September 12, 2010
life in general & financial markets: insightful analysis of indian government
"....The first step towards reimagining a world gone terribly wrong would be to stop the annihilation of those who have a different imagination—an imagination that is outside of capitalism as well as communism. An imagination which has an altogether different understanding of what constitutes happiness and fulfilment. To gain this philosophical space, it is necessary to concede some physical space for the survival of those who may look like the keepers of our past, but who may really be the guides to our future. To do this, we have to ask our rulers: Can you leave the water in the rivers? The trees in the forest? Can you leave the bauxite in the mountain? If they say they cannot, then perhaps they should stop preaching morality to the victims of their wars."
Arundhati Roy has articulated very well and very firmly the thoughts that are concerning any just-minded Indian today. Here are some more excerpts from her write-up:
The Trickledown Revolution
The answer lies not in the excesses of capitalism or communism. It could well spring from our subaltern depths.
In his seven years in office, Manmohan Singh has allowed himself to be cast as Sonia Gandhi’s tentative, mild-mannered underling. It’s an excellent disguise for a man who, for the last 20 years, first as finance minister and then as prime minister, has powered through a regime of new economic policies that has brought India into the situation in which it finds itself now. This is not to suggest that Manmohan Singh is not an underling. Only that all his orders don’t come from Sonia Gandhi.
Over the years, he has stacked his cabinet and the bureaucracy with people who are evangelically committed to the corporate takeover of everything—water, electricity, minerals, agriculture, land, telecommunications, education, health—no matter what the consequences.
Sonia Gandhi and her son play an important part in all of this. Their job is to run the Department of Compassion and Charisma and to win elections. They are allowed to make (and also to take credit for) decisions which appear progressive but are actually tactical and symbolic, meant to take the edge off popular anger and allow the big ship to keep on rolling. (The best example of this is the rally that was organised for Rahul Gandhi to claim victory for the cancellation of Vedanta’s permission to mine Niyamgiri for bauxite—a battle that the Dongria Kondh tribe and a coalition of activists, local as well as international, have been fighting for years. At the rally, Rahul Gandhi announced that he was “a soldier for the tribal people”. He didn’t mention that the economic policies of his party are predicated on the mass displacement of tribal people. Or that every other bauxite “giri”—hill—in the neighbourhood was having the hell mined out of it, while this “soldier for the tribal people” looked away. Rahul Gandhi may be a decent man. But for him to go around talking about the two Indias—the “Rich India” and the “Poor India”—as though the party he represents has nothing to do with it, is an insult to everybody’s intelligence, including his own.)
The division of labour between politicians who have a mass base and win elections, and those who actually run the country but either do not need to (judges and bureaucrats) or have been freed of the constraint of winning elections (like the prime minister) is a brilliant subversion of democratic practice. To imagine that Sonia and Rahul Gandhi are in charge of the government would be a mistake. The real power has passed into the hands of a coven of oligarchs—judges, bureaucrats and politicians. They in turn are run like prize race-horses by the few corporations who more or less own everything in the country. They may belong to different political parties and put up a great show of being political rivals, but that’s just subterfuge for public consumption. The only real rivalry is the business rivalry between corporations.
A senior member of the coven is P. Chidambaram, who some say is so popular with the Opposition that he may continue to be home minister even if the Congress were to lose the next election. That’s probably just as well. He may need a few extra years in office to complete the task he has been assigned. But it doesn’t matter if he stays or goes. The die has been rolled.
In a lecture at Harvard, his old university, in October 2007, Chidambaram outlined that task. The lecture was called ‘Poor Rich Countries: The Challenges of Development’. He called the three decades after Independence “the lost years” and exulted about the GDP growth rate which rose from 6.9 per cent in 2002 to 9.4 per cent by 2007. What he said is important enough for me to inflict a chunk of his charmless prose on you:
“One would have thought that the challenge of development—in a democracy—will become less formidable as the economy cruises on a high growth path. The reality is the opposite. Democracy—rather, the institutions of democracy—and the legacy of the socialist era have actually added to the challenge of development. Let me explain with some examples. India’s mineral resources include coal—the fourth-largest reserves in the world—iron ore, manganese, mica, bauxite, titanium ore, chromite, diamonds, natural gas, petroleum and limestone. Common sense tells us that we should mine these resources quickly and efficiently. That requires huge capital, efficient organisations and a policy environment that will allow market forces to operate. None of these factors is present today in the mining sector. The laws in this behalf are outdated and Parliament has been able to only tinker at the margins. Our efforts to attract private investment in prospecting and mining have, by and large, failed. Meanwhile, the sector remains virtually captive in the hands of the state governments. Opposing any change in the status quo are groups that espouse—quite legitimately—the cause of the forests or the environment or the tribal population. There are also political parties that regard mining as a natural monopoly of the State and have ideological objections to the entry of the private sector. They garner support from the established trade unions. Behind the unions—either known or unknown to them—stand the trading mafia. The result: actual investment is low, the mining sector grows at a tardy pace and it acts as a drag on the economy. I shall give you another example. Vast extent of land is required for locating industries. Mineral-based industries such as steel and aluminium require large tracts of land for mining, processing and production. Infrastructure projects like airports, seaports, dams and power stations need very large extents of land so that they can provide road and rail connectivity and the ancillary and support facilities. Hitherto, land was acquired by the governments in exercise of the power of eminent domain. The only issue was payment of adequate compensation. That situation has changed. There are new stakeholders in every project, and their claims have to be recognised. We are now obliged to address issues such as environmental impact assessment, justification for compulsory acquisition, right compensation, solatium, rehabilitation and resettlement of the displaced persons, alternative house sites and farmland, and one job for each affected family....”
Allowing “market forces” to mine resources “quickly and efficiently” is what colonisers did to their colonies, what Spain and North America did to South America, what Europe did (and continues to do) in Africa. It’s what the Apartheid regime did in South Africa. What puppet dictators in small countries do to bleed their people. It’s a formula for growth and development, but for someone else. It’s an old, old, old, old story—must we really go over that ground again?
Now that mining licences have been issued with the urgency you’d associate with a knockdown distress sale, and the scams that are emerging have run into billions of dollars, now that mining companies have polluted rivers, mined away state borders, wrecked ecosystems and unleashed civil war, the consequence of what the coven has set into motion is playing out. Like an ancient lament over ruined landscapes and the bodies of the poor.
Note the regret with which the minister in his lecture talks about democracy and the obligations it entails: “Democracy—rather, the institutions of democracy—and the legacy of the socialist era have actually added to the challenge of development.” He follows that up with the standard-issue clutch of lies about compensation, rehabilitation and jobs. WhatWhat solatium? What rehabilitation? And what “job for each family”? (Sixty years of industrialisation in India has created employment for 6 per cent of the workforce.) As for being “obliged” to provide “justification” for the “compulsory acquisition” of land, a cabinet minister surely knows that to compulsorily acquire tribal land (which is where most of the minerals are) and turn it over to private mining corporations is illegal and unconstitutional under the Panchayat (Extension to Scheduled Areas) Act or PESA. Passed in 1996, PESA is an amendment that attempts to right some of the wrongs done to tribal people by the Indian Constitution when it was adopted by Parliament in 1950. It overrides all existing laws that may be in conflict with it. It is a law that acknowledges the deepening marginalisation of tribal communities and is meant to radically recast the balance of power. As a piece of legislation, it is unique because it makes the community—the collective—a legal entity and it confers on tribal societies who live in scheduled areas the right to self-governance. Under PESA, “compulsory acquisition” of tribal land cannot be justified on any count. So, ironically, those who are being called “Maoists” (which includes everyone who is resisting land acquisition) are actually fighting to uphold the Constitution. While the government is doing its best to vandalise it. compensation?
Between 2008 and 2009, the ministry of panchayati raj (village administration) commissioned two researchers to write a chapter for a report on the progress of panchayati raj in the country. The chapter is called ‘PESA, Left-Wing Extremism and Governance: Concerns and Challenges in India’s Tribal Districts’. Its authors are Ajay Dandekar and Chitrangada Choudhury. Here are some extracts:
“The Central Land Acquisition Act of 1894 has till date not been amended to bring it in line with the provisions of PESA.... At the moment, this colonial-era law is being widely misused on the ground to forcibly acquire individual and community land for private industry. In several cases, the practice of the state government is to sign high-profile MoUs with corporate houses and then proceed to deploy the Acquisition Act to ostensibly acquire the land for the state industrial corporation. This body then simply leases the land to the private corporation—a complete travesty of the term ‘acquisition for a public purpose’, as sanctioned by the act....
There are cases where the formal resolutions of gram sabhas expressing dissent have been destroyed and substituted by forged documents. What is worse, no action has been taken by the state against concerned officials even after the facts got established. The message is clear and ominous. There is collusion in these deals at numerous levels....
The sale of tribal lands to non-tribals in the Schedule Five areas is prohibited in all these states. However, transfers continue to take place and have become more perceptible in the post-liberalisation era. The principal reasons are—transfer through fraudulent means, unrecorded transfers on the basis of oral transactions, transfers by misrepresentation of facts and mis-stating the purpose, forcible occupation of tribal lands, transfer through illegal marriages, collusive title suits, incorrect recording at the time of the survey, land acquisition process, eviction of encroachments and in the name of exploitation of timber and forest produce and even on the pretext of development of welfarism.”
In their concluding section, they say:
“The Memorandums of Understanding signed by the state governments with industrial houses, including mining companies, should be re-examined in a public exercise, with gram sabhas at the centre of this inquiry.”
Here it is then—not troublesome activists, not the Maoists, but a government report calling for the mining MoUs to be re-examined. What does the government do with this document? How does it respond? On April 24, 2010, at a formal ceremony, the prime minster released the report. Brave of him, you would think. Except, this chapter wasn’t in it. It was dropped.
Justice, that grand, beautiful idea, has been whittled down to mean human rights. Equality is a utopian fantasy. The word has, more or less, been evicted from our vocabulary. The poor have been pushed to the wall. From fighting for land for the landless, revolutionary parties and resistance movements have had to lower their sights to fighting for people’s rights to hold on to what little land they have. The only kind of land redistribution that seems to be on the cards is land being grabbed from the poor and redistributed to the rich, for their landbanks which go by the name of SEZs
During the Emergency, the saying goes, when Mrs Gandhi asked the press to bend, it crawled. And yet, in those days, there were instances when national dailies defiantly published blank editorials to protest censorship
This time around, in the undeclared emergency, there’s not much scope for defiance because the media is the government. Nobody, except the corporations which control them, can tell it what to do. Senior politicians, ministers and officers of the security establishment vie to appear on TV, feebly imploring Arnab Goswami or Barkha Dutt for permission to interrupt the day’s sermon. Several TV channels and newspapers are overtly manning Operation Green Hunt’s war room and its disinformation campaign. There was the identically worded story about the “1,500-crore Maoist industry” filed under the byline of different reporters in several different papers. Almost all newspapers and TV channels ran stories blaming the pcapa (used interchangeably with “Maoists”) for the horrific train derailment near Jhargram in West Bengal in May 2010 in which 140 people died. Two of the main suspects have been shot down by the police in “encounters”, even though the mystery around that train accident is still unravelling. The Press Trust of India put out several untruthful stories, faithfully showcased by the Indian Express, including one about Maoists mutilating the bodies of policemen they had killed. (The denial, which came from the police themselves, was published postage-stamp size hidden in the middle pages.) There are the several identical interviews, all of them billed as “exclusive”, with a female guerrilla about how she had been “raped and re-raped” by Maoist leaders. She was supposed to have recently escaped from the forests, and the clutches of the Maoists, to tell the world her tale. Now it turns out that she has been in police custody for months.
The atrocity-based analyses shouted out at us from our TV screens is designed to smoke up the mirrors, and hustle us into thinking: “Yes, the tribals have been neglected and are having a very bad time; yes, they need development; yes, it’s the government’s fault, but right now there is a crisis. We need to get rid of the Maoists, secure the land and then we can help the tribals.”
Not many analysts and commentators who were pained by the Maoist killing of civilians in Dantewada noticed that at exactly the same time as the bus was blown up by the Maoists in Dantewada, the police had surrounded several villages in Kalinganagar in Orissa, and in Balitutha and Potko in Jharkhand, and had fired on thousands of protesters resisting the takeover of their lands by the Tatas, the Jindals and Posco. Even now, the siege continues. The wounded cannot be taken to hospital because of the police cordons. Videos uploaded on YouTube show armed riot police massing in the hundreds, confronted by ordinary villagers, some of whom are armed with bows and arrows.
The one favour Operation Green Hunt has done ordinary people is that it has clarified things to them. Even the children in the villages know that the police works for the “companies” and that Operation Green Hunt isn’t a war against Maoists. It’s a war against the poor.
There’s nothing small about what’s going on. We are watching a democracy turning on itself, trying to eat its own limbs. We’re watching incredulously as those limbs refuse to be eaten.
In Orissa, for instance, there are a number of diverse struggles being waged by unarmed resistance movements which often have sharp differences with each other. And yet between them all, they have managed to temporarily stop some major corporations from being able to proceed with their projects—the Tatas in Kalinganagar, Posco in Jagatsinghpur, Vedanta in Niyamgiri. Unlike in Bastar, where they control territory and are well-entrenched, the Maoists tend to use Orissa only as a corridor for their squads to pass through. As the security forces are closing in on people and ratcheting up the repression, they have to think very seriously about the pros and cons of involving the Maoists into their struggles. Will its armed squads stay and fight the State repression that will inevitably follow a Maoist “action”? Or will they retreat and leave unarmed people to deal with police terror? Activists and ordinary people, falsely accused of being Maoists, are already being jailed. Many have been killed in cold blood. But a tense uneasy dance continues between the unarmed resistance movements and the CPI (Maoist).
People who live in situations like this do not simply take instructions from a handful of ideologues who appear out of nowhere waving guns. Their decisions of what strategies to employ take into account a whole host of considerations: the history of the struggle, the nature of the repression, the urgency of the situation and the landscape in which their struggle is taking place. The decision of whether to be a Gandhian or a Maoist, militant or peaceful, or a bit of both (like in Nandigram), is not always a moral or ideological one. Quite often, it’s a tactical one. Gandhian satyagraha, for example, is a kind of political theatre. In order for it to be effective, it needs a sympathetic audience which villagers deep in the forest do not have. When a posse of 800 policemen lay a cordon around a forest village at night and begin to burn houses and shoot people, will a hunger strike help? (Can starving people go on a hunger strike? And do hunger strikes work when they are not on TV?) Equally, guerrilla warfare is a strategy that villages in the plains, with no cover for tactical retreat, cannot afford.
Since the government has expanded its definition of “Maoist” to include anybody who opposes it, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the Maoists have moved to centrestage. However, their doctrinal inflexibility, their reputed inability to countenance dissent, to work with other political formations and, most of all, their single-minded, grim, military imagination makes them too small to fill the giant pair of boots that is currently on offer.
(When I met Comrade Roopi in the forest, the first thing the techie-whiz did after greeting me was to ask about an interview with me published soon after the Maoists had attacked Rani Bodili, a girls’ school in Dantewada which had turned into a police camp. More than 50 policemen and SPOs were killed. “We were glad,” she said, “that you refused to condemn our Rani Bodili attack, but then in the same interview you said that if the Maoists ever come to power, the first person we would hang would probably be you. Why did you say that? Why do you think we’re like that?” I was settling into my long answer but we were distracted. I would probably have started with Stalin’s purges—in which millions of ordinary people and almost half of the 75,000 Red Army officers were either jailed or shot and 98 out of 139 Central Committee members were arrested, gone on to the huge price people paid for China’s Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution, and might have ended with the Pedamallapuram incident in Andhra Pradesh, when the Maoists, in its previous avatar as People’s War, killed the village sarpanch and assaulted women activists for refusing to obey their call to boycott elections).