent then young people are being trained in small violence they will graduate one day into larger violence. When you promote small violence you don't care about it but when they graduate into bigger violence then you complain about it. But it is the seeds you have sown. I think this drama has to end now, somebody has to speak up and say, 'look if this is the seed you are sowing this is what you will harvest'. You create all this everyday violence in people's lives and then use military and police to contain the violence that comes in reaction to it but are never concerned with the first violence. Can you tell me about the Adivasis? Who are they and why have you chosen to work with them? The reason I have worked with the Adivasis is not because they are the only ones who are deprived. Dalits are deprived, women are deprived. Adivasis, dalits and women are the most deprived. But I decided to work with them for two reasons. They still have a very high level of community feeling so they can come together on an issue and they are not divided along caste lines so they have a homogenous culture. The second reason for working with indigenous people is that they have something to fight for. There are communities that have lost everything so they have to fight for something new. But in the case of the Adivasis, they have the forest, and the water sources. They have a very strong culture. They have their community. So by displacing them you are destroying a selfsufficient, very highly cultured group of people and that is where we need to redefine poverty. Poverty is not only an economic thing. That is just one part. When you look at the people you say how rich they are. Rich in terms of their community life and culture. Rich in terms of their attitude to people who come to their society. Rich in terms of their

relationship to nature. We are working with a very rich community who do not have the money component. It is not pity as much as recognizing that here is a strand that can be used and each strand can be multiplied and if they can understand their strength, then amazing things can happen. But I thought it is important to work with indigenous people to strengthen them and to use their strength in organizing programs that will force the government to change policies. And what little amount of success we have had is because of that, because Adivasis are very powerful in terms of taking suffering and then fighting for what they believe in. Its a bit like an alternative society within society... It is, yes. One interesting thing about them is that they are not the accumulating type. They don't have this notion of accumulating wealth. Though we tell them about saving and bank balances. And they look at you like 'whatever you say', you know. Its like as long as I have enough for today I don't have the reason to accumulate for tomorrow. Like Gandhi said, that is the most modern way of thinking. Adivasis have that modern way of thinking--'if I have enough for today, why should I grab it for tomorrow?'. People who will be born tomorrow will also have hands and legs. I don't have to accumulate for them. Educated people seem to believe that all the future generations will be handicapped and they have to accumulate for them. Accumulation is our problem and Adivasis don't suffer for that. My argument is that once you come to a dead-end, once all the resources are used up, all the oil is used up, all the water is polluted, then you may want to go back to a guru to learn how to live a simple life. Then you may need the indigenous people to learn how to live without accumulating, how to live simply. So it is not just a group to work with, but also a group from whom you can learn values about how to approach life. I also found that they are victimized: mining companies come and they are evicted; dams come, they are evicted; tiger reserves come, they are evicted; factories come and they are evicted. So I found a community that is innocent at every level and they don't fight back and they sacrifice themselves. But in the face of what is happening it is not so bad to help them resist and fight back. So they can say 'you can have your development model, but you can't destroy us for it.' That is where the whole fight began. Its like the Mahabharata--in Indian mythology--the battle between the good and the bad forces and today they are the good people, the innocent ones and they are faced by another people--the educated people--whose greed is very high, they behave like crocodiles and they are backed by international companies and governments in this game. 'You take half and give us half'. So I think this is the time to help the Adivasis fight back, to say 'look only so far and not farther'. Its not easy because the forces against which you are fighting are very powerful forces. But I think that the final defeat of the Adivasi community will be a defeat for humankind. Because they have a different value to offer. In Thailand, the Adivasis will ask me, 'why are you destroying our supermarket to promote your supermarket'- the forest is their supermarket. Across the world indigenous people are in difficulty. In Canada and in America and other parts of the world they are in difficulty because they are the minority and as a minority they don't have the capacity to resist the majority who

are oppressive and repressive. That is why I am with the Adivasis and I think we will find an answer to many of our problems by respecting the way they live. The moment you look at them with respect, they whole situation will change. So there is something we need to learn from them? Oh yes absolutely. We need to change our attitude. Rather than condemning and looking at them as backward, we need to respect their values. I was going to ask what the rest of the world can learn from India--is that related to this question of the Adivasis? Yes I think it is. I think it is mutual. I often ask myself, why is that India is only learning bad things and not good things for the rest of the world. On the other hand, there is a lot that India can offer. When I travel through the west I always feel, oh good, India still has a strong community life, a strong family life. That means that the state was not able to get into the life of every individual. Between the state and the individual you still have the family and the community so you don't feel so helpless--even if the government is irresponsible. You don't feel helpless because you have a lot of social systems to carry you, if you are in trouble there is a strong community life which you will miss in the West where every individual is face to face with the state and the state is too powerful and the individual too powerless. That way I think many people look to us to see how society can be more vibrant in their own countries and how society can make the state accountable. They would like to recover lost ground by learning from this side. And I think that India also has a very interesting tradition and history of non-violent action. The world is looking to learn more from India in that regard. Not only from history but also from present actions--how do you motivate and mobilize society to be non-violent actors? In that way I think we have a lot to offer for finding a solution to the world's problems especially in a democratic world where we need to be more vibrant. I also think why shouldn't India learn from others . If women are not oppressed in other countries why don't we learn that? Why can people live without the dowry system or the caste system? Why is corruption so high here when you can see that in the day to day life in the West there is no corruption? I mean you don't have to pay a bribe to get a telephone connection. There are hundreds of things we can learn. Even a bit of the welfare system would help us. Why are we so lacking in organizing our own systems? Why are the hospitals not working? Why is the education system not working? Why is the distribution system not working? On the other hand, why do we refuse to be proud of what we have that others can learn from? Non-violence is something we can be proud of, and so it is something we should practice. But the world is wanting to learn non-violence from us but don't practice it, we still treat our people violently. When we see poor people in the street, we don't care. We have so many landless people and we have a law about land redistribution but we don't implement it and we are very violent toward them and our police are very violent with the poor people. So there are items where we have a 'market' in the world but we are not developing it.

We have a beautiful concept of village industries from Mahatma Gandhi, but we don't practice it. If we practiced it, the countries of Africa and Latin America that are looking for an alternative to capitalism could have learned it from us. India could have been a really good model for the poor countries across the world. Rather than saying there is only one way of development, we could have said 'no, there is another way of development which is more people-centred'. We have lost a great opportunity to be a real world leader but instead we are also being a pygmy leader by imitating the west, by building nuclear bombs and spending money on that. Its a lack of imagination in leadership in learning good things from others and being proud of what is good in you and teaching it to others. That would be a real mutual relationship. Instead, we are destroying everything that is good in the country and we are importing everything that is bad in the West. It is not a good game. India can be different. And to be different you don't need all these corrupt systems, caste politics and communal forces and corrupt leaders. You need people with imagination and commitment for India and the world. It comes back to what Vinoba Bhave said, 'Jai Jagat. Victory to the World.' The time is over when you can just speak of the victory of your own country whether it is India or the United States. victory of the world is based on the fact that you learn good things from each other and how you great a society of sarvodaya by redistributing resources. The major crisis in the world is the crisis of leadership. Rarely can you find a Nelson Mandela but instead you find a Robert Mugabe or in the Philippines too you see a wholes series of leaders who have failed and the country is in turmoil. Even in South Africa they looked and looked for a good leader and eventually they settled on a corrupt one. Italy is a good example of how this happens. In Canada too, you also brought a rightist government back. Obama might be an exception. We will see. In general, we don't have world class leaders who can set an agenda and inspire people. We have regional leaders and that leads to regional conflicts and fights. It is all linked. The most important thing is finding more people who believe in the possibility of creating another world The big challenge for me is how to inspire young people. I spend much of my time with young people training and encouraging them to believe that another kind of society is possible. A more just society can be created by thinking and acting differently. We can only do it at a small level but the influence of the larger social and economic system is also affecting what we do--the climate to be good is missing and that makes it difficult to encourage young people to live that way. Last question. You have been doing this work for over forty years. I wonder what has surprised you in what you have learned over that time? There have been many, many surprises. I am humbled by what I have learned from people. Everyday there is something new that I learned and sometimes is very funny. One story was when we were introducing a smokeless cooking furnace and talking to people in a village about it. And one old lady stood up and said to me, 'I already have a smokeless furnace'. And I said, 'No that cannot be because this is a new technology and we are bringing it to you for the first time'. And she asked me, 'Young boy do you understand what smoke comes from?' And I said, 'Yes, smoke comes when you cook

your food'. 'Well', she said, 'I have nothing to cook so I have a smokeless furnace already'. So people slap you in the face and tell you, don't be so smart and educated when you don't understand how my life works. I was traveling through another village and people told me that here the leader of the village was elected unanimously. I said, 'That's fantastic! That's the highest understanding of democracy' and then later they came and told me privately that it was unanimous because the rich man told them if anyone voted against his candidate he would break their heads. Then you see, this is what you unanimous means here. How brutal it can be that a man cannot even stand for election in this country and we call it democracy. So the learning has been about coming to see the reality of people's lives? Yes. What I have learned, I have learned from people. I have rarely learned from books. So I used people as my books. I watched them very closely I try to understand them seriously. I watch their body language. My sensitivity comes from my interaction with people. When I am organizing training programs with young people, they are teaching me a lot, teaching me how to be a better person. And when you learn from people that brings you closer to people then you have no notions coming from books, no theory coming between you and others. I have learned to be closer to people, to respect people. There is a poem by Kabir that says, 'the branch of the tree that has many fruits bends, the one without fruit stands straight'. So the more knowledge you have the humbler you should be. If you understand people, you should be humble. Then you know that you know a little only. So you are very careful and polite. That is one reason why I was able to organize Janadesh. People trusted me and had faith in me. It was a very personal thing. It took 40 years for me to somewhat master it. Forty years has taught me a lot. There is a lot more to learn. When we conduct training programs now we invite ordinary people and ask them to tell others how they do what they do. 'How do you plow your land?' 'How do you collect this leaf from the forest?' This gives them a great respect and we have come to understand that the greatest resource is in the people right around us. I don't have a great constituency among the educated class because I am very critical of them, but I do have a constituency among the uneducated, poor people.

PS: I am happy to have this opportunity to talk with you again. Most of the questions I want to ask this time go into a little more depth about the issues. Before I get to those, however, I want to ask about yesterday. You took me along with your friend, Vinoth, to visit a Dalit village near Chennai and along the way we saw the police and the bulldozers carrying out forced evictions of the homes by the highway. Later, at the meeting, a young mother presented you with a petition expressing fears about the home in which her family had lived for sixty years. Can you tell me about that situation and how you feel about it? Rajagopal: Well, whether it is Tamil Nadu or Bihar or UP, as you travel around India, you will find that a large number of people are homeless. That is the reason we speak again and again about land reforms. If you are going to begin land reforms,

they have to begin by providing homestead land to millions of people in this country. When you are homeless, then you are subject to manipulation. If you are staying on the land of somebody else and working, then you will get very low wages and if you ask for higher wages, you will be asked to leave, your houses will be demolished. So you are always under pressure and fear that someone will remove you from the place you are living. The women whom we met yesterday, and who gave us petitions, they are living on a piece of land that belongs either to the municipality or to the Railway. Now the Indian Railway can any day demolish their homes, telling them, we want to expand. We want to have one more track . Or if it is the municipality, they will say, we are going to beautify the city, so, you must leave. In both cases, there will be no compensation because they are called illegal encroachers on government land. So the government has all this land and they will not give it to anyone. When people occupy it because there is no other place to construct a small hut, that is not even regularized. In big cities, you have that chance of getting it regularized because you have larger slums and the politicians are very interested in the vote bank. So they may say, let us regularize this slum or that slum and give them land titles and then they will all vote for me. But in small places, like the village we saw, that is not possible. They have so little meaning in terms of votes. And so finally one day they will get a notice and they won t even be part of history because no one will know. The interesting part of the story is what we will see in the next action, Jansatyagraha 2012. It is a way for the poor to say, So, because you are not allowing us to even live here, and making our life miserable, we are going to come to where you live and make your life miserable. You see we believe you need to take a position, and confront these people and say, Now you tell us where we can live . You saw yesterday the mothers and the policemen demolishing the houses. Where are they supposed to go? You saw people who were under threat of demolishing. You also saw people getting physically removed by the policemen. So it is a very bad situation. When we speak of land reform, we are saying there are so many things you can do. Radical land reform is a long way in the future but in the meantime there are many things you can do. But even according to the law as it now stands you are supposed to give a piece of land to everyone for constructing a house. Every municipality, every panchayat should work on that. Also according to the law, you are supposed to regularize the land on which people are living, if they are living there for more than five years. Many of them have been there up to sixty years so they have every reason to get that plot of land. And anyone who has been occupying a piece of agricultural land for more than five years has the right to have their tenancy regularized. It is called the Tenancy Registration Act. Then they cannot be removed from that land but only if their name is registered and the government will not register their names. As a result, they will always remain tenants and they can be removed at any time.

Just by implementing provisions that exist in the current law you could remove the sufferings of millions of people. What you saw yesterday was not as bad as it is in many other parts of the country. In Bihar, there are songs that say, My house is so bad it is not even fit for a pig to live in. And many houses there are like that, barely fit for human habitation. I think women are the worst sufferers in this situation because they have no toilets and no privacy. They don t get drinking water or electricity, because the moment you provide these facilities you recognize the existence of these colonies. PS: So its part of denying the problem? Rajagopal: Exactly. Denying the problem. That is why my argument is that muncipalities (the elected bodies in the cities) and panchayats (those in the villages) should be made responsible for poverty eradication and providing justice in their districts. And panchayat officials are notoriously corrupt because the officials are constructing roads or construction of buildings and everybody is trying to make part of the money. So they are becoming petty contractors instead of addressing real issues of poverty and of housing or of reform of the government system. So what is happening is that instead of decentralization of power you have decentralization of corruption. They are saying, why should only the politicians in Delhi make money? Why shouldn t we too? Whereas the panchayats were supposed to be a point of power, deciding about the life of the people living in the villages. So if there is a good panchayat, a functional panchayat, then the problems of those women who met us yesterday could be solved. What I saw in Kerala just last week, was something different. It was people fighting to say we don t need alcohol in our panchayat. So there, the government is giving them what they don t want and not giving them what they want. So the alcohol shop is in the interest of the liquor contractors. So a liquor permit is given to every panchayat and they can set up a shop. But what the people are asking for is clean drinking water, good health care system, good educational system, a plot of land for everyone to construct a house. So this is the contradiction: that the government is saying its people, we have the power to decide about your life and we will decide according to what is in our interest.

PS: You said to the crowd yesterday after that women came with her petition and tears, that A country that makes its mothers cry for shelter for the children, such a country has no future .

Rajagopal: No, it doesn t have a future. You see, in Indian philosophy we believe that if you are cursed by your own mother, then you have no future. My position is that India is cursed by all these mothers, and therefore it has no future. The pains and sorrows of millions of mothers who toiled, who worked very hard, who made this country they are suffering. I think that their curse and their pain will tell upon the country at some stage. Unfortunately India has a very peculiar way of dealing with things we call everything mother. For us, the cow is go mata, mother cow and we have destroyed the cow wealth completely in this country. We have slaughtered cows and bullocks and the cattle wealth in this country has really suffered. Terti mata, we call mother earth and we have completely spoiled it by poisoning it. We call the Ganges and the Yamuna Rivers, Ganga maia and Yamuna maia, but if you look at the condition of these mothers they are nearly dead. They are completely silted and poisoned and the factories are throwing their wastes in freely. We call Sarswati maia, the goddess of education and you know what the educated people are doing in this country. Lakshmi maia is goddess of wealth and we have abused the wealth in everyway. So everything is maia, mother. I think that a country that has decided to abuse its mothers. It is almost like raping your own mother PS: It expresses a kind of closeness though doesn t it? Rajagopal: Yes, when you say mother you are supposed to care, to love and care-because it is your mother. I mean if something were about to happen to my mother, I would give my life. So if the cow is your mother, the soil is your mother, Ganga is your mother then this is a big contradiction. Philosophically we would like to honour these things and treat them as mothers but in the modern way of life we have decided to abuse them. Children abusing their mothers, that is the worst thing you can imagine. So I think we are cursed by all these kinds of mothers and that will be a problem for this country. You cannot escape this destiny, if you systemically harm millions of women then you will pay the price. (Laughing) Read through the Mahabharata, it is all about how women curse and then things really go wrong. PS: I want to talk about Jansatyagraha 2012. First, I would like you to give me a little background. Tell me, after Gandhi what happened to Satyagraha, what was its history? What were its successes and failures? Rajagopal: Gandhi of course used satyagraha as a very powerful tool in his fight against the British. After him, many people also used it. Vinoba Bhave invented a new form of satyragraha, the foot march, or padayatra. Satyagraha also means suffering of self in the sense that it says, to people I am not just against you but I am willing to suffer in order to make my point be heard . Vinoba was walking for fourteen years, which was kind of a satyagraha. He wanted to address this problem of land reforms but he wanted people to address this problem, not the government. Vinoba was always speaking of the need for people to address the problem and not to wait for the government to do something. So he said

land should be given to the poor. Why should you ask the government to do it? Why can t we do it for ourselves? So he said, I will go to the people and I will ask for them to give some of their land for the landless people. So it was a real enlightenment for him to realize that people will give. And during those days land was not so expensive and more plentiful. So he received more than 4 million hectares walking across the country for 14 years. He was trying to educate people that they could solve their own problems. He was using a term called dan gift land gift movement (Bhoodan). I was always impressed by the fact that he took the issue of land reform. He thought the redistribution of land was important. He was also opposed to cow slaughter and he thought that the two were related. Because you need land and you need cows and bullocks to plow your land. It was a land based economy that he had in mind and it was a wonderful way of moving ahead after independence. But there is a difference between that and what we are doing. You may give a piece of land as a gift but then we are very dependent on you, on your change of heart. And that is fine. But people also have a right to land. And why should we have a government if it is not going to guarantee those rights? So I have only moved from a concept of dan gift to a concept of right. If you do not want to give, then the government should have the capacity to take it, because it needs to be redistributed. What is happening now is that the government is using its power to take land but they are giving it to the corporate sector and not to the poor people. What I want is the government to use its power to redistribute the land to the poor people and not to the corporate sector. PS: So satyagraha has to be focused on the government? Rajagopal: Yes, it has to be focused on the government. PS: And to focus on rights and the expectations of the government to give rights. Is there anything else that you have modified in the notion of satyagraha? Rajagopal: Yes, I have modified in terms of people s power. Vinobaji was walking and he had his charismatic personality and he was a saint. He was encouraging people to give. So it was the giver who became powerful and they could brag about what they gave. The giver became powerful. Well I have no problem with that but the receiver became powerless. That is a feudal mindset according to my analysis. In my theory, the receiver should also become equally empowered in the process. As a citizen of this country I have certain rights. The government is supposed to deliver certain things and I am asking for it. So it is not a question of someone s mercy and in the process of it you should not be asking like a beggar. But with certain rights, I should also get my land. So one shift is about rights and people speaking about their rights and using satyagraha to achieve them. The second thing is that through this process we make

the person who is asking for their rights more powerful and more confident about his own position. PS: And how do you do that? Rajagopal: This is through the training process. This where you get young people together so they can begin to understand poverty and the power relationship with society and they also understand that poverty has nothing to do with karma. It is man-made , so we can challenge it. With the deep understanding that the power structure can be changed if we want, they go back to the villages and organize the people. Slowly, then, this organized group of people learn to fight for their rights. They begin asking for water, for example, or an electric connection. So slowly they learn how to ask, how to ask as an equal not as beggar. So this is a big transformation, because they may always have known only to ask as a beggar and now they are learning to ask as an equal. So slowly these moments of transformation can be brought together. If there are hundreds of such actions in a country, we can bring together those actions into a very large action. PS: Its about raising people s consciousness? Rajagopal: Yes and helping people to understand that if they want to they can change their whole life. And that means realizing that nobody else is going to change my life. I mean its an old belief that someone else will come and change everything for me. From there it is a transformation to realize that I alone can change my life. That I will have to stand up and fight for it. And also pay the price for it. There are sacrifices. The other form of satyagraha is appreciated and this form is not appreciated by the state, by the government officials, by the feudal elements. And what is disturbing to them is not that you ask but the way you ask. If you ask like a beggar and you assume that you are the powerless and I am the powerful if that relationship remains they have no problem. I may even give what you want. But the moment you start asking as if we are equals, then you are not only challenging the resource balance but also the power balance. The control that I have over them is breaking now. So this is why, the people who might have liked what Vinoba did, may not like what Rajagopal is doing. Because I believe that a democracy is strong only when people can participate not as victims but as active participants. I believe that people are better off when they take responsibility for their life rather than depending on others permanently. So that notion has brought about problems and I think that this country has to go through that. It s a small turbulence that we need to go through. The mindset of the politicians and bureaucracy and the feudal elements is not prepared for that so there is a lot of backlash right now. In ten or twenty years time, it will be history and there will be more and more acceptance of that kind of approach. Maybe the next generation will benefit from what we are going through now because we are breaking some of those notions and stagnations.

PS: Now I want to ask about the implication of what you are saying. In the older model of Satyagraha there was the idea of the dignity of subsistence, what Gandhi meant by life in the villages. But when you move people into the modern political system to claim their rights don t you risk moving them out of their tradition way of life? So talk to me about development. People who are standing up for their rights, what will they achieve? What kind of life will they get? Rajagopal: It would be good to look at the difference between what we do now and what Gandhiji was doing. See in Gandhi s time, he was also involving people, asking for rights. But you were asking it from an outsider and as a result people had an interest in this even the feudal elements had an interest in this. If Gandhi can bring power from London to Delhi, then this will be our cup of tea . So using Gandhi for that transfer of power was a very interesting thing, for all the educated people and all the feudal people in this country. They all thought, that s a good idea, if Gandhi can bring it from there to here, then it will be our turn. We can use it and abuse any way we want . That is exactly what happened. If you look back after 62 years and see ask yourself what has happened to the freedom that Gandhi brought back from London to Delhi? Has it really gone down to the poor people of the country? Or was it hijacked? I would say it was hijacked and ordinary people have nothing to do with it. They are deprived of their dignity and their resources. While we are all proud of what happened at that time we need to ask what did the Indians do with that freedom? And what did they do to their own people? So the very people who supported Mahatma Gandhi when he brought freedom from London to Delhi are opposed to Rajagopal and others when we say that this freedom needs to travel now from Delhi to the village where we were yesterday. This is a bigger fight because the opposition is your own people. Politicians who say that they are legitimately here because they were elected by the very people you say that you represent. We are the representatives of this country and their attitude is who are you to come ask us what we should give or not give? Unfortunately, the parliament is captured by a group of people. Mafias can capture a parliament whether it is the Indian parliament or the Philippino parliament. Five hundred and forty people can capture the institution and make all the policies to favour their own interests. So the satyagraha method had great interest and appeal among the middle class when Gandhiji was fighting for national freedom. It had great appeal and appreciation when Vinobaji was pursuing it because he spoke in terms of gift and he was basically believing in converting people s attitude. But the moment it turned against our own people and when it fought for a right , not a gift, then the whole thing has been turned upside down. Satyagraha does not mean hating your opponent and I don t hate any of these people, I am always available to talk to them and negotiate. They have a right to their position. They have a right to be part of the circle this is what sarvodaya-the well being of all-- means. They do not have a right to exploit and take the resources away from others.

So satyagraha has become more vigilant and is faced with stiff opposition. What the opposition is trying to do is to make a new analysis of satyagraha. They are saying look Rajagopal is using satyagraha but he is creating a climate of discontentment and that will just breed violence. That is what they are saying. So I may cry day and night saying that I am promoting nonviolence but they will paint me with the brush of violence. Be careful of this man, he will be responsible for making this country violent because the space that is created is a space of discontent. So they are doing this, instead of delivering what they are supposed to deliver. People are unhappy and I am giving shape to that unhappiness but don t then just talk about the threat of violence give them what is their right, what they are supposed to get. PS: So at the same time as you are asking people to stand up for their rights you are also trying to promote a different vision of how to live together, one that isn t based on exploitation. What is that different vision? Rajagopal: That is where the notion of sarvodaya comes in. The quote we usually use from Gandhi is self-sufficient, self-governed villages uniting in a nation called India. In a country like India where you have 500,000 villages nothing is going to work from the top. Each village has to design what kind of a life they want. If you were to say, with the resources available to you in your village, you design a life for yourself. The villagers would be very happy to design that life. This would be the people s planning, and people s implementing. We can be here to facilitate. You should also think of your integration with the next villages around you and where there is a service gap we can come in to help. There is a way to go about these things. PS: Would that be enough to stop people migrating into the cities? Rajagopal: Oh, yes, I think it would. The moment people know that they will be allowed to plan there own life and given the skills and capacities, they will be eager to do it. Ekta Parishad is practicing this in many, many villages. Two hundred and fifty families sit together and they say, We have this land, we have this river flowing nearby. We need to have a school and a small hospital. How do we manage it? How independent can we be in terms of food sufficiency? How much dependency will we have on the market? What surplus will we have? This is a primary lesson in planning. If a society is given a chance they can do a lot more in a radical way. But if the village communal system is failing then people will be attracted to city and the urban way of life and caught up in its ways. Otherwise I think anyone with a bit of imagination must realize that you don t destroy all the village industries, all the natural wealth, all the soil. They could ask how do you create a decentralized self-sufficiency system where the government is not taking everything on its shoulders but rather people are taking things on their shoulders. After freedom we thought that is what this country would move toward. In those days, they spoke of a two-fold approach giving equal weight to industry and

agriculture. What we see now is that agriculture has been completely given away. Industry has got so much prominence now. In the approach to villages, however, there is no blueprint because each village will look different depending on whether it is depending on sea resources or forest resources or completely on agricultural resources. And there will always be an interdependence between someone who produces salt and someone who produces beedies. I think the government would have been an agency to facilitate this process rather than to destroy all that work that people had. Instead they turned them into a labour force and didn t even provide an opportunity for them to work as labourers. In the process, skills were lost, carpentry and blacksmithing and spinning and weaving and goldsmithing and many others. The British were really frightened of Indian skills. They knew that this country was full of skills and capacities and would survive. You can t destroy it, you can t destroy these people. But the Indian government was able to do that. The moment we became free they got rid of him and then systematically we got rid of his ideas and now what is remaining is one Rajghat (where he is resting in Delhi) and then some photographs in the offices of government. That is why I say that the powerful people of this country used Mahatma Gandhi as a political tool to bring freedom from London to Delhi. This is where you cheat people. This was one of the highest levels of cheating. How you manipulated and used Mahatma Gandhi to get what you wanted and then finished him off. PS: So what you re talking about is creating a new system of self-governance. Do you think the current political system with its parties is broken beyond repair? Rajagopal: It is a very complex situation in which we are operating. There are not only the destructive political forces but there are the forces of globalization and the village somehow has to stand in the face of both of these. Even in my training programs I make that clear. I draw a circle and say, that s a village . And then you draw the lines through it to say, this is where the village is divided into caste groups and into political groups. And then you realize that the village is completely destroyed as a village. The political parties and the caste system have destroyed it. So what I am trying to say is go to the village, understanding that it is so badly divided. There is nothing like a homogeneous village anymore where you are going to organize people. Wherever you go there will be resistance. So go and carve out a small area to start working, even with two hundred poor people in a village or one hundred. You won t get two thousand or five thousand to begin with. But then making your position with a hundred people, slowly you move into the hearts and minds of people. Discuss this issue, what is a village? Why are we so divided? Working backward like that, will take a lot of time. It will need many mature social activists who really understand the dynamics of rebuilding a village. We are caught in a different current now because in a globalizing world the resource transfer is so fast. We want to block this river somehow and we have been for many years, in order to save the villages. Still many villages that we were able to build up are gone

now, they are not even on the map anymore. The Land Acquisition and the mining have wiped them out and there is nothing left to show for our work there. So we have spent all this time on building models while all this time this force is taking away all that you create. Unless we can stop that, there is no chance for us. If you want to build villages as a model you need to stop this force of national and multinational corporations coming and taking all your resources, water-bottling companies taking your rivers, the land mafias taking all your land for industrialization, and the government taking still more land for national highways and tourism. So we are caught in a very, very difficult situation. PS: Do we have enough time to prevent this? Rajagopal: It depends on how fast we act. We also have to think and speak in big terms. People are more afraid to do that. But Ekta Parishad language is like that, we talk about training 6000 young people and mobilizing a hundred thousand people. Some people get excited because at least we still have the capacity to speak and think big. On the other hand, it is also true that people are surrendering slowly. Globalization is a reality. Global forces will introduce the market as the ultimate reality of the world and the market will dictate what is to be done and what is not to be done. Why spend your life fighting these forces? Well that is the reason I keep traveling around and saying, Can we get more people mobilized? Can we get more middle class support for this cause? Can we somehow still get world opinion in our favour. So the struggle is to find more people to come along. PS: Is that what Jansatyagraha 2012 is about? Rajagopal: Jansatyagraha is all about that. Thinking big. Janadesh was a rehearsal. Janadesh has taught me it is possible. If you have faith people and you are morally correct then you can stand. PS: You said that in the village yesterday about the poor, that they were morally right and that that was their strength. Rajagopal: That is right. They know they are morally correct, and millions of poor people like them, they know that they are morally correct. And those people in front of you, they know they are morally wrong. You see the weak are those who are morally wrong. The powerful are those who are morally correct. But we are making people believe that those who are morally wrong are correct and those who morally correct are wrong. This is a game in which we have been caught, but we need to shift that now and make people believe in the power of moral correctness again. I am not a religious guru, so I can t get a following from that. Otherwise, I would change the colour of my clothes (laughing). And I don t belong to a political party, so I will never get in to power and will never be able to hand out favours. Not being a

religious leader, not being a political leader, a social leader has limited things to offer. So I can only say come out and fight for your rights , but they know this guy is never going to give them spiritual freedom or political freedom. He is only making us suffer, so it is not something very appealing. PS: But you still have a following. Rajagopal: Still! (laughing) and knowing that this guy is not going to be the one who delivers. This man is not going to take us to heaven, but still go with him because he is morally correct. This is something very interesting. PS: So that is a deep motive for people, the fact that you are speaking the truth. Rajagopal: A very deep motive. They know that you have no other motives. They know that you only have good intentions for them. I think that making that a philosophy and making people believe in that takes a lot of time and energy. And then also it is very important to raise the resources to make that possible. You need to train young people and send them. Not being a politician or a religious guru, we are not controlling any resources of any kind. So you are struggling all through your life with very limited resources to see something happen. Then on top of it, we want to do something big to oppose the forces of globalization, and we have so many people opposing us. I always say that if I didn t have that opposition and if I had all the resources that I needed, I would have done what I wanted to do by now (laughing). PS: So if the march in 2012 is a success what will it accomplish? Rajagopal: We are setting up subcommittees to study and criticize the various policies of the government. We are going to say, we can t accept the forest policy, and why. And another committee to say why we don t agree with the water policy, and what do we want. And still another to say why we don t agree with the industrial policy of the government and to spell out what we want. So there are a dozen policies on which we have serious differences and we need to know exactly what we are asking for. So I am setting up a dozen committees and asking them to pinpoint what issues exactly will make the shift in the interests of the oppressed and poor. That will be the document to be discussed with the government when we are on the road. So the government can discuss, the government can shoot. That is up to them. If people s power is so irritating for them, then we don t know what they might do. But you don t stop an action because of what the government might or might not do. You can only prevent violence from your side, you can t prevent violence from their side. And that is why we are calling the next action karo y maro do or die PS: So policy change is one goal Rajagopal: Policy change and policy implementation.

PS: And what else? Rajagopal: If there is a real policy shift at the top, and policy implementation. That is if government is doing what it is supposed to do in terms of governance, then there is a lot that people can do. We don t believe in leaving everything to government. We are only asking them to stop promoting the wrong policies and then give space for people to live the way they want. That is where the Gram Swaraj village self-government will start functioning. With the Panchayat Act giving so many powers to the villages, they can really work to reorganize their resources and the government will have to facilitate that process. PS: So it will really mobilize people at the grassroots level? And that will have an impact on how they live in the villages? Rajagopal: Yes because then you are not taking land in the name of the expansion of cities. You the see the moment you take land for that purpose, people migrate. Then slums become prevalent, then violence becomes prevalent. The moment you transfer the resources of the people to multinational companies, they will travel to the cities. So you are driving the people out of their own habitat. You create a sea of dislocated people not because of a war like Iraq but because of the war-like situation you have created for their lives. So you need to provide them space to relocate themselves and work on their own life. I say this not only about India. It may also be a model that the Latin Americans and Africans can also follow. But it may be more than the Europeans and Americans can afford because the dislocation in all of these countries is huge. PS: So there is an international dimension? Rajagopal: Here we need to talk about a different way of organizing the economy. If you think only people with a credit card will survive then the majority of Indians will not survive because they don t have a credit card. These new forms of how you can accumulate wealth into a card or a bank, that is not the way Indians understand life. Its just a clever way for me to transfer billions of dollars around with me. I don t know how poor people will ever understand this game. The game created by the so-called clever circle of people, needs to be exposed. No one has tried to expose this. Perhaps Obama will try, but we already see how strong are the lobbies against him. We will have to see what he is finally capable of doing. PS: What about places like Palestine and the West Bank what can they learn from what you are doing? Is it the same problem at the bottom of those issues? Rajagopal: I think this is slightly different. But I am happy to see that there are so many groups trying to tackle this nonviolently. I think the world will have to help them with their dialogue. This is a problem when you have one powerful, arrogant group and one powerless group and the powerless are trying to take arms. It doesn t

work. In fact they have lost a lot of ground that way. It has also made the other side more oppressive in reaction. That is where the leadership did not really come up to what was needed. Arafat had a lot of opportunities and he used some of them. But then there was also a lot of corruption. There were many stories that come out after his death about the amount of money he took and that his wife took. That is why Gandhi becomes credible, I think. He understood that simplicity is at the core of leadership. So simplicity and nonviolence become a very powerful tool. That made a lot difference for Gandhi s leadership compared to many other leaders. In many countries you don t have that. You may have a nonviolent leader but not someone who is committed to simplicity. You need to have a lifestyle that is acceptable to people. PS: At the same time there are many grassroots nonviolent movements around the world now. Rajagopal: There are a lot of nonviolent movements. That is the hope for the future. And I hope one day one of them will emerge as a leader, because they are also getting a lot of world opinion. I think one day, a nonviolent leader will emerge and a solution will be found. It is one thing to practice nonviolence but the person in front of you may not understand it. The more I use nonviolence I realize that it is irritating for the person on the other side. They want to create a story that is all violence, to say ultimately this is all built around violence. They need to create a theory, a conspiracy theory. Some people cannot breathe without a conspiracy if there is nothing else there are Americans or Afghanis or whatever. Nonviolence is also much better for the state, in the sense that if groups are reacting nonviolently, using democratic space, then the state has to learn how to dialogue with them. Just as would happen between a company and a trade union. There would be a negotiated settlement. In many places, it doesn t happen because you have a very arrogant leader who doesn t even want to talk. Like Prabhakaran, in Sri Lanka, he s a good example. He was a good fighter but had no capacity to talk so he ended killing many, many people. We could say the Sinhalese government has also killed many people but Prabhakaran is equally responsible because in twenty years he couldn t find a table around which he could negotiate and get what he can, by moving ahead two steps and then perhaps another two steps. The state knows how to deal with violence just call in the police or the army. But if within the state there is no one who knows how to talk to a nonviolent movement then you will get nowhere. If there is a nonviolent movement in Palestine, then the state should say, we won t negotiate with the violent actors but we will negotiate with you. That would make the nonviolent actors more legitimate and credible, which would create an attraction for many more people. On the contrary, they don t talk to the nonviolent movement, they only talk because of violence. Then the

violence becomes more legitimate. The Israelis are not talking because of the nonviolence of the Palestinians, they are talking because of the violence of the last years. So states are making violence legitimate by reacting only to it. Even the Prime Minister of India will go to a place where there has been a bomb blast, but when we had 25,000 people on the road, he had no time to come. We finally had to ask his deputy to come and meet with us. This would have been an opportunity for the Prime Minister to say look what you are doing is wonderful and we recognize your struggle . PS: Is it because he was afraid? Rajagopal: I think so. First, he is not a people s leader. He doesn t know how to address that effectively. Second, he s advised by a lot of people that his life is at risk and that is a way of controlling the politicians. It is a mindset, the moment you become a leader you need half a dozen bodyguards around you. It s a very make-belief in which we live. You can make people believe in power and the concentration of power. Sycophancy is a big problem in countries like India. You know, people who spend their time praising you. Sycophancy is a kind of selfemployment in this country. You don t really have to do anything, just stay with someone and tell them how important they are. You will get good pocket money for that. And then you can become a goon and just help the rich to grab land. Hundreds of thousands of people do that. Then you will get a car and be able to drive around very self-importantly. You can be a goon for a political party, for a factory or a company. They can be very prestigious positions. Sometimes they call it public relations . PS: I want to ask about hardness of heart not feeling any sympathy for someone else. It is the one unforgiveable sin in the Hebrew tradition. It seems like many of the people you are talking about have this hardness of heart. What can we do about that? Rajagopal: That is a good term, hardness of heart. I didn t know that. There is a big risk at that level and I am very concerned about that as well. The educational system of the day has the possibility to create big brains and small hearts. That is the kind of gene we are injecting into bodies through this educational system. Don t feel. Don t be emotional. Be rational. How sad it will be if you have a society where the heart doesn t function at all. Even family relations are becoming like business fast dating, fast marriage, fast divorce. It s all a business plan. Very quickly the world is becoming a place like that. People are realizing this, they are missing their family. When people now begin movements called slow movements it is a result of the depression of this reality. This is why I support the idea of closing down all the schools and colleges for five years.

PS: Closing down all the schools? Really? Rajagopal: I think we need to revisit and relook at what we are doing to all the children of the world. This danger is only for the middle class and upper middle class, not for the poor people. When people tell me, the teacher is not coming to our school. Can you do something about it? I say, I am very happy. Don t let him in! (Laughing) Not getting into the education system is a plus. You may achieve certain skills and capacities by getting in, but at the cost of what? I think it is time for us to see what is killing the sensitivity of people. Why is it so competitive and cut-throat? Why are there so many lies? Why do people run after wealth and capital? Why are people so mad? Only when you stand back can you see what an amazing thing people are consumed with, grabbing and having more. It s a sickness. We have created a sick world. Individually you may not feel that but when you look at it as a whole, we have created a sick world. So I think the only way forward is by de-educating people. De-learning and re-learning. But first I think we just have to stop. Stop for five years. Nothing is going to go wrong if we do. Stopping would be difficult. Even if you know you have to stop, that s difficult. I mean if the craft is bad, you ground it. You don t keep flying it because you are making money. What are people learning? Why are educated people so arrogant? Why is it so difficult for us to make our younger generation understand that they need to respectful to others? Why is it so difficult to tell them that there is another way of living other than becoming a consumer? I mean, consumer is basically an abusive word, isn t it? I mean if we are all consumers, is that the description we would like to give of ourselves? We used to be ladies and gentlemen , now we are just consumers. It is such a terrible terminology and it is used for people. It s very insulting. I am a human being, not just a consumer. PS: Well, I guess you are proposing shock therapy Rajagopal: That s right. If you want to save the planet, we have to stop and rework the spirit. Instead, what is happening is that people are accelerating. Saying, we ll find a solution by going faster in the same ways. It will be very difficult for society to accept. If I had a child, the first thing I would say is stay home. Learn from society, learn from the Adivasis and come back with a lot more wisdom than just the hypocrisy of knowledge. Connect with people. You have eighty years to go in life, why should you not stop for a while. If you have a bad stomach, you stop eating for a while. Even the animals know that. But if we keep consuming we are only killing ourselves. It is like we are a machine and have to be made to function all the time. If we are not in the

shoe store, we should be in the pharmaceutical store. You should at least be somewhere consuming something. That is not the Adivasis idea of the good life. That is not what the ordinary people are all about. And you see this lady who wept the other day, she was just saying Leave me alone, with my small piece of land. I don t need Taj Mahal, and your Bollywood and your computers, just leave me alone. But don t take this small piece of land on which I live. That is one level of crying. Our work may have some impact on some people but if you are thinking of the world order of which we are a part, unless we catch the imagination of many to follow that, then not very much will change. It is like if you take the name of Gandhi to follow but do not catch the imagination, it is just a name, like taking the name of Jesus, but not following. Unless it clicks as a way of life, very little will change. I think people are desperate for a change. Some of them feel they are caught in a trap and they don t know how to get out. Others think there is a way out and they are acting in one way or another and others are promoting the idea theoretically. I think there is a large network of people emerging who understand the limitation of the process we are in. That s a good thing. The moment you understand the limitation of the process, the stupidity of the process, the weakness of the process, you are less likely to be fooled by it. I think a lot of people realize now that we are caught in a very stupid process called development where you are not only destroying your soul but you are also destroying your world. When we do something here, like Janadesh, then it can have a little impact across the globe. Perhaps next time the impact will be still bigger. What we are building now, Jansatyagraha, will be built from the lessons of Janadesh. In the dark of the world, some lights are appearing. The world is darker now but the response should be to light many candles. PS: Thank you. I am so happy we were able to talk again. Delhi, November 2nd, 2009 PS. I have been interviewing several of the activists in Ekta this week during the Satyagraha in Jantar Mantar and again I am struck by how motivated and intense the young people in your organization are. When I think of how many sacrifices they have made to do this work not thinking about careers or family I wonder again how they have been so inspired. Rajagopal: Yes. I think there are three things to say about that. The first is that young people discover the power of the poor and it is a motivation for them. You saw yourself, people coming from far away for this satyagraha, and then sitting all day and sleeping on the street for four days and having one meal per day that is a very powerful thing.

PS: I understand that now, that is exactly what I have felt this week and it is a very powerful thing. Despite everything that they were enduring, they were singing and dancing and celebrating through the whole event. As they marched off yesterday they were truly celebrating. Rajagopal: Yes, celebrating. So there is an incredible power there. There is the power of moral correctness that is on the side of the poor and then there is this ability to suffer and endure and overcome things with a great inner strength. I think that when young people see that they know they have encountered something real and it moves them. They want to connect with it and learn from it. The second thing is that when young people see you are genuine, that you really are living what you are saying, then they will not only believe but they will want to be a part of that. There are so many people who say this and that but then do not live it, that people no longer believe or even hope to find something that is real, I think. And young people are especially aware of this. They know when something is phony, when it is not real and, on the other hand, they know when something is real and they are attracted to that. So I think that that is a very important factor, that there is a personal involvement, a real connection between you and them that is grounded in this simplicity. That is what Gandhi showed us, that you must truly live what you are preaching. The third component is about how you deal with people and especially young people. It is not only that you are a just a good trainer , it is also about how much you appreciate what they do and how you appreciate when they are moving ahead. It is like a family; so when you appreciate your children then they look forward to this. It means something to them. Yesterday someone from the Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi came and said to me, Rajagopal, whenever I meet you, you always give me the impression that I am the most important person in your life. Other people tell me that as well. I say, That is the least that I can do . This is not just a tactic and it isn t mechanical. Its not just about being a good trainer. It is about the whole process: how you train people, inspire them, encourage them to grow and then, treat them as if they were your family. I always say that is only in a family that people will really take risks. When my brother is in some trouble, I will jump to his protection, because he is my brother. I will not necessarily jump when someone in the village is at risk. Why is that? It is because a family feeling is far beyond anything else I will feel. So I have been criticized for being a father figure and for being slightly feudal in this organization, but I say that is the nature of a family to say that I care for you, I am behind you. That has always been the family s role. PS. And that is your role now? Rajagopal: That is my role. I think as you grow you move from one role to another. I think you begin as an activist and then you move on as a worker. You may become a

leader, and then a trainer and finally, you may become an inspirer. So through all of these stages, all the way along, it is a very scientific pattern of growth. PS. And what that means is that you have given them the ability to do the work now To empower them. Rajagopal: Exactly. And so now my role is to be just an inspirer. As you have noticed in this Satyagraha. I was not there for a day because of my travel and feeling unwell. I came on the first day and then on the third day I came back. But I was not at all worried. I was sure things were going fine. I had absolutely no doubt about that (laughing). I did not need to be there or to be in control of the situation. So many other people spoke all of the leaders from the different states and I was able to be in the background. They didn t even take note that I was not there. So it is very interesting how the training works and there is a combination of many things involved. But motivating and inspiring young people is not really a technical job. It is much more that you are putting your life into it. So putting your life into it - that is what the training program is all about. So your question was how do we motivate young people. I would answer that young people are looking for someone to help them out. If that someone is a hypocrite, they know that immediately. If the person who is helping is a sincere person, they will go along. PS: I think it s important to recognize that the people I interviewed are not just followers . They are all real leaders, and I think maybe you have encouraged that. Rajagopal: Yes, they are all important workers on their own. In their places, they do marvelous things. They organize programs, they plan rallies. I am not even there. At any time, there are four or five hundred activities going on it different parts of the country. I also know that any day, that one of them gets in to trouble, I need to be there. They know that I will be a support if and when they need it, but normally I allow them to have the space to act on their own. So, as a result, these people are very confident in terms of what they have achieved. Many of the achievements that have happened in Ekta Parishad, in fact, have happened when I was not there! PS: And that s another reason why it can t be called feudal leadership, I think> Rajagopal: No, you re right, it isn t. So everyone in the organization is powerful. They are respected for what they do. They also get criticism if they don t do things. So now what I am trying to do is to show people how to differentiate between positive and negative criticism. Sometimes because of the culture here, people take criticism as backbiting, so they need to learn about positive criticism. Criticism is accepted when it comes from a person who cares for you. If you have no real interest in me, why should I accept your criticism? But if you care for me, I like your criticism. Even to be a critic, I need to be a well-wisher of you. That is the only way I

can criticize you, by being a friend and a well-wisher. Then if the workers know that, they can accept criticism and accept it in the right spirit. So we have been building a kind of atmosphere. It is very difficult to explain what it is all about PS: There is a lot of openness, a lot of communication Rajagopal: You create a climate, where a lot of things fit together, where young people develop confidence and commitment. In Ekta Parishad, it is very rare that people leave. (Laughing) And there is no possibility to hire and fire . Even if some people left, for some reason or the other, soon in one or two years time, you will find them back. They will say, We have tested other organizations. There is no democracy and there is no love, like we find here. What we get here is very different. We work hard here, but there is this love, and family feeling and freedom. So for people working in an organization like this, where there is openness and appreciation and love and communication, it is very difficult to work in an organization where it is just a matter or work and reports. Here nobody feels like they are working under somebody ; there is a real independence. And we are all equals. I was sitting on the dais because I was speaking and when you speak from there, we will listen to you. So it is only changing positions, it is not a question of authority. In a country like India, with a traditional culture, that issue of leadership and rank is very important of course. But we feel that we can use some of those cultural elements and reform them at the same time. You can t completely get rid of these things, like the importance of status, but you can use it positively. In fact this is what Gandhi did. He knew that India was a highly spiritual country and so he spoke to that. He talked of Ram and Allah in his discourses. I know that it is still in many ways a feudal society, so I will be perceived as the head of big family, a clan. But I can use that positively to change the roles not as a basis for authority and domination but as a possibility to give more to others. So I think we can reshape some of these cultural settings in a positive way. PS: And by doing that you may have a big impact on the culture, indirectly, through the very way your organization works, in comparison to a political party, say. Rajagopal: Yes that is a good point. It is very complex working with these cultural settings. For example, I am always telling people to stop touching feet (as a sign of respect). It is time for us all to stand up and be respected in our own right. But they keep coming to do it. On the other hand, when they do it, I bow as well to show my respect so that is another articulation of the culture. Its not just one person bending down PS: You can see it s a way of making contact Rajagopal: Exactly. It can also be explained in a deeper, spiritual way. Feet are the part of your body that are on the earth, mother earth. So its almost as if we are

saying I am not just going to touch your hand, casually, but rather your feet, where you are in touch with the soil. That s the most important part of your body. So touching feet and touching the soil under your feet are really the same thing. I think that was the original meaning, and afterwards it got different connotations about power because of the feudal system. But even now you find in many marriage ceremonies, the father touching the feet of the daughter. So it is not always one way. I myself was surprised about this when I first saw it because where I grew up in Kerala we do not have these traditions at all. I was very surprised when I on my first foot march because I discovered that I had a dog walking with me. He followed for six months and would not leave my side. You know in the Mahabharata there is a mythological story about that. Yudishthira one of the Pandava kings was going on the final, long journey with all his brothers to the Kingdom of Heaven, The Polar Mountain. One by one, they all died along the way, until all that was left was Yudishthira and a dog who had been walking with him. So that was the mythology and when the dog joined me in the padayatra, people said Oh this is like Yudishthira. And then soon I found people coming and touching the feet of the dog, putting garlands of flowers by it when it sat on the dais with me, feeding it. PS: And dogs are not respected in this culture Rajagopal: No, not at all. So the story only shows that touching the feet is a very emotion and very deep-rooted element of our culture. There are indeed some feudal elements but it is really a question of how we treat them, how we allow people to move forward and develop in their understanding. For example, how the phrase, Jai Jagat, Victory to the World has become our way of greeting that shows a remarkable openness. PS: If you stay around as I have done this past week and see the confidence of the people you are working with, you would never think there is anything feudal or top-down about the organization. But from the outside, at a quick glance you see, on the one hand, many trained and educated young people working to mobilize the Adivasis and then, on the other, the people themselves. I know you have recently set up a National Council though. Can you speak about that and how governance works now in Ekta Parishad? Rajagopal: The organizational structure is that there is a National Council and that is the highest body. It is made of twenty-four people, men and women, two from each state, who come from straight from the villages and have been chosen. Their names were recommended because of their work and leadership in the state. These are the twenty four people who were sitting on the dais on the first day. Under them, is the President. I am the President now. To assist me there is a Convenor, Ran Singh. To assist the Convenor, there is a Finance and Program Committee where we draw people from all the programs across the country. This committee has about nine people. Then we have also a Convenor s Forum. Each of the twelve states in

which we are active has a convenor and they all come together in that Forum. Then we have State Councils, who work at the state level. PS: So the highest level of structure in the organization now is the National Council made up of people from the villages? This has been in place for a year? How is that working? Rajagopal: This is yet to be fully realized. It is basically because this is a people s organization. That means that the committee at the top has to make the decisions. So now they are going through a period of training. The National Council and the State Councils are training because this new structure began only last year, as you say. Until then, it was the Program and Finance Committee that made decisions. But after Janadesh, we realized that this should not be the model; a people s organization should be led by the people. So it took a year for us to work with the state councils and select the National Council. The people working at the state council level are very confident and powerful you heard them speak, yourself, and you know that. At the same time, there are many trained workers who are full-time workers. They have different responsibilities, finance management, mobilization, and advocacy and they work in teams. The majority of these trained people are mobilizers, then there are smaller groups working on advocacy, research or finance management. PS: So this has been a big shift in the organization. Rajagopal: Yes, a very big shift. Now we are working to internalize it. The National Council has to assume its natural responsibility for example, that they come and sit on the dais when we have a satyagraha like this and that they are the ones who will speak to the people rather than me or some visiting politicians. And we have to see to it that there always equal numbers of women and men. PS: And this is another area where you are changing the culture? Rajagopal: It is basically using a positive opportunity to develop something new and to to strengthen people as they realize it. For example, last year we took 45 days just to visit the villages where we are working. So we did that with 35 of the senior leaders, just so that they would be able to really see the problems at the grassroots level. Now we are thinking that the senior leaders like me and Ramesh and Ran Singh we don t get evaluated, but we are always evaluating others. So now I am thinking to create a small team made up of people and workers to evaluate the performance of presidents and convenors and chairpersons. So there will be an evaluation soon of our performance. We have also passed bylaws saying that the chairpersons of the organizations should only stay for two terms or six years and there is some resistance to this. Some times love and affection can be a dangerous thing and people say to themselves As long as you are there, it should be a life-long position. So there is a democratic debate going on and this kind of democracy is not an easy thing for a country like India. Here, the family is not really democratic

and what we call democracy is a very crude thing. So to instill real democracy in the organization will take time and be very challenging. PS: And this internal democratization is really a result of Janadesh, isn t it? Rajagopal: It is always process driven. For example, when people had problems organizing at the local level, that is what led to forming Ekta Parishad, as a national forum. Janadesh was led by the people so if it was led by people, why can t the organization itself be led by people? So at every level there is a lot of learning and changing. Now, because of the solidarity that his been established, there are a lot of international travel possibilities, so I am struggling to see how that can be shared by more people in the organization. Another problem comes from the fact that we have a large number of village level workers and then some who are more qualified, with education and skills and can write. As a leader you need to keep an eye out that the writers and readers don t start dominating the people who work at the grassroots level, so that the mobilizers and organizers don t feel like a second class citizens. I mean both of them play a very important role, and there are many jobs for each of them to do, keeping the accounts, talking to the policians, and advocacy. This morning someone said to me, After Jill went back to Canada, advocacy has become very weak (laughing). I told them she was coming back and they were happy. Because Jill is a kind of backbone for the advocacy work and the work with women. She plays that role very powerfully. PS: We haven t talked about the European connections of Ekta or about international solidarity in general. You ve just spent a month traveling in Europe, can you speak about that? Rajagopal: This was very interesting, especially this time when I met so many people. I think international solidarity is one important space for changing then situation. We want that international solidarity--without showing that there is interference as sometimes happens to NGO's. So there are many possibilities for that. In Janadesh we certainly felt it. We had 250 people from abroad walking with us, many who collected money in Europe and many who wrote letters to the Prime Minister. We found it added a very important dimension to the struggle here. In my way of drawing the picture, there are concentric circles: first, there is people's power, then there is the power of moral rightness, then there is a component of spiritual power. Then there is also this dimension of international solidarity. That creates a pressure for positive change as well--when there is a realization that twenty five thousand people have cared enough to write letters in support or to raise funds. Then it becomes more of a global awareness. So this time, I was traveling to many different cities and meeting good crowds of people. In one place, it was like a real launching of Jansatyagraha 2012. It was in the

city of Nantes in France and the people there have decided that they will collect 10,000 'footprints' (signatures on a petition) in our support and 100,000 Euros. That means they want to feed us for a day. That one day of expenses will be covered by Nantes. That means I only need twenty-nine other cities (laughing).

PS: How did they develop such an interest and connection? Rajagopal: Well in France people know me now, over many years I have been visiting and slowly the connections build up. Then the film made by Louis Campana (The March of the Despised) really made an impact. Through that film they must have reached at least 10,000 people. In many cities that I visited last time, they wanted me to go back. They had organized bigger meetings. It has built up over years. In Grenoble, there were many young people who want to become more involved. I told them that before 2012 there are three years still: two years of training programs and one year of padyatra. And so they want to come and be part of the training. We have also made contact with the Green Party. I had a meeting with some of their members in the European Parliament and they are very interested as well. They are also going to nominate Ekta Parishad for a European human rights award. There was also a large business foundation that organized a dinner. When you ask, why is there this interest, I would answer that there are three reasons. The first is nonviolence itself. We have the tradition and the history of nonviolent action here and we have kept it alive. That is a special gift that is in the Indian tradition. There is an interest in that, in the West, I think. The second reason for interest is with the mobilization of the poor and the scale on which we have accomplished it. How do you mobilize the poor and how do they organize themselves--I think these questions are also of interest. Thirdly, there is our successful work with young people. I think that is another aspect of the interest in our work. There are other important connections too. In France, there is a great concern about food, organic and local food, such as we are working on here in India. As people are realizing, food cannot be transported all the way from China to France and be called 'organic'. The growing may be organic but the transportation is not. So this we have in common, the agenda of food and food security--and food prices. Connected to that is also the concern about climate change and how that is related to food issues. How we grow our food, how we may pollute the earth in growing it, how we transport it-these are all environmental questions and concerns that we share with those in Europe. PS: And on this level, as you said earlier, what you are struggling against is really globalization and its lack of concern for the 'local' issues and problems.

I was also just looking at the slogan on the new poster--'Globalize the protest for peace and dignity'. So that is what you are doing. Rajagopal: Yes after the trip to South American by Ramesh and the people from Gandhi International, we now have many good connections. Anna, a lady from SERPAJ is working with us and another woman from Kenya. And this is a very positive development, that we people from the 'global south' are developing this relationship of solidarity. For all these years, our communication has carried out through the north and now, for the first time, we are communicating directly. Southsouth solidarity that is what is possible now in much greater terms. There is a south-south communication that is very different in character and it adds a whole new dimension to all our dialogues even our dialogues with the North. PS: Is there a dimension of that in southeast Asia? Is SAPA Peace Alliance) a reflection of that? (the South Asian

Rajagopal: Yes, SAPA is that possibility. Now there is an organization called Anca Asian NGO Coalition for Agriculture. They are based in Manila and they work in the south and for the southern countries. They are a major organization taking on the issue of land and livelihood resources. SAPA is another forum which is limited to South Asia only. But through SAPA we are able to make contact with many organizations in South Asia. It is a difficult place to work in coalition however because of the various visa regimes. You are always suspecting of working as a political activist. Between Nepal and India there is no problem because there is no visa regime. But with Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, we cannot work so easily. With SAPA we are hoping to have people understand and appreciate the democratic space that is available and use it for action. We can always complain about the narrow framework in which we have to work and the resistance we meet and feel that it is very frustrating. The other option is go out and look for the space that is available and take it up and use it. So that is what SAPA is trying to do. It has allowed us to connect with many other groups through its peace agenda. That is its main focus, rather than land and livelihood. But we are trying to keep these two agendas in close relation. SAPA has brought many young people to India from different parts of south Asia and they have seen our action and our grassroots work, our footmarches. We have also sent young people from India to Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in order to understand the work there. So this will grow and develop, I think. I would say that the first circle of solidarity is India itself, the next is South Asia and then the third the South-South solidarity. The fourth circle will include Europe and North America because there is a real interest there and we are discovering our common cause. Though in many ways the connection with Europe happens very naturally and immediately there is a natural interest in India and in what we are doing. They appreciate what we do, they are fascinated with India so the connection is very natural. This is not so natural between say, India and Bangladesh. There we will have build our bridges.

PS: Sometimes your neighbours are the most difficult ones to connect with. Rajagopal: (Laughing) That is why Jesus said, Love thy neighbour . So we are trying. If you have it in your mind that we should grow in this way then we will not lose sight of it. We are keeping the south-south solidarity in sight as much as possible and thinking of it as an important goal. PS: I have one more question. You have already spoken about how the organization is growing and evolving. How you are learning from things that you didn t anticipate would happen for example, this process of being democratized from within. Can you say a little bit about what is the future of Ekta Parishad as a social movement? What do you foresee?

Rajagopal: I see it a lot of possibilities for Ekta Parishad, if we can keep our balance and values--honesty, responsibility and accountability, simple living and maintaining simplicity, growing slowly and building from the grassroots in a way that empowers people and then not overstepping our achievements. If we keep following some of these values that are the core values of the organization then, we will be fine. But of course the temptation is, as you grow, to adopt different values. These core values like nonviolence, have to be non-negotiable. If we keep those core values, Ekta Parishad has a lot of possibilities. And you know we should not be in haste, but rather continue to move into the spaces that are opened to us and possible to work in. Some people have been unhappy with us because they say we have not worked fast enough and really taken the fight to the state more forcibly. I have always felt that we should not enter into the competitive mode of haste but rather continue to keep our core values intact. Then I think we can make a difference to this country and its people. You see there is a tendency to behave always as if there is an emergency, but then that leads to you behaving in a chaotic fashion and doing things that maybe are not good: the house is on fire and you end up pouring more oil on the fire. There are many things that must addressed urgently but we must not lose our cool and our focus, what allows us to act in a systematic fashion. People are coming to understand our approach now I think, when we say we are concerned with you and we will help but we cannot compromise our core values. And then also, in that regard, it is important not to just become a political party because you are mass-based or to engage in compromises. The moment you start competing with others like that something important is lost. It is important to be allinclusive. I think if these values are kept Ekta Parishad has a great future. It will grow very naturally as its members grow and that is what this country needs, something that is based in the grassroots and grows, very naturally, toward the future.