Nanjunda described the purpose of his struggle as 'people-power vs money-power'. Photo: Adrian Arbib.
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14th May 2014
Heathcote Williams remembers India's great campaigner Professor Nanjunda's whose direct actions against Monsanto, KFC, McDonalds, Coca-Cola and the WTO inspired a nation and created an unstoppable movement of 10 million ...
"What India needs today is the Gandhian formula for progress, not the presence of the West which is interested in stealing our wealth."
This was Professor Nanjundaswamy's war cry
As he fended off corporate kleptocrats
And made war on genetically modified crops
And trashed Colonel Sanders's outlets.
He knew they threatened to "affect India's food security"
And in Bangalore swore, "they do India no good."
Pledging direct action to a farmers' rally of 50,000 he said,
"Junk-food joints serve chemically poisoned food."
He charged multinationals with "Western biopiracy"
Thanks to their patenting indigenous plants -
"They legalize theft and steal ancestral knowledge."
Then he added to loud cheers, "You can't."
Above, the video version of this poem by Heathcote Williams, with narration and montage by Alan Cox and containing photographs by Adrian Arbib.
The Margosa Tree, known as Neem in Hindi,
Has been subjected to eighty-five patents -
A priceless nitrogen fixative with anti-viral properties
It's misused to grow money in Manhattan.
Nanjundaswamy's vision was for India to feed itself
Through its collaboration, through its seed sharing,
Rather than through capitalism's tyrannical equation
Causing starvation by its corporate cheese-paring.
The pioneers of chemical weaponry, Monsanto,
Are trying to commandeer the food supply.
After their mutagenic Agent Orange, sold to the military,
They've more novel defoliants from which people die.
Indian farmers are persuaded to buy Monsanto's products
On the grounds they produce a higher yield,
But Monsanto's terminator genes for their seedless plants
With their attendant chemicals exhaust India's fields.
They deplete the microbial biodiversity of the soil
Calling its fertility into question.
Groundwater is ruined by Monsanto's herbicide
As it prepares soil for their seeds of deception.
Gene insertion damages the host plant's DNA then the organs
Of those force-fed its crops by supermarkets.
Rats instinctively spurn a genetically modified tomato or potato
As if knowing they'll grow tumours if they eat it.
But crooked politicians and crooked editors open to bribery
Will praise Monsanto for some cash in hand
Though such corporations are acquiring India's birth-right
And cause indebted farmers to forfeit their land.
Nanjundaswamy said, "Corporate killers should leave the country."
And he named Monsanto, and Novartis, and Pioneer.
For, with a tragic irony, despairing farmers, were drinking their chemicals -
Thousands were using them to commit suicide each year.
Since 1995, more than 270,000 Indian farmers have killed themselves,
A death every half hour in a gruesome tide.
In Vidharbha, in Andhra Pradesh, in Punjab, and in Karnataka
US corporations cynically sow their GM genocide.
Agribusiness with its genetically modified biotech cotton,
Engineered to produce its own insecticide,
Has its shareholders swatting people like insects
As it greedily sows the seeds of mass suicide.
But Nanjundaswamy organized a powerful response
And in Karnataka a million farmers joined him.
He always wore a green hat to show rural solidarity
And he had the courage to go out on a limb.
He proposed total decentralization and that villagers
Become the masters of their resources.
Whilst burning GM crops, he'd also invite McDonald's and Coca-Cola
To leave his country and to cut their losses.
For surely they poisoned sacred India with toxic sludge,
With poisonous plastic flesh and with sugar water,
And wasn't the profound sweetness of India's soil being soured
And its peasants being led like lambs to the slaughter?
Defiantly Nanjunda's farmers built up sustainable seed-banks
Cultivating strains of rice that survived flooding.
By dancing with nature, not bullying it with chemical hammers,
His seeds enjoyed the time-honored way of budding.
He fought companies trying to trademark any organisms
Containing the same letter sequence in their DNA
Which made them liable for royalties - royalties on biology itself -
There was even a company trying to trademark broccoli.
Nanjundaswamy described the purpose of his struggle
As "people-power vs money-power"
And his farmers' groups had some ten million members.
The moral high ground could grow the best flowers.
Nanjundaswamy's direct actions could often be fun
When Bangalore Town Hall proved unresponsive
He invited thousands to "Come and laugh at democracy"
And his laugh-in made the councillors attentive.
Nanjundaswamy was criticized for destroying property:
"How could he be a follower of non-violent Gandhi?"
But he said such property "denied the true development of people"
And thus he would justify his modus operandi.
Nanjundaswamy gave rural India a voice
And for that he was often in jail -
Denounced as a "rabble-rousing pseudo-Gandhi"
By those loth for their racket to fail.
But Nanjunda was unafraid of arrest and on one occasion
He and 37,000 others were rounded up.
He was stopped from entering Britain with 500 farmers.
Every authority wanted him shut up.
He defied the multinationals' Intellectual Property Rights
Being enforced by the World Trade Organization;
Wishing India's agricultural treasure to be self-sustaining
And to escape the money-men's neo-colonialism.
Starting seed banks to collect and multiply indigenous seeds
He determined to undo the harm done by agri-business
Through a sustainability that enabled holy India to be holistic
And by despising shallow notions of progress.
He never hid his intentions from anyone,
"Dear friends", he wrote in an open letter,
"Monsanto's field trials in Karnataka will be reduced
To ashes, starting on Saturday."
Furthermore he invited all Monsanto's investors
To watch its share value as it crashes:
"You should rather take your money out
before we reduce it to ashes."
Years before anti-globalization protests in Genoa, and Seattle
He was urging supporters to storm the seed company Cargill;
To wreck fast food outlets; to cremate Frankenstein crops
And to silence corporate cash tills.
As Cargill deforest the Amazon to grow animal feed for fast food
And as Indonesia's illegal logging gives them palm oil
Their Indian offices were squatted for a satyagraha, an "insistence on truth" -
Cargill's own files were 'deforested' and all their plans foiled.
With 50 male and female farmers from India and Bangladesh
He besieged Cargill's, the GM food giant's, main factory.
When a Cargill spokesman asked him for a petition, he was told,
"We don't have a petition. We believe in direct action."
Nanjunda's followers swarmed through the building
Ripping open cabinets and rubbishing their files.
Then mega-sized poultry-sheds destined for KFC India
Were torched by farmers with impish smiles.
Owned by Yum! Brands, KFC has nineteen thousand outlets
With profits of twenty-three billion dollars.
It determines to swallow India in its greasy, heart-stopping jaws
Were it not for Nanjunda and his followers.
"Get a bucket of chicken, have a barrel of fun" was KFC's inane jingle
Performed on Bangalore TV ads by Barry Manilow
But when Nanjunda learnt the company was bypassing local producers
He ransacked KFC with twenty-five farmers in tow.
A police van was then parked outside KFC for a whole year
Following their repeated attacks
Then, mercifully, the Bangalore council closed KFC down
Judging its food unhealthy and its hygiene lax.
A shot from David's sling had struck the corporate Goliath -
Then with food-poisoning lawsuits KFC couldn't duck.
In Australia a brain-damaged child was to receive 8 million dollars...
KFC's Yum! Brand was being downgraded to Yuk!
Alarmed, the United States Ambassador in Delhi
Wrote to the State Government of Karnataka
Demanding police protection for those companies
Whose loyalty was first of all to America.
He pointed to repeated attacks on American companies
By "miscreants", who were causing "insecurity".
The Ambassador then requested the State Government,
"To create an atmosphere without fear and anxiety."
He asked for police to provide guards for the company
That owned the Terminator Technology
And sold seeds that didn't germinate for a second time -
He sought protection for America's folly.
The Ambassador was part of the GM mindset
Which had Presidents toeing its line.
When President Clinton left office in disgrace
Monsanto thought he suited them fine.
One of the first to be welcomed by Tony Blair
When he entered Downing Street
Was Clinton - transformed into Monsanto's chief hustler
Although a proven liar and a cheat.
Nanjundaswamy was a lifelong vegetarian
Now caught up in a clash of civilisation;
He was fighting a noble and fearless campaign
Against Western contamination ...
Against gases like carbon monoxide used to color flesh red;
Against fast food slime that passes for meat;
Against chickens' breasts dipped in chlorine and bleach;
Against addictive chemicals making food sweet.
"Stop genetic engineering", Nanjunda cried,
Adding his slogan, "Cremate Monsanto!"
"No patents on life", his green-scarfed farmers chanted
"No patents on life", and "Bury the WTO!"
Sadly Nanjunda has now passed away and is somewhere
Far from capitalism's competitive strife
Where he's free to evict any deranged pseudo-scientist
Who may be trying to patent the after-life.
Heathcote Williams writes poetry.
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