ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

A+| A| A-

The New People's Movements in India

Social movements in India that have challenged accepted notions of development and political participation have changed since the 1980s. These movements are now centred around people's concerns, but their involvement and impact have perforce been multifaceted given the diversity of constituent population. The challenge has been to counter the new paradigm of modernism and development by proposing alternatives that are not "archaic or traditional" but rather rely greatly on local cultures, initiatives and knowledge as key driving forces.

SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly December 15, 2007111The New People’s Movements in IndiaSanjay SangvaiSocial movements in India that have challenged accepted notions of development and political participation have changed since the 1980s. These movements are now centred around people’s concerns, but their involvement and impact have perforce been multifaceted given the diversity of constituent population. The challenge has been to counter the new paradigm of modernism and development by proposing alternatives that are not “archaic or traditional” but rather rely greatly on local cultures, initiatives and knowledge as key driving forces.The decade of the 1980s saw almost all the presumptions of the established development paradigm challenged, by the experiences of “development” of people, through ad-vanced scientific and social analysis and increased political ac-tivity. The issues were not only proper implementation of pro-grammes or distributive justice, but a crisis of development itself, howsoever well implemented the policy was. The questions asked were fundamental: development at whose cost and at what cost, and what constituted development itself. People’s movements re-sisted increasing commodification and monopolisation of natural resources like land, water and forest, their unsustainable use and unequal distribution, exploitative power relations, the central-isation of decision-making and disempowerment of communities caused by the development process. They asserted people’s rights over natural resources and decision-making processes. Movements of landless, unorganised labour in rural and urban areas, adivasis, dalits, displaced people, peasants, urban poor, small entrepreneurs and unemployed youth took up the issues of livelihood, opportunities, dignity and development. Moreover, the process of development itself resulted in large-scale displace-ment, destitution, centralisation and destruction of resources. All over India, the victims of development fought against their unjust displacement and for dignified rehabilitation and resettlement, questioning the development projects and the policy behind these projects. There have been various issue-based movements – sometimes known as “micro-movements”, each one of whom brings forth distinct yet interrelated experiences, challenges and strategies to deal with development. Since these challenges were part of the same macro reality, the resistance and creative responses too formed– sometimes unintentionally and sometimes deli-berately – an interrelated and multi-front battle. Different aspects of development were dealt in diverse ways and intensity, yet their diverse responses formed a loosely interrelated chain of policies and strategies, leading towards an undefined common approach, of which many movements themselves may be unaware. These movements integrated democratic and human rights, equality, justice, and environmental sustainability with the larger concept of development. Development, in turn, has been a politi-cal process, as any change in the established development pattern is related to change in the power structure and decision- making in the country. The groups undertaking the constructive work in the rural and tribal hinterlands regarding alternative land, water and energy management, education and science have been working with an understanding of this intrinsic political nature of their work and its linkages with the larger struggle – transforming entrenched power relations. Some prominent This essay is based on earlier writings in Marathi journals such as Sadhana, Andolan and the English journal Janata. The writer thanks the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS), Delhi, for providing a fellowship and an opportunity to elaborate on this theme. Special thanks in theCSDS to Suresh Sharma, Yogendra Yadav, Aditya Nigam, Dube, D L Sheth, Vijay Pratap, Rajaram Tolpady, Jasvir Singh, Avdhesh Kumar and Baba Mayaram for sharing their comments and insights. I am thankful to the CSDS administrative officer Riyal and his colleagues, librarian Avinash and colleagues and the hostel management for their support in Delhi.Sanjay Sangvai was a journalist, thinker and senior activist of the Narmada Bachao Andolan and the National Alliance of People’s Move-ments. He passed away on May 29, 2007 battling a fatal illness. He was a Gandhian and travelled widely in the country in his commitment to peo-ple’s struggles and alternatives, with his contributions covering issues relating to big dams, displacement caused by development, alternative politics, state atrocities, the emergence of new social movements and responsiblejournalism.He had submitted this article toEPW, based on researchundertakenatthe Centre for the Study of Developing Societies shortly before his tragic death.
SPECIAL ARTICLEDecember 15, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly112movements emerged in this period, which give an idea of the kind of politics they were striving for.These processes and their ideology have intrinsically been against both the “modernist” baggage of development and at the same time also against post-modernist tendencies to postulate each struggle as fragmented from another and the predominance of the “politics of the local”. The struggles are different, issue-based and localised, yet their context and purpose are overarch-ing and interrelated. While deconstructing the reality helps to understand processes to a certain extent, these movements were scrupulous not to fragment the reality and struggles when clear choices and action could not be conceived. The resistance by women in the “Chipko” agitation to save community forest in Uttarakhand in the early 1980s or the strug-gle of the villagers against Birla’s Harihar Polymers factory in Dharwad-Kusnoor in Karnataka assert community rights over common property resources like forests and against pollution or displacement by dams or factories. The successful opposition to the Silent Valley Project in Kerala or Bodhghat, Inchampalli or Koel-Karo projects by tribals in Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand re-inforced the importance of forests and green cover and the in-alienable rights of tribals. The Shoshit Jan Andolan in Maha-rashtra also had been a forum for coordinated struggle for community rights over land.Ideas and PrinciplesThe ideas and principles that the new people’s movements arti-culated can be illustrated by referring to the issues highlighted by some prominent movements like the Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha(CMM) with its slogan ‘sangharsh aur nirman’ (struggle and rebuilding),Girni Kamgar Sangharsha Samiti, in Mumbai to save the livelihood and housing rights of textile mill employees; the National Fishworkers’ Forum upholding the rights of over eight million fishworkers and against big Indian and multinational trawler owners. The latter has been struggling for the rights of the fisherpeople and other dependent communities over water bodies like the sea, ponds, lakes, reservoirs and rivers, etc. The Kanoria Jute Mill workers’ struggle in Kolkata ushered in new trade unionism, combining agitation and constructive work in the context of an anti-capitalist, anti-imperialistic politics. The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) in Rajasthan has unearthed the potential of the right to information for food and livelihood security. During more than 22 years of struggle the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) has been one of the important milestones in the social-political movements in India. It has raised the issues of displacement, environmental and economic destruction, and the vital question: “who should sacrifice for whose benefit?”. It has revealed the linkage between large-scale displacement and “public purpose” projects by examining pubic purpose in all respects by the project-affected people. The his-toric Harsud rally against “displacement, destruction and ine-quality and for new development” on September 28, 1989 was a major event in the politics of development in India in which over 350 organisations and groups participated and questioned the current development paradigm, charting out the course of an al-ternative development. The Bhopal gas tragedy in the early 1980s raised questions about hazardous technology, the location of such industries in the populous third world, corporate responsibility – or irresponsibility – and state collusion with it. With the “new economic policy” and concomitant liberalisa-tion, privatisation and globalisation (LPG) policies, various exist-ing organisations and new forums like Azadi Bachao Andolan have launched a campaign against the onslaught of national and multinational capital. The united struggle by local communities, trade unions and various organisations under the National Alli-ance of People’s Movements(NAPM) against the infamous Enron company in Konkan and more recently against special economic zones (SEZ) are examples of major struggles against LPG. The Umbargam struggle against the Wadhvan private port or the struggle against the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and free trade by thousands of peasants in Karnataka under the banner of the Karnataka Rajya Raitha Sangha(KRRS), or against the World Bank-sponsored forestry project by Madhya Pradesh organisations are some more illustrative examples. The struggles against Enron in the mid-1990s and against the Coca-Cola company in early 2000 also brought in sharp focus the collusion between the powerful political elite in India withMNCs. On another front, many secular groups view fundamentalism as part of the wrong development paradigm and related policies. They have been integrating anti-communal issues with other issues and collaborating with people’s groups, recognising that the struggle for secularism can be meaningfully fought with the larger struggle for alternative development. The peace and anti-war movement in India is also renewing itself and is basically related with development. It has contributed to the continuous rethinking with regard to the issues of national security, national pride, and global imperialism.Since the 1980s, there has been constant interaction – intellec-tual and political – between the new and conventional ideas and groups – the socialists, neo-Marxists, environmentalists, scientists, sarvodayis, peace groups, anti-communal and women’s groups, people’s science groups, dalit and backward caste organisations, minorities and unorganised labour. They have also been partici-pating in different struggles and programmes and discussions related to development and democratic process. Out of these di-verse experiences and movements, an interrelated and all-inclu-sive paradigm of development and its politics has been evolving. The emergence of various spatial and issue-based fora is another interesting development during these years. This has facilitated coordinated thinking and programmes, and internal discussions and debates regarding development. The people’s movements since the 1980s have been converging diverse approaches and ar-riving at a common minimum in this melting pot. It is increasingly felt that conventional straitjackets in perceptions, conceptions, ideologies and strategies fall short of interpreting the complex contemporary reality and envisaging appropriate responses to it. Different from 1970sThese movements are qualitatively different and offer an im-provement on the egalitarian-democratic movements till the 1970s. They have developed more egalitarian, decentralised un-pretentious and flexible organisational forms with very less
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly December 15, 2007113hierarchy – that flows too from the commitment and hard work of the individual. They have evolved a new informal work culture and camaraderie which increases efficacy and reduces unwarranted bureaucratic hassle. The paradigm of new development repudiates many aspects of “modern development”, as the latter had provedcounter- productive. It does not hark back to the some pristine or golden era, but has been unravelling social disquiet, apprehension and misery. The new movements’ development paradigm is very con-temporary and forward looking. It is not a philosophy of poverty as alleged by their opponents and even sympathisers, but espouses a politics of the poor and marginalised in an endeavour to make life more efficient, elegant, and contented for everybody – as against the injustice, disparity and vulgarity inherent in the prev-alent capitalist and consumerist development politics. Various aspects of this new paradigm have been evolving in diverse ways and no one can claim an ultimate and foolproof “alternative sys-tem” or ideology. There have been many debates among organi-sations and ideologues about the demands, principles and even ideology while outlining the contours of a broad new ideology.Towards a New ParadigmThe new movements have questioned conventional/established planning and development – not only because of its failures or be-cause it was beset with corruption. The established development model was put under scrutiny since it has been destructive, divisive and unsustainable, and as a result generated much resistance. Hitherto techno-economic activities alone have been consid-ered to constitute development and values like equality, justice and democratic rights or sustainability were considered at best supplementary. The movements have reiterated that develop-ment must also envisage equality, the exercise of democratic rights and ecological sanity. It is these ideals that should guide the technical, economic, political and cultural realms of human activities. In other words, the techno-economic aspects of a particular policy or project must be conditioned to other equally valid aspects of develop-ment and should be changed for the sake of social justice and equality. If economic growth is achieved through undemocratic and oppressive means and undermines environmental sustaina-bility, equality in distribution or consumption – then that is not development. The movements aim at the basic restructuring of the production and distribution system, and to revise paradigms of technology, science, modernity and development. Without changing these structures the outcome of the development proc-ess cannot be transformed. These movements have brought out the integrated nature of the various aspects of the development. Indian Environmentalism In the so-called “developing” countries, environmentalism has ac-quired a new meaning. As in the first world, there are many con-servation ecologists compiling information and inculcating sensi-tivity regarding flora and fauna, through study and appreciation of birds, trees, animals, mountains, rivers, the sea and the entire globe and its atmosphere. For most of the part, such environmen-talism is devoid of any social-political linkages. There is also a managerial environmentalism of the political and industrial-urban elite, for whom environmental problems are to be and can be man-aged and alleviated with other techno-economic interventions, without requiring changes in the basic framework of the system. The environmentalism in India reflected through people’s movements is undoubtedly concerned with the continuous deg-radation of resources and the need to protect them; but has in-sisted on the right of communities over natural resources and their equitable distribution and sustainable use. The Pani Pan-chayat experiment initiated by Vilasrao Salunkhe during the se-vere drought in the 1970s in Maharashtra represents one of the finest models of this new environmentalism in India. Asserting the first right of the village/group of villages over the water in their stream/river, and its equal distribution and sustainable use, it gave the right to water to the landless, women and dalits in the villages and banned water intensive crops like sugar cane. Though the prevalent model of capitalist-consumerist develop-ment along with the commodification of culture and religion have eroded traditional values and practices, many rural societies and adivasi communities still facilitate the protection of natural resources and encourage community responsibility for the same. Ecological and environmental values and policies are neces-sary to enrich the quality of life and the material development of all people. The forests, tree cover, unpolluted water sources, and pure air are necessary for a good life for all, and particularly the depressed sections of the population, and underprivileged people have an equal right to these as human beings and citizens. More-over, increased sensitivity, love and empathy for and coexistence with other beings are signs of the development of a human being and community. Along with class and caste based equality of rights and dignity, the new movements have added distributive justice like right over resources – land, forest and water bodies – as a major criterion for equality. The tribals, peasants, dalits, backward castes, fisher-people or the people displaced from their means of livelihood due to large projects, along with unorganised and organised workers, small entrepreneurs, manufacturers, and all those surviving on land, forests, rivers, ponds, sea and other local resources should become the first and most important beneficiaries of these re-sources. Theirs is the first right over these resources and regional and national aspirations on these come at a subsequent stage.The crux of equality lies in the changes in the top-down and hegemonic power relations and decision-making processes. Through decentralisation, the new groups have been trying to promote bottom-up decision-making and empowerment at the local or basti levels.The movements have established that issues like protection against unjust displacement, employment-oriented decentralised small units, food security, housing rights, environmental sustain-ability, agricultural-industrial policy and democracy are all intrin-sically linked with the quest for equality. The “means of produc-tion” must belong to the producers. Unequal and unfair distribu-tion of resources also partly stems from the obsolete process and technology of production, resulting in the loss of natural resources, money and depriving a large number of workforce of their liveli-hood. The anti-caste and gender justice organisations and the
SPECIAL ARTICLEDecember 15, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly114movements of workers, peasants and agrarian labourers thus have another goal along with distributive justice and democratic rights – of the right over resources and means and production processes.Gender equality has become a part of the rights and equality discourse in every sector and every movement. There has been further differentiation and diversity within the women’s move-ments and the canvas of equality was extended on the basis of class and caste. Within anti-caste struggles, there is more con-sciousness of the internal contradictions and need for class equal-ity. There are some signs of these developments in the dalit and anti-caste movements during the latter part of 1990s. As urban-industrial and centralised development has not provided a pana-cea for caste-based deprivation, there seems to be a new interpre-tation in the context of global and national capital and internal colonialism. Secularism has been one of the cardinal percepts of alternative development and a number of secular groups hold that the struggle for secularism should also include resistance against unjust development. Many groups – like the MuslimOBC Sanghatana in Maharashtra or Pasmanda Muslim Mahaz in Bihar – link global and local colonialism and injustice. Defining Production and MarketThe new movements have been questioning, not only unequal distribution, but also the very process and technology of produc-tion. Drawing from the Gandhi-Kumarappa era to the present day of new environmentalism, they maintain that the production process and its technology have an in-built disposition that deter-mines the ways of utilisation of resources, organisation of labour along with its distribution and consumption. The capital- intensive, centralised projects and their unsustainable techno-logies encroach upon the livelihood and resources of the victim communities, and also minimise livelihood opportunities for non-affected people. These conventional production processes are harmful even for the consumers. In the words of Kumarappa (1948), “it is the complicated lifestyle, encouraged by the capita-list industrialism that leads to unnecessary demands on our re-sources, cost, time and energy. It also leads to pointless and irre-levant production and consumption processes. This is also against the spirit of science and rational decision-making and choices.” By effecting changes merely in the distribution pattern without addressing production and technology, exploitation and inequa-lity cannot be done away with. The organisation of production corresponds with the means of production. The movements have brought to light the tremendous loss of resources – forests, land, money, etc, due to development projects and policies. It is a highly subsidised development which glosses over the huge cost the nation pays in the form of loss of green forest, pure air and water, fertile land, livelihood and social dis-ruption. If these costs were computed, these projects would re-flect their burden and prove counter-productive for the nation. These movements have rejected the archaic view of development and science represented by big and complicated machines and technology. For them developed science consists in unpretentious, realistic, decentralised, manageable, controllable technology and production process. It should be low capital, low-energy, accessible to all, giving level-playing field, environment friendly, based on locally available material, skill and creativity and catering pri-marily to the needs of the nearest area. Such production process must be livelihood-oriented, democratic and participatory, with the involvement and clear stake of the workers, protecting the autonomy of the individual and community from any hegemonic control. This new ideology stands for plurality and autonomy, a truly open economy where every producer has an equal opportu-nity despite her access to capital or socio-political linkages. Such plurality of creativity and production is also in the inter-est of the consumer. Instead of one Pepsi or Coke monopolising tastes or prices, there is concern to protect the space for the local drinks or other products like footwear, cloth, etc, from every village or hamlet/lane. Thousands of affordable and sustainable alternatives based on people’s knowledge, initiative and participation are being developed in many parts of country – regarding water harvesting, irrigation, decentralised power generation, organic agriculture, indigenous seeds, food and food making, alternative health-systems, alterna-tive education (nai talim), employment generation, alternative industries like the Tiny Tech industries of Rajkot, alternative mar-keting like Apna Bazaar in Mumbai, and alternative lifestyle, etc. Like Gandhi, the new movements oppose “industrialism”, not the industries, as the former inevitably depends upon “one’s capacity to exploit, on the foreign markets and on the absence of competitors. The products are imposed on the inert/passive peo-ple by converting them only in the idle consumers by the capital-ists” [Kumarappa 1948]. Like Sarvodaya the new movements op-pose standardisation and uniform regimentation in production, habits, thought processes and celebrate the plurality of creativity in each individual, social group, region and terrain. For them the demands “should be embedded in the local production system and the lives of the people around us. This will lead to well-founded and rational social system, and to non-violent healthy growth, which alone would lead to a sustainable society” [ibid]. The movements stand for the ‘swadeshi’ or indigenous production system which promotes an open, free, autonomous and practical production system linked to people’s needs. The swadeshi pro-duction system gives more variety and choice to the consumer. It paves the way for an open, autonomous, healthy market and economy. Gandhi has a clear idea of Swadeshi, “Swadeshi means giving preference to the things – products, people, institutions and issues – to our immediate surroundings to the more remote. If there are any shortcomings in these things, we must try to remove them. This would have helped to solve the problem of poverty, sani-tation, governance and social inequality long back. The Swadeshi is not a boycott movement undertaken by way of revenge.Itisa creed of commitment and love for your own people” [Gandhi 1962]. The new movements have compelled us to think about consump-tion patterns beyond the cliché of consumerism. It is not “moral policing” as the capitalist media makes out, but rather a matter of economic and political priorities. Sustainable and equitable pro-duction and distribution is in turn linked with the consumption pattern within the system – that is the lifestyle of people. The consumption pattern of the society has a dialectical relation with the production and distribution process and it also interacts with human needs and aspirations. To provide equal basic necessities
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly December 15, 2007115for all on a sustainable basis, society will have to demarcate the extent of the permissible consumption for the individuals. An up-per ceiling needs to be set to consumption – to conserve our scarce natural resources and for distributive justice. Restricting consumption is not denying the basic needs and comforts of the have-nots. Instead, it is aimed at making available life-sustaining comforts for all, within the overall resource matrix. The American standard of water and electricity consumption can-not be a criterion for development all over the world. It would not be possible to provide to all Indians even the fraction of power and water consumption available in the US and Europe even if we dam all our rivers, cut all the forest and destroy fertile lands. Therefore, the unbridled consumption and luxury of the few would have to be contained – either at the policy level through various political-social devices or through voluntary acceptance of modest life-styles. Gandhi aptly commented that the “Earth has enough to satisfy the need of all, but not greed of one person” (1962). A moderate lifestyle does not mean the “economics of poverty” or the denial of variety and enrichment. It simply means the en-joyment of what is available to the extent it is available for all. Apart from social and economic unsustainability, very high con-sumption seems to be an impediment for the non-material en-richment of individuals and communities. It leaves little space for non-material aspects of life; the happiness one can explore in re-lations, justice, friendship, cultural and social activities, arts and knowledge which make life meaningful. Modern day commodifi-cation and consumerism is but an extension of capitalism and commercialisation and makes for alienated and decontextualised individuals. This commodification occurs not because people need it, but is also an imposed and loaded choice. Politics of Aesthetics and ArtThe prevalent capitalist-consumerist development model has re-sulted in monocultures of minds, expressions and tastes, while gloating over the grotesque, raucous and crude. Such “produc-tion” is manufactured and controlled by a few in the name of mass-culture. The alternative production process and lifestyle espoused by movements seeks for an enriched economic, social and cultural life. It gives spaces for more diverse and authentic expressions of aesthetic and cultural values of individuals and communities, the productive capacities and creativity among vari-ous individuals and groups, along with providing a dignified liveli-hood for them within the system itself. An alternative development strives for a more subtle, unpretentious and beautiful life. It sets free the creativity and variety inherent in our village artisans, artists, women and the underprivileged people considered as backward. The so-called backward castes have created large and small waterworks, architecture, art, clothes, housing; practised town planning, agrarian practices, food-preparing, health and education all over India, blending skilfully utility, practicability, accessibility and aesthetics, and made them a part of community practice. These aesthetics are accompanied by ethical and social norms and political-economic sanctions. According to Kumarappa, “rejecting the capital-intensive, mass scale and standardised production sys-tem is necessary for making life resourceful and provide scope for individual creativity, character and production” (1948). People’s culture, aesthetics and art need to be taken more seriously than being treated at present by the new movements. Alternative devel-opment is a process whereby one’s politics, ethics (personal) and aesthetics correspond with each other. The hegemony of “valid knowledge” in the hands a select group has been the root cause of domination, subjugation and exploita-tion. The conventional development model is established on the notion that there exists only one linear knowledge base. The new consciousness questions its supremacy and validity itself. Know-ledge no longer can become epoch-centred or specific to a particular group/country. The appreciation of plurality of knowledge, of eve-ry community and group, based on certain criterion, is replacing the hegemonic concept of “knowledge”. Limiting the vast spec-trum of knowledge due to the colonial or brahminical approach, we are deprived of a rich and varied world of knowledge, expres-sions and production processes that common people developed.This realisation of the diversity of knowledge and production or development processes have contributed to increased interface with and understanding of complex reality. The emerging respect for people’s knowledge and people’s science is a pointer in that direction. However, the new movements must also be aware of the limits and perils of the unqualified glorification of the popu-lar practices and archaic science. Albeit, most of them respect, use and theorise people’s knowledge and theories, but on the basis of certain universal principles about systematic knowledge. Universal scientific spirit and rationality despises pretentious be-havioural patterns, superfluous production processes, and rejects current development policies and projects as obsolete and archaic. The sarvodayis like Vinoba Bhave (1970) conceived science in its most enlightened sense, “If science remains combined with violence both would destroy earth. With ethical values as the guide the same science can enhance and elevate life. With sci-ence life becomes simple and less complicated. It will cut costs, time and energy and superfluous production or consumption. It will promote balance”. The “people’s science groups” and anti-superstition groups spread all over India have been imparting this political message of science. There is another stream of environmentalists and social scientists who question the methodology and content of science itself arguing that science is not neutral. Instead, it has an intrinsic predisposition for materi-alism, exploitation, domination and violence. People’s Power, State and New InternationalismAlmost all new movements have a common agenda of restricting state power and strengthening people’s power. The new move-ments want the people to redefine the content and process of deve-lopment, where the pervasive power of the state does not suppress the initiatives and capacities of people through the panchayat raj village republics. According to this thought decentralisation is not to be the old oppressive village system. Gandhi clarified, “Panchayati raj concept and practice is different from the tradi-tional Panchayat system; the equality and absence of exploitation and oppression are the hallmarks of the new Panchayat raj system based on the non-violence and truth... The real goal of any ‘national planning’ must be the planning at the smallest level. National planning should be in reality ‘village planning’. The
SPECIAL ARTICLEDecember 15, 2007 Economic & Political Weekly116state should come only when the village planning requires so” (1962). For Gandhi the connotations of Swaraj were rooted in the contemporary needs at village level, like full employment, physical/body labour, equality, secularism, efforts to wipe out casteism, untouchability, decentralisation, swadeshi, self-sufficiency, co-operation, equality of all religions, “nai talim”, sanitation and health (nature cure), diet and hygiene et al. It is now being increasingly felt that representative democracy in the newly independent state has failed and on the contrary has become more oppressive, colonial and serves the interests of the market and acts as a collaborator of global market-capitalists. The movements and grassroot groups like Naate na Raj (our village rule), Gadchiroli or in other parts of country, aim to recre-ate the village as a new bottom-up decision-making centre. Such movements demand the rights of the people in the small units of governance. They are aware of the limits and perils inherent in mere decentralisation if not accompanied with equality and environmental sustainability.However, the movements recognise the reality and relevance of the state. The state has been a historical necessity, as it was expected to be a bulwark to protect the rights and interests of the people, and as a bulwark against the predatory powers. According to D L Sheth the purpose of “denying” or “capturing” the state by the people’s movements is now replaced with the “re-construction”of the state. Decentralisation aims at devolution of power, decision-making processes and governance, to make the state more demo-cratic, transparent and people oriented. Sheth thinks that the politics of the micro movements is about “withdrawal of legitima-tion to the hegemonic and exclusionary structure of political power and horizontalising the vertical structures of social hierar-chy, through strengthening the parallel politics of local, partici-patory democracy...making institutions of governance more ac-countable, transparent and participative and create new political spaces outside the state structure, in which the people themselves are enabled to make decisions collectively on issues directly con-cerning their lives” [Sheth 2004:45]. The increasing democratisation, identity and assertion among depressed classes is challenging the prevalent concept of the nation. They ask – “Who constitutes the ‘nation’?” The interests of the dominant classes and castes are couched in the phraseo-logy of the “nation” and “national interests” and whatever is against their selfish interest has been termed as “anti-national”. As the role of the global powers and financial institutions like the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), Asian Develop-ment Bank(ADB) or that of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) increased, virtually deciding development policy and processes in countries like India, the movements also created horizontal and vertical alliances to resist this –nationally and internationally. Even before the advent of the “new” economic policy, the move-ments like the Narmada struggle have created local and global political networks to counter the global industrial and financial powers, along with the pliant local elite. Hundreds of organisa-tions in the third world countries and in Europe and Americas have been coordinating the struggle against this domination and exploitation. The globalisation of capital can be effectively coun-tered by this new internationalism. This global struggle is a melting pot of diverse groups like the ecological, socialistic, indigenous, workers’ groups, peasants, minorities, along with the peace and anti-nuclearisation organisations. The people’s global action (PGA) againstWTO and “free trade” has been such a process. Non-ViolenceThese struggles have been exploring the ways to make non- violent satyagraha more effective, intensive and wider. The strat-egies undertaken by the NBA, CMM, NFF or KRRS have been an example in this case. Apart from mass actions like demonstra-tions, dharnas (sit-in), indefinite hunger strikes, village level ac-tions, the Narmada struggle evolved the satyagraha against the submergence. Similarly, ‘janata’ curfew (people’s curfew) in Jharkhand and many such innovations in non-violent mass ac-tion have galvanised satyagraha, which is an effective political instrument in the hands of the dispossessed, weak and common people. The non-violent mass struggle has been a conscious choice by most of the organisations – both as a strategy and as a principle. Struggle would become democratic and political only if all the people including the weak, old, young, women and de-pressed sections are able to participate in action. They maintain that the struggle has to be political, and will have to remain non-violent. Non-violent mass action alone would be effective if it is synchronised with simultaneous action on other fronts like me-dia, outside support groups, political lobbying, information gath-ering and research, international campaigning and the coordina-tion between various movements. It must be emphasised that it is not a matter of mere strategy; people’s movements have taken to non-violent struggle as a mat-ter of principle. As these movements have been against violence in the form of inequality, injustice and exploitation along with the violence of development and war and strive for a democratic, egalitarian and just society, sans exploitation – all these emanate from the basic value of non-violence. Plurality of PoliticsThe issue of party and politics remained very controversial during 1970s, with thinkers like Vinoba and the more articulate Jayaprakash Narayan despising party politics. A part of the sar-vodaya movement has been hostile to the ‘raaj neeti’ as opposed to the ‘lok neeti’, that is building people’s power. The issue cannot be resolved by replacing “bad politicians” by “good politicians”, as is made out by votaries of party politics and is more basic and serious. Firstly, the semantics of politics have been confusing the issue. In Hindi politics meant raaj-neeti, which invariably meant statecraft or position of authority (‘satta-pad’ or ‘kursi!’). This understanding made politics look like exclusively operating around the state and authority – which was unacceptable to sarvodayis and many organisations. However, their insistence on developing people’s power essentially meant politics in its proper meaning. Politics, particularly the politics of change, is related to change in the established power structure within a system and transforms the decision-making process in the peo-ple’s interest. Thus all movements, any constructive work, includ-ing sarvodaya – that operate on the larger plane of changing the power relations and decision-making power within a village,
SPECIAL ARTICLEEconomic & Political Weekly December 15, 2007117community or the state – are politics. State-related processes, the party or electoral politics are one part of it, though an important component.People in India have had good reason to be cynical about po-litical parties, as they are more interested in the race for power, which has to be attained by any means. This has encouraged the culture of corruption, inefficiency, selfishness and unprincipled behaviour. For Jayaprakash Narayan, it was not merely some shortcomings of the party system that were responsible for such a state of politics, but a deeper malaise lay in the very structure and functioning of democracy. He says, “Parties backed by finance, organisation and means of propaganda can impose themselves on the people; people’s rule in effect becomes party rule and party rule in turn becomes a rule of a caucus or coterie; the democracy was reduced to mere casting of votes and even the voting becomes meaningful as we are constrained to vote to the candidates put by the parties alone and without any real issues at stake. This is not freedom” [Jayaprakash Narayan 1957]. This issue has to be addressed for the sake of a genuine people’s politics.Party PoliticsHowever, the movements in the 1980s avoided party politics, since they had another politics at hand; at the same time they did not question the raison d’etre of the political parties or parlia-mentary democracy. Most of them recognised that, despite the blemishes and deficiencies, the political parties and parliamen-tary/electoral politics are the only choice of democratic govern-ance – for the time being at least – and there is a need to purify and rectify this process, simultaneously with strengthening peo-ple’s politics from grass roots. Everything that would change un-equal and exploitative power structures and decision-making processes is politics – whether it is parliamentary, non-parlia-mentary, organisational processes, actions, writings, media work, ideology, lobbying, etc, and whether they themselves call their work political or not. The movements have expanded the dimensions and scope of politics, which has been primarily confined to the electoral politics. The organisation and movements have preferred to strengthen the larger arena of politics, by empowering people, by raising ba-sic issues which have been overlooked by the parties and left electoral politics for the political parties. However, this dichoto-my of the party and non-party politics is somewhat outdated or misleading. From the 1950s itself, there has been continuous in-terface between party and non-party work. Politics has been a large arena in which diverse actors have been trying to influence decision-making and power structures. The presence and active work of so many organisations, groups, individuals, experts and professionals working largely for the same objectives is in fact a unique opportunity for progressive parties, rarely available to other parties. This could be seen as an ensemble to further strengthen the politics of alternative development. However, the left parties have been suspicious of these organisations and failed to distinguish them from the NGOs. The movements in 1980s avoided both the extremes of either debunking the political parties or making them sole repositories of political action, and tried to interact them, prodding them on the pressing issues of people’s struggles, to use their role in the Parliament or state legislative assemblies. Many of them present-ed their issues on the party platform also and sought support for their cause. No doubt, there have been many others also who rightfully despised the chameleon-esque politicians and parties. Apart from some sarvodaya organisations, there were few who refused to recognise the role of people’s representatives and force them to play that role. But they also had to directly or indirectly approach these people on various issues, so that there has been a constant interface between electoral and non-party politics.Whenever and wherever the movements find it necessary and helpful for their purpose, they have participated in electoral politics at various levels and in different ways. The NBA has been holdingthe ‘lok-manch’ in every election, where people confront all the candi-dates and it has also contested the panchayat elections in one state. The MKSS has been campaigning for clean elections and took up correction of electoral rolls along with supporting candidates at the panchayat level. The CMM has been influencing elections and Niyogi and Janaklal Thakur contested elections at different times. Tribal activists, Kaluram Dodhade and Vaharu Sonawane also contested elections. However, unlike the parties, election has never been their sole purpose or motivation for political action. As a part of their politics, somewhere a process of coming to-gether of the movements and organisations engaged in fighting for a new development process has started. The gradual accept-ance of a need for a broad, principled alliance and a common struggle is accepted immediately, but any concerted move to-wards building a national movement is strewn with internal and external challenges. Over 100 or so organisations and move-ments have started the process of the National Alliance of People’s Movements(NAPM) from 1992. TheNAPM is based on commonly agreed minimum principles and programmes. Oppo-sition to communal fundamentalism and caste discrimination, resistance against the existing destructive developmental policy and globalisation, and building and encouraging concrete alternatives have been the three minimum principles on which many organisations from all parts of India have been coordinat-ing with each other, taking up common issues and common pro-grammes. There have been other national forums based upon the issues of forest-dwellers, right to food, right to information, con-struction labour, fishworkers, the mine-affected, etc. There is a need to unite all these forums for a concerted political action. There have been attempts by people’s movements to influence and intervene in party and electoral politics. Recently, the forma-tion of the People’s Political Forum (PPF) is a serious effort by some constituents of theNAPM. This is an example of the tena-cious choice by the movements to safeguard their autonomy while creating an electoral instrument.ReferencesGandhi, M K (1962): Village Swaraj, compiled by H M Vyas, Navjivan Trust, Ahmedabad.Kumarappa, J C (1948): Economy of Permanence, Gram Seva Mandal, Wardha.Jayaprakash, Narayan (1957):From Socialism to Sarvodaya, Patna.Mahatma Phule (1991): Samagra Vangmay.Sheth, D L (2004): ‘Globalisation and New Politics of Micro-Movements’, Economic & Political Weekly, January 3, p 45.Vinoba (1970):Tisari Shakti, Pamadham Prakashan, Pavnar.

Dear Reader,

To continue reading, become a subscriber.

Explore our attractive subscription offers.

Click here

Back to Top