Volume: II, Issue II, July-December 2011
ACCUMULATION BY DISPOSSESSION AND RADICALISM IN CIRCULATION IN INDIA: ROLE OF THE STATE
Dispossession and forced separation of a section of people from the means of production are inextricably associated with state-led economic development. In an inherited post-colonial development paradigm, a ‘top down’ approach followed in India excluded the people living at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder as equal partners who with respect to rising ‘mainstream’ material expectations experience ‘dispossession’ by displacement. Radicalism based on this ground reality, a consequence of uneven development across social and economic categories and across regions, becomes a corollary that concerns both the state and the civil society. Rather than withdrawing from the system that evolved and got fractured over time, the paper opines, the state has to play a key role in development the beginning and base of which has to be to take into confidence the marginalized sections of the society like the tribal people, the downtrodden, and the poor as dignified and equal partners.
Development became the key word for the social scientists perhaps since the days of Adam Smith. The state captured ‘development’ to guide it, give it a meaning, because development is all-encompassing and mesmerizing; the state became the custodian or guarantor of development perhaps since the Great Depression (1929-1933). The state as the protector of citizens declared itself as the agent of development and got entangled with other intricacies in an international context. Even when the international agencies and institutions define development, it is the state that either accepts or rejects that defined path keeping in mind the dominant state that took the key role for such definition – this is because of the states being natural allies of the dominant state. The political-ideological perspective in development thus cannot be escaped.
At the national level, the state had to formulate rules and laws for conditioning production, including people. From free movement of people for trade across the globe prior to European domination of the world economy, it became free movement of capital along with restricted movement of people across countries post-formation of European states. Development post-Keynes is primarily seen as an outcome of investment, and hence the importance of generating re-investible surplus. Accumulation becomes the pre-condition for development. Capital owners and controllers cannot do it alone – expanding the scope and space to re-generate capital through its circulation. Hence, the role of reproducing labour came to re-create the space for circulation of capital and increasing accumulation. Both national and transnational capital needed safety that had to be guaranteed by the state and hence the role of the states in international economic relations became prominent.
There are some direct methods for private accumulation like loot and plunder, exploitation of the ignorant people in the informal rural credit market, transfer of land ownership by deceit, keeping inter-generational labour bonded and confined, virtually free-of-cost child labour etc. There are also indirect ways of accumulation like transfer or drain of resources from one country to another through political colonization, annexation, economic supremacy by trade-related unequal exchange, manipulative pricing in an intra-firm exchange across borders, barter of benefits within and across countries. In a post-private property scenario in a particular economy, the individual can apply higher brain power to deprive others to grab the land areas and assets underground. Transformation of resources by self-labour and hired labour as the derivative of this leads to products showing value of a kind different from what the nature directly provides. In post-monarchy, the resources belong to the people where the state becomes the custodian of resources. For the state, accumulation for enhancement of state power by capacity of production to start with depends on how best to utilize the population as workers to generate surplus. The biological capacity of the individual as a worker in the domain of production thus becomes the base of accumulation by appropriation of the surplus value that the worker generates.
The rest of the paper is structured as follows. In Section I we talk about development-led dispossession in international and national contexts. In Section II we present the scenario on radicalism in circulation in India with three selected examples. In Section III we talk about the role of the state in development-induced radicalism in India. Finally, Section IV opens up the question – solution or change.
I. Development-led Dispossession
Economic development in its journey both divides and consolidates space. In consolidating, it also shows colonization by conquest. The trajectory of development being ascending, it follows a gradual shift from cave-cum-jungle life to rural living to urbanization, from land-based production activities like agriculture to less land-dependent industry. The economic space accordingly changes from being unbound-extensive to being bound-intensive. But in the same process, the controllers of space change from locally settled visible landowners in agriculture to invisible industrial capitalists. Within the geographic boundary of a politically sovereign state, it could be economic ‘Balkanization’ and across borders it could be ‘economic consolidations’. This is also seen as a forward movement in history – movement from visible human face to invisible consequences on human beings.
Though industry requires less land, it is not land-independent. However, the uses of land become sharply different in industries from what these had been in land-based occupations. As soon as the industrial projects are launched, some land area will be identified to be enclosed. Hence, necessity will come to convert agricultural land into industrial uses, whatsoever small in area it is. This will lead to both setting up of industries and eviction of direct land-dependent people. While in pre-industrial society land directly provides the means and scope for earnings to the people, in industrial society land only shows the boundary of operations that is closed for others.
The history of industrialization of the countries in Europe showed the enclosures and eviction of people settled for agriculture. Between 1870 and 1914, more than 50 million people had to leave Europe for North and South Americas, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa for resettlement after being displaced from the agricultural sector. The displacement was driven by both the push factor of land-scarce Europe and the pull factor of land-abundant Americas in particular (Nayyar, 2002, p. 145). In Russia planned industrialization post-1917 Revolution led to millions of peasants evicted from land and used in urban industries, mining, hydroelectric projects, thousands of collective farms (kolkhozy), and state farms (sovkhozy). The percentage of population working on land gradually declined not only in the UK and the US but also in Japan and China, particularly since the days of the first industrial revolution in the UK. Around 1600 AD, 2.76 per cent of the total land was enclosed and 50,000 persons out of a total population of around four millions were evicted in the UK. In China since the 1950s around ten million people have been displaced due to hydraulic and hydroelectric projects alone (Sarkar, 2007, p. 1436).
Evidence in India
Since independence, the state in India has been executing a ‘top down’ approach in development by setting up large industries and projects like mines, dams, ports, plants and expansion of road and rail network, each of which displaced people. Heavy industrialization was at the core of India’s planned development and hence large areas had to be acquired. The state of Orissa used 40,000 hectares of land for industry between 1951 and 1995. The state of West Bengal used two million hectares of land between 1947 and 2000 for industry. The private corporate sector, often the Transnational Corporations, has been targeting mining land and hills in the states of Orissa, Jharkhand, and Chhattisgarh in India. For example, Posco, the world’s fourth largest South Korean steel company, had signed an MOU with the Government of Orissa in 2005 to set up a plant near Paradip port in Orissa’s Jagatsinghpur district aimed at producing 12 million tonnes of steel per annum. The project cost was estimated at $12 billion (Rs. 55,200 crore). The Government of Orissa on July 09, 2010 announced a Rs. 70-crore rehabilitation package for the 3,000 people to-be-displaced by land acquisition. Mostly the mineral-rich and government land-abundant less industrialized states were being targeted for acquisition of land. Vedanta Aluminium’s $1.7 billion proposal to mine bauxite in the Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa that was destined to oust the local tribal community violated forest and environment laws, as reported by the National Advisory Council of the Government of India. Construction of dams to feed drought-prone areas, of which the Narmada Dam Project is notoriously known for the disputes around the Narmada River that flows into the Arabian Sea after passing through the states of MP, Gujarat, and Maharashtra, led to displacement of people. The acquisition is not only for public sector units but also for private players like Reliance, ESSAR, Jaypee for both power generation and mining that inescapably displace people (Sharma and Singh, 2009, pp. 62, 64-66).
In post-independence India, development projects like dams and canals displaced 70.9 per cent of all the people displaced by state-led development projects up to 1989. For industrial set up it was 6.4 per cent. Overall 25.5 per cent of the displaced people could be rehabilitated (Fernandes and Rao, 1989). Displacement by declaration and payment of money as compensation does not make it voluntary. This is for many reasons. First, the displaceable people living at the bottom of the economic ladder do not understand the compulsions of industrialization. Second, many of them wait for the end time in the processes of acquisition to understand that their land is really going to be acquired. Third, many of them do not have land rights on paper. They are neither made part of the decision-making processes ex-ante nor do they have the capacity to negotiate vis-a-vis the section having power to manoeuvre. The absence of capacity is for many reasons like perpetual poverty, fear, illiteracy etc. These displaceable people are the consequence of development - earlier thought of as the cause of underdevelopment.
Land was never thought to be a factor of production in industry, either because land was abundant in supply relative to what was required or because the required land area was insignificant relative to the available land area of any particular economy. The small area required for setting up of industries was also because of its high-tech nature that moves away from dependence on land by area. But after a point land scarcity becomes evident by choice revealed by the decision-makers for setting up or extension of industries. This choice takes two forms – first, near the market-cum-urban areas, and second, by selection of mining areas, forests, and hills. The immediate consequence is similar – the displacement of the people living in the villages near the urban areas, and displacement for the people living in the forests and hills remote from the urban areas. The remote consequence remains dependent on the location of rehabilitation and resettlement.
Land acquisition actually implies acquisition of a physical area that covers cultivable soil area, plus plantations, water bodies, residential buildings, animal sheds and many other assets that ‘land by area and volume’ carry. Land is not only a means of production but is also a base of livelihood for the land-dependent people to exercise other opportunities like employment and allied activities. Moreover, for the people rooted in the villages in India, land has cultural value immeasurable by economic parameters.
The nature of displacement from land may be exogenous due to war, partition, drought, flood, landslide, cyclone, and earthquake. What we are concerned with is displacement for endogenous reasons like land acquisition by the state for industrialization. The proximity to market-cum-physical infrastructure for location of industries means people settled by housing and land-based occupations are displaced. While landowners give up land in the process of acquisition by the state, landless people are deprived twice, once by not getting the opportunity to work on land as agricultural labourers and the other by not being eligible for compensation. Obviously, the landless people dependent mainly on Common Property Resources (CPRs) are outside the purview of compensation of any type. One of the major reasons why people remain rooted in rural region in India is CPRs for livelihood. Access to and uses of CPRs in India are delinked from ‘property rights’ under capitalism. While use-value of CPRs remains unpaid by any individual because of its non-marketability and non-excludability, the individual fails to be compensated for loss of access to CPRs following land acquisition.
II. Radicalism in Circulation in India
Any idea spread or action initiated by an individual or a group in a politically sovereign country that the state authority thinks threatening the sovereignty of the state is understood as radicalism in India. Radicalism is in-built in a particular development paradigm that the state practices – the ‘top down’ approach where the people at the bottom remain at the receiving end, the potential beneficiaries post-‘trickle down’. This paradigm cannot be ‘bottom up’ because of the initial condition – the inherited property structure post-colonization that is based on highly skewed distribution of land in rural India and capital control in urban areas.
In a pre-industrial economy, land is the primary means of production or basic source of livelihood. In a community-based living, land shows the base of livelihood by provision of food, fuel, and fodder for man and animals. Apart from sub-division and fragmentation of landholding in post-partition India over time, the initial asymmetric distribution of land marginalizes a sizeable section of the land-dependent population. In absence of appropriate land reform measures initiated and implemented by the state, radicalism centered on land grab becomes the last resort for the marginalized people.
Radicalism questions status quo by violent means adopted by the have-nots against the propertied section on the expectation that the middle-path-following urban intellectuals at a mature stage of the peoples’ war would join the have-nots to seize state power. We cite here three examples of radicalism in post-independence India.
Example 1: Land Grab Movement in Telengana, Andhra Pradesh (1947-)
Post-colonial India inherited inequitable ownership of land with oppressive production relations in agriculture. This was a major cause of concern for the state and the statesmen, which was the reason behind the launching of the Bhoodan Movement in India immediately after independence. The ‘land grab’ by the landless labourers of the Telengana region of the state of Andhra Pradesh in south India had risen in open revolt against the landed interests under the influence of the Communist ideology. The Bhoodan movement was launched by Acharya Vinoba Bhave, a Gandhian, as a response to the non-legitimized ‘land grab’ movement sponsored by radicalism (Nanekar and Khandewale: 1973, pp. 5). The Bhoodan Movement was basically a method of collecting land from land owners through land donation for distribution among the landless agricultural labourers that was launched in India post-independence. It was based on the Sarvodaya ideology of Mahatma Gandhi which is the removal of all kinds of inequalities in society by the formation of a Sarvodaya (equal) Samaj. However, this voluntary attempt towards land donation-cum-distribution did not go too far in absence of state intervention (Karve: 1961, pp. 977)
Example 2: Naxalbari Movement in West Bengal (1967-)
Naxalbari movement was continuation and spread of Telengana movement - a decisive break with Parliamentarism (Sen et al, 1978, pp. 175). In case of radicalism around land grab by the radicals in and around Naxalbari in 1967 in north Bengal region of West Bengal in east India, the idea of land reforms was bottom up. The state responded in two ways, one administratively by containing the militancy by arresting the radicals, trapping the radicals and declaring their death by encounter and the other was by addressing the question of land re-distribution. The Marxist leaders coming to power in 1969 in West Bengal Assembly tried to distribute land among the landless and roused in the process the concealed militancy among the peasants. The landlords offset the effort at land distribution by getting injunctions from judiciary that, in turn, furthered the process of disenchantment of the peasantry with the system (Sen et al, 1978, pp. 65). The land reform measures that followed in West Bengal during the late 1970s after the Left Front came to capture state power were lessons learnt from the movement launched by the radicals in West Bengal during the late 1960s. The state appropriated the ‘bottom up’ movement by ‘top down’ approach by encapsulating the ‘supporter land-dependents’.
The movement of the radicals, basically against the landlords and moneylenders in rural Bengal, was neither organized nor structured. It was based on spontaneity that rested on the objective condition of increasing population excluded from the benefits of development or uprooted from land coming forward, particularly in rural Bengal, following Mao the Great leader of China, to encircle the towns. The target was bureaucracy and police, the twin pillars of public administration, and removing the faith of the general people on the inherited colonial administration. The movement assumed an elastic capacity to expand and underestimated the bureaucratic power transferred by the ruler of the world of the 19th century. Bureaucratic state took revenge readily – by arresting, by killing in encounter, by rehabilitating, by internalizing, by propaganda, and by creating division within the movement. Naxalbari movement saw its end at the end of the 1960s, though it showed to the state the necessity to learn by initiating land reforms and other measures subsequently.
With respect to changing historical time and state tolerance, the way of looking at radicals also changed. During the late 1960s and early 1970s, an individual possessing Marxist literature was considered as an offender in view of the state machinery in West Bengal which perhaps it was not during the first decade of the 21st century. It seems there is a hierarchy of radicalism, in ascending order, like CPI – CPI (M) – CPI (ML), the bottommost one more tolerated by the rightists since the CPI (M) was considered as more radical that got truncated from the CPI in 1964 following differences over Indo-China conflict of 1962. The CPI (M) that accepted the path of Parliamentary Democracy since the late 1970s to remain in state power in West Bengal for more than three decades at a stretch also shows its acceptability to the rightists. The CPI (ML) as the remaining carrier of Maoism is left outside the ‘mainstream polity’ and is considered as a state enemy. What the rightist-centerd state could encapsulate was both CPI and CPI (M), the latter through reliance on bureaucracy and police for governance of West Bengal since 1978 till 2011 which went against it to show the hollowness of the bureaucracy-dependency.
The state response to radicalism in West Bengal was based on ‘Economism’ like accommodating the educated section in nationalism-network of coal mines, oil, and banks during the late 1960s and early 1970s and, in parallel, rehabilitating a section of them in newly-opened educational institutions of higher learning, apart from those who were made to disappear or killed. This was compelling for the bureaucratic state because some of the radicals allegedly were from the well off sections of the society. This section had to be rehabilitated either by being sent abroad, or being resettled in the institutions for cultivating innocuous ideology. Status quo strategy of the state remained intact with some cosmetic changes within the structure.
Example 3: Maoism in Dantewara, Chhatisgarh (2007-)
In spite of Bhoodan and Gramdan for the landless, nationalization of the core production sector and financial institutions to accommodate the middle section of the population economically-ideologically, and rehabilitation of the ‘well-off radicals’, the state of India continues to experience inner conflicts. These are not necessarily political ideology-centric. Recently, the state seems to be at a loss so far as radicalism in the Dantewara region in the newly created mineral-rich state of Chattisgarh in India is concerned. The state of Chattisgarh shows high number of tribal population living in hills and forests full of mines and minerals that have drawn the attention of the corporate sector. The grabbing of the natural resources for the corporate sector has led to peoples’ war, particularly in the Dantewara region of Chattisgarh state. The economy of the state shows sharp inequality.
The Government of Chattisgarh recently arrested a medical practitioner-cum-cultural activist, put him before Judiciary at the state level and the latter sentenced him to life imprisonment for ‘sedation’, a charge that follows from colonial administration as embedded in the clauses of 150-year old British-Indian Penal Code formulated and implemented for British colonial purposes. The specific allegation was that the person was a sympathiser of the Maoists who carried literature for the imprisoned Maoists. No appeal by intellectuals at the national and international levels could bail him out. Subsequently, the Supreme Court of India granted him bail after long confinement in prison. Ultimately after the person got bail through Apex Court’s pro-active role, the state of India came to appropriate him by proposing his name as a member of the 40-member panel of the Planning Commission to advice on health planning for 12th Five-Year Plan. One should not be surprised – one is a state-man if one is not in prison; if one is in prison then he is not a state-man. What one is supposed to be is to become a state-man. The state Chief Minister expressed his displeasure for the bail of the person but could not go against the judgement of the Apex Court. The CM continues to write to the PM of India expressing his displeasure for inclusion of the person in Planning Commission to receive only non-response. After all, it is political economy.
It is alleged that there was probability to air strike and sending military to Dantewara region to contain the poor people there, mostly tribal people. Neither air strike was operationalized nor was there direct military intervention. What the state could do strategically was to divide the victims and control the radicals by the ‘local state-men’. State clearly knows the ‘person interested’ a la 1894 LA Act and hence does not tolerate the ‘outsiders’. Obviously the police and public administration cannot be outsiders. Locality thus is controlled by the nationality.
The selected three examples as cited do not show any time-trend or time-spacing or any specific turning point in history. These are the examples that need to be explored and analysed further to unearth what are there in the structure of the economy-society-polity that give birth to radicalism. It is, however, beyond doubt that both private and state accumulations dispossess people at the bottom. These marginalized people have no access to Judiciary, Press, and public institutions that might voice their concerns. Historically, multiple boundaries had been erected against them – by maintaining them as labour-on-demand, particularly as migrant workers to be drawn as and when needed. Dispossession by displacement also robs their opportunity to go back to the root. Hence, these people-on-demand for development have nowhere to go – they are expendable now. After a point they lose the ‘capacity to live’ because the environment in which they had been living are now missing following corporate-cum-state intervention. Once the Darwinian losers become expendable, they may be used by any power lobby – it could be the state using them against the other vulnerable section, if needed, or it could be the radicals consolidating them under some banner.
The public policy perspective concedes that the areas experiencing militant radicalism suffered from ‘development deficit’ and unaddressed grievances of the area-specific settled people. The public response as an offshoot of the ‘deficit’ by discontent, unrest and extremism varies over regions depending on socio-political mobilization and demobilization. Since the state representing the Union of India often considers the radicalism question as a law and order problem, and since law and order is basically a state issue in a federal structure as in India, the radicals follow border region between any two or more states to operate. A single provincial state in such a scenario fails to address the problem. The modus operandi of the provincial states also being sharply different, hypocrisy works more than efforts trying to go at the root. For example, a Marxist Government in West Bengal might feel shaky to hurt the radicals, many of whom were break away individuals from the same polity, while the caste-based government in UP may feel not-much-disturbed by radicalism so long as it can balkanize the society within based on ‘caste and rule’. Radical path simultaneously leads to nowhere in a large country like India by geographic space, size of population with people operating at different layers and levels and responding differently. Spatially, often mobilization itself takes caste or community routes that worsen the ‘development deficit’ by its perpetuation and appropriation of state benefits by social fragmentation. While radicalism as a method cannot be caste or community dependent, the state may prefer to address the public grievances through law and order.
III. Role of the State in Development-induced Radicalism in India
The role of the state in India is essentially conditioned by dual forces – one internal that is relative to the governed and the other external that is relative to the response of the rest of the world. The state power is the power of the state to withstand both the internal pressure of the governed and the pressure of the rest of the world. The state power is determined by the resource base, the technology-in-command, the trade-participation ratio, particularly trade in high-tech areas, and over the entire diversified product basket for both economic self-reliance and exports. Many of these factors, in turn, determine India’s strength in the world institutions like the World Bank, the IMF, and the WTO. The Government of India remains concerned to acquire power and assert it in the global domain like in the United Nations, for example, to get the permanent seat in the Security Council.
In order to attain goals as such, the state in India maintains internal governance by hard power, subject to some limits and pressures of the civil society, and externally soft power to make the post-Cold War hegemonic power understand the importance of India in global power structure. The hard internal power of the state is often camouflaged as accommodative that is based on inclusion of the vote-bank into the social safety net. These ‘nets’ really keep people dependent. The state-led development paradigm is capital-centric that has a historic tendency to declare a cross-section of people as surplus. Technological advancement, not matched by expanding market constituted by the wage-workers, reinforces this tendency.
In addition to declaring labour as surplus, the state-planners continue to depend on repetitive import of capital-cum-technology from abroad, mainly from the advanced capitalist countries, in absence of home R&D. Even with some R&D, the types of products for consumption of the well-off needed either import of those products or import of technology. Even during the regime of import substitution in India, the state policy went in favour of import of technology. The production system that remains dependent on import of capital goods-cum-technology weakens the state power vis-a-vis the corporate world rooted in the advanced capitalist countries. One corollary is feeling compelled to invite the transnational corporations as vehicles of advanced technology. This technology is far from the need-cum-demand structure of the asset-income poor in India. In the whole scenario, the people living at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder remain irrelevant.
The state has reasons to go against radicalism lest it disturbs the political-administrative status quo that is considered necessary for economic growth. Radicals are often seen by the ‘mainstream society’ as anti-development. A trade off is calculated between the private cost of the adversely affected people and social benefit of the development project post-implementation that goes in favour of the latter and hence the state decides to acquire land by displacing the people from the root for launching the development projects. As if, these people were living in non-development mode of production. The historical evidence is to the contrary. Pre-colonized India had resources to feed the needs of the people and people preserved those resources by timely and limited uses. The fact is that the urban-centric capital-led technological advancement converts at a point of time these people redundant. These are the people identified as the tribals living in forests and hills, the dalits living at the outskirts of the cities and in slums. So the first victims in the process of development are the tribals, the dalits and the poor in general along with the women and children in their families.
For the tribal societies, while community ownership of land continues to be the dominant mode vis-a-vis individual ownership, it is a matter of concern that land reforms, following the abolition of intermediaries, treated the community land and wastelands as government lands and were assigned to other purposes. This constitutes a violation of the land rights of the tribals and hence, an alienation. What concerns is the state appropriation of community land as state land based on the Roman law, namely, anything not assigned by the sovereign belongs to the sovereign, that was introduced in India by the British colonial rulers in the frame of European state that derecognized tribal’s customary right with respect to land.
The displacement of the poor from the root makes the system function better in favour of the state beneficiaries by provision of reserve army of migrant labourers to work as security guards, liftmen, rickshaw pullers, vegetable vendors, head-load workers, domestic assistants, child workers, and prostitutes. Dispossession of some helps the accumulation of the other through subsidized labour market.
The displacement-dispossession-led accumulation is also a necessary condition of a whirlpool economy – an economy that is restless that always reshapes itself. The economy that targets industrialization cannot tolerate a village society with people locally confined. It unsettles ‘local people’ to make them global by enforced mobility. If the local people do not move out on their own, corporate capital enters with the state support to unsettle them.
The state owes the nation by birth. However, the state becomes the owner, instead of the custodian, of all resources and converts people into resources, so that unless declared relevant for productive purposes, a section of the people remain non-resources or redundant on the state-trajectory of development. The redundant section serves the relevant section as and when required within the frame of multiple boundaries erected against the ‘redundant’.
The state knows what development path is appropriate, chalks it out, and imposes it on the people – people either participate in it or sit on the sideline to observe. Often the people at the bottom remain passive participants as beneficiaries of the state-sponsored schemes. In countries like India with limited functional literacy, people at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, mostly rooted in the villages, fail to understand the state terminology used by the institutions like the Judiciary, public administration, and police.
The state represents the ideology of the dominant political society and camouflages it by the declaration of a ‘democratic republic’. The state remains strong internally by imposition of laws it formulates for non-or-restricted access of the original settlers in forests and on land who are the initial insiders to the resources. The state is strengthened as a protector of forests and land. On the other hand, the state has a tendency to allow private capital to extract and convert natural resources, including land, into consumable goods for the mainstream. The sections that are considered now not in the mainstream constituted the original stream. These insiders were the tribals and the dalits (downtrodden) who distanced themselves from the institution of private property understood by ‘excludability’. The sections are now evicted who protected these resources since time immemorial not backed by any state laws but as a natural practice in life because it was not only considered to be their life-support system but also their deity. By state reservation and acquisition of land, collective social ownership-cum-use is surrendered – what gets supreme is the state authority.
The politics of the governed or the public response to the crises differ in India by regions/states also. The issue of land acquisition in Singur posed serious challenges to the Government of West Bengal which had serious political consequences, perhaps the major reason behind toppling the Government through 2011 Assembly Elections, while the same issue in Uttar Pradesh had either very little public protest or very limited impact of that mild protest on the rest of the society. In fact, instead of consolidation of the losers, there was consolidation of the gainers in favour of land acquisition by any means that included industrial houses, real estate dealers, public administration, middle section in the civil society, and sometimes intelligentsia. A state like UP based on ‘caste and rule’ hardly leaves scope for consolidation of the losers while a state like West Bengal characterised by class conflicts shows political consolidation on both the sides, the winners and the losers, and hence the spatial differences in public response. While the processes look different, in UP it being an example of demobilization of the losers as opposed to mobilization in West Bengal, the consequence by displacement is similar in both the states. Singur may be a case in exception.
The state functioning in the economic domain is the Government. Economic outcome is the concrete expression of political decision-making. Theoretically, there should be no conflict between liberal democracy and aspirations of people, for the public institutions in democracy are the windows for political decision-making. Aspirations of people addressed through these institutions are supposed to be translated into policies for action. The question thus is not if we need the institutions, but how best to address the aspirations of people through these institutions. The problem comes when, because of all-encompassing behaviour, the state monopolizes power, where often the Judiciary takes a backseat. Often the Government represents the state and controls even the Press. One such example could be the Internal Emergency declared by the Government of India during the mid-1970s in India. While the Constitution of India remains the guiding principle, it is amendable as and when required in the interest of the ruling authority. Some of the guiding principles by laws and Acts are archaic and draconian like the 1894 Land Acquisition Act that still guides land acquisition by the state. The same Act amended as Land Acquisition Bill 2007 pending to be passed in Parliament to be an Act, also limits the jurisdiction of the Judiciary. In the internal context thus it is not the end of the state – the state becomes more powerful. The external context is different where the state sometimes becomes the subordinate to global corporate capital.
Political colonization for purposes of extraction of natural resources thus is not a necessary condition for accumulation now. The global corporate capital is free to enter into the host country, get in collaboration with local junior partners and start extracting the resources. State pledges high growth – offers natural resources to be transformed, if necessary, exported and hence gets high growth. A percentage of the growth goes to the coffer of the state as taxes, a percentage of which is spent on social security of the poor who had been displaced-dispossessed and marginalized. The state becomes both a developmental state and a welfare state. What loses sight is perpetual dependency and non-sustainability of such growth.
IV. Solution or Change: In Lieu of a Conclusion
Solution is bureaucratic – hence, routine and static. Change is creative – hence, innovative and dynamic. In case an economy goes for evolutionary ‘societal changes’, civil society generally does not go for revolutionary ‘social changes’. Often civil society, because of long-term colonization and being accustomed to bureaucratic tasks, cannot look beyond routine works and cosmetic minimum societal changes. In case of crises, often the members in the civil society, particularly the state beneficiaries, seek support and advice from former colonizers and seek consent from the global authority. The authority converts internal crises into a global concern, intervenes, and fuels it. In the global authoritarian context it boils down to installing a puppet government with a view to controlling radicalism and eliminating communists anywhere in the world for global safety. Internal and foreign rulers often go hand in glove, the former for foreign trips for accumulation of fortunes at home and abroad, the latter for easy entry into the host countries to extract resources through MNBs and MNCs. A particular ‘top down’ development paradigm persists that helps little the mass society. However, societal changes fail to deliver desirable results from the angle of the marginalized after a point, and there comes the revolutionary task for social changes.
Solution is a state-task, while change is a nation-task. Solution refers to something accepted by consensus among the conflicting people at a particular point of time; change refers to a period of time. State power is in favour of status quo; hence, it goes for solution to divergences accepted as problems. Nation goes for better realization of aspirations and goes for change. Asking for change is not anti-state. It often becomes difficult to differentiate between the state and the nation when the former is more consolidated and overpowering to appropriate the latter by techniques and strategies.
Of late, in the context of land acquisition from private landowners for ‘public purposes’ as declared in 1894 Land Acquisition Act, the displaceable people agitating against dispossession are being identified as ‘anti-development’. The state-beneficiaries claim to be pro-development by snatching land by displacing people from the root and using them as cheap labour in the urban informal economy. Dispossession for A and accumulation for B go together.
The ‘mainstream’ society that blames subsidy provided by the state, for example, in social security schemes meant for the poor keeps general silence on scams of different types, the non-transparency in case of non-performing assets in the Banking sector, the capital flight, and the parallel economy in general where the poor are not the participants by choice. The argument of the ‘mainstream’ is against support income of the poor in the rural economy or subsidizing the poor. The fact remains that the poor subsidizes the non-poor by provision of cheap labour. The precise point is that the whole system that got evolved over last sixty years in post-partition India is decidedly against the economic-poor, the bottom-caste, the village, and the manual labour. Within the poor, it is decidedly against the tribal people and the dalits. And within the tribals and dalits, it is decidedly against the women and children. Persistent poverty is the platform on which the state plays the politics of ‘Garibi Hatao’ (Removal of Poverty) while radicalism comes as a politics of the governed. Ad hoc benevolence distributed by the state through social security measures or ‘stop-go’ militancy of the radicals fails to uplift the poor above persistent poverty.
The excluded and the marginalized hardly understand the whole nexus or network of benefits. The deviations from pro-poor development leads to either silence on both the sides – the privileged and the excluded – for different reasons, or after a point it flares up by methods that create tensions in the society. Post-independence ‘land grab’ movement by the radicals in the Telengana region of the state of Andhra Pradesh followed by land rights to tillers movement in Naxalbari in the state of West Bengal during late 1960s and Dantewara-type Maoist reaction in the state of Chattisgarh since 2010s show this in a major way. The radical protests and movements now have reportedly spread to almost 200 districts, mainly inter-state border districts, in India.
While radicalism is one way of drawing attention of the state or the indifferent intellectuals to the perennial survival problems of the poor, it disturbs the peace of the middle section in the society. In fact, in many of the regions in India that work based on casteism, communalism, gender insensitivity, Brahminical mindset that show rigid hierarchy of privileges by birth, radicalism is prohibited as an ideology not only by the state but also by the privileged society. At the end, radicalism shows at best the objective conditions at the bottom of the society unaddressed by the civil society effectively other than some dubious interventions by some non-government organizations here and there.
The problem of radicalism thus is not one of law and order, as is often understood by the state – it is rooted in exclusion and deprivation of people from the processes and benefits of development. It also could be that the state is ready to accept the naive version of the recurring crises. State strategizes short-term measures to address the visible problems and offers a solution as a cosmetic change. It is often because the Government is elected for a maximum period of five years beyond which its fate is unknown. Often the offered solutions change by nature and nomenclature. The series of poverty-alleviation programmes and schemes bear testimony to this. The bureaucratic state is not confused on what it is offering – it confuses people at the bottom. The state rationally argues in favour of peace and stability without understanding that dispossession at the bottom layer of the society is inconsistent with such ‘peace of the graveyard’. However, the state machinery feels comfortable to understand the problem as one of law and order. But then it often fails to set the appropriate perspective of rule of law for social transformation converging to an egalitarian society. The failure is compensated prima facie by coercive administration. Draconian state machinery, hence, depends on uses of police, para-military and military to take action against the radicals by fake encounter deaths, death in police custody, prison-confinement, arranged justice, sometimes cutting off state benefits from the locations identified as ‘infested’ by the radicals, stopping logistics at the ‘infested’ zone, intimidating supporters or sympathizers of radicals among others. The British-Indian Penal Code is still being used against the radicals and the sympathizers of radicalism which was once used against India’s freedom fighters. The task is to come out from the archaic state code of identifying radicals and state-jacket of understanding society.
The author thanks the anonymous referee for the critical review and feedback on the draft article. The usual disclaimer applies.
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