So I did not expect him to remember me from that brief meeting so many years ago and I was really surprised when he came up to me after a session in which I had intervened to counter something that one of the speakers had said and said how pleased he was to have met me after so many years. I was astounded to say the least. A person who had achieved so much academically and as an activist in the intervening period still remembered that I was around in a corner of the country he had visited so many years ago.
Immediately we got down to discussing the situation of grassroots struggles in this country. Jean confessed that he was pessimistic because all that he had thought would happen due to the passage of the good laws in favour of the poor had not happened and the bureaucracy and mainstream political parties were still eating away public money and depriving the poor. He said that his grassroots activism had come up against seemingly insurmountable barriers. Two of his colleagues at the grassroots in the fight to get MGNREGS implemented had been murdered by vested interests and this had set back the work of his organisation. He had resigned from the membership of the NAC because he found that it had lost its earlier cutting edge pro-people orientation. So both at the grassroots and at the policy level he felt that he had reached a dead end.
I, however, argued otherwise. I told him that the battle for justice is a long and hard one and one should have a great deal of patience and just peg away at moving forward by inches. Many great changemakers had come and gone and there had been many revolutions throughout history but given the power of the centralised State systems and the economic entities that controlled them the masses remained in poverty and deprivation. Instead of looking at 100 and feeling down that we had got only 10 marks we should look at 0 from where we started and feel up!! I told Jean that the Acts that had been passed in the new millennium had immensely helped work at the grassroots and now it is possible to use these to build up organisational work despite setbacks from time to time because it is possible to take the Government to court for not implementing these acts. So the fight for justice isn't as difficult as it was earlier and I gave him our own example in Western Madhya Pradesh. We had achieved much more in the last seven years after the passage of these new acts without once having had to go to prison than what we had achieved in the twenty years before that when we had gone to jail on many occasions demanding the things guaranteed in these acts!!! The struggle for rights is always a long one and the best attitude with which to approach it is that of a long distance runner.
Jean replied that this interaction with me had pepped him up and he said that he would visit Alirajpur some time soon to meet our colleagues there and get some tips from them on grassroots mobilisation. Now this is a great show of humility that is the true mark of a genius. Even when you have achieved a tremendous amount in life you still believe that you have not really done much and have yet to learn from others.