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 in its Golden Jubilee

Mainstream, VOL LI, No 1, December 22, 2012 [Annual 2012]

Why We Salute Mainstream
 in its Golden Jubilee

Thursday 3 January 2013, by Medha Patkar


The Indian discourse on development has no doubt taken a new turn since the initiation of the globalisation-liberalisation paradigm and the free flow of the global capital as well as capitalist forces into our country. It is invariably realised that the inflow of not just the ‘capital’ but its interventionist influence has resulted in a tremendous change in the country’s landscape as well as the land use. The opening up of the land has made all our natural resources accessible and available to the global expropriators. Whether based in any other country or continent, the USA, Europe or China (now on the new capitalist path) or the Indian multinational corporates, they have all begun accumulation of natural resources—land to minerals, ground water to fish, oil and gas—and thereby amassed wealth. An unprecedented change in the scale and speed of development plans and processes is witnessed by all and reflected in the discourse. It’s not just an articulation of the transformation scenario but the analysis of the resultant impacts on the ownership and transfer of resources with the related disposition of livelihoods that is making all sensitive citizens question the dominant development concepts and policies.
The discourse is not limited to the intellectual conclaves and theoretical debates. It has evolved and intensified with response to resistance on the ground. The famers, labourers, fishworkers as well as the urban poor have been increasingly challenging the capital’s inroads into their generations-old habitats and environs. How can their life-supports, farms, forests, shelters be snatched away, by those who don’t know how to build and cultivate, only with the strength of money-power? The bullying tactics even with the changing laws and newly-gained legitimacy for the “transfers” and “transactions” are neither democratic nor humane. Hence the nature-based communities along with the toiling yet marginalised urban working class populace are crying a halt to such exercises in development on the one hand and rejecting the very means and ends of such development.

Uprooting and displacement of millions in the name of mines, dams, infrastructure, industrialisation or ubanisation and increasing number of mega projects have had an immediate impact with the rulers, cutting across party lines, becoming a part of the nexus with corporates and other monetary investors such as builders. Sharing the profits, multiplied through changing values in favour of the mechanised products against natural and human inputs, those in control of not the real resources but the self-proclaimed political processes and powers to usurp those, are not willing to grant even the dire democratic space, why rights, to the millions of citizens in our country. The reaction of the masses, therefore, is not limited to saying ‘no’ to displacement but refusing to accept the powers and of disobedience and disrespect. Slowly but steadily this is resulting in a new wave of people’s movements that are neither begging for rehabitliation nor for a monetary share in the vulgar profits with no level playing field between these common people and the elected representatives-turned-agents and advocates of the local to global investors.

The actions of the affected, the deprived, are conceived as either insurgency or sedition. The ‘lawful’ allegations to legal repression are based on the criminal laws and further legislations that are of British legacy to the neo-colonial regime. Such are the oppressive methods and means that those committed to equity, justice, democracy and people’s sovereignty over resources have had to face brutality to take to renewed paths of militancy as also new forms of satyagrahas. The struggle in the Narmada Valley, staking lives to save life, the daily clashes and assertion of rights by the slum dwellers in Mumbai or Bangalore, the unbelievably perseve-rant ‘satyagraha’ against ‘nuclear power’ in Kudankulam or against POSCO, and refusal to allow the land grab by Jindals and Mittals in Jharkhand to Chhattisgarh or Adanis in Madhya Pradesh are just examples of battles which are no doubt dispersed and localised but not without a national impact.

It is from these “local” struggles that the intellectual class, at least the sensitive sections within, is compelled to take cognisance of the reality. If not shaken by the suicides committed by no less than two to three lakh farmers within 10 to 15 years, they shiver when they witness the daily incidents of fiery fights between these simple living, self-reliant, peaceful communities and the militarised state. When they hear and study the huge misappropriation of land and ‘misuse’ by the self-sufficient corrupt politician-bureaucrats and the resultant destruction of not only forest but also fish, and shockingly 180 lakh hectares of farmland, they are compelled to think of the future.

The national and international discourse on climate change to debates on community control over natural resources vis-à-vis the British Act of Land Acquisition and the principle of ‘eminent domain’ are the result of such a response to the ground-level scenario and macro-impacts affecting all others than just the directly affected. Yet it’s a long way to traverse before we see the urban industrial upper-to-middle class, that cannot be seen as mere intellectuals but also
as beneficiaries of the undemocratic, unjust development, become aware of the interlinks between the destructive actions in the name of ‘development’ and ‘technological revolution’ and the degradation of life, with the nature and culture increasingly polluted. The dying rivers, deoxygenated air or food adulterated with genetic modifications or merely with pesticides and fertilisers is a reality that is slowly dawning upon this class which is Westernised and modernised through the influence of the imperialist, non-self-reliant ways of living governing not themselves but others. Beyond the British legacy, the American-European fallacy is still gripping not just the ruling class and culture, but certain sections of our citizenery too. Where is the place and role of our Constitution that is said to be unique in protecting the marginalised—socially, economically and politically? Where are the mandatory actions that would result in bridging the gaps and upholding dignity of all with equity in each sector—education, health, employment to economic and material production-distribution processes, through universal policies and plans for not only equitable sharing, but also positive discrimination?
Our girls and women as also our minority brothers and sisters are not safe and can’t be when the human relations have been changed, commodified and marketised. It’s in this context that the mass-rooted movements are intensively proposing a change in the paradigm towards technologies that are sustainable, harnessing, and distribution of the value-added that is just, and planning processes that are democratic, within the constitutional framework, the values enshrined in Article 243 as also the Directive Principles.

Those intellectuals—who are capable of realising that it’s not too far when the local Zameen Haq satyagrahas to Wall Street Occupations can, sooner or later, challenge the edifice of “corrupt” powers, the nation-state governments who cease to be representatives of the people, but also the WTO—can and do play a complementary or at least supportive role; while others fail to understand the writing on the wall stemming from the division of and also collapsing ‘governance’ which is so dear to the classes that don’t value self-reliance and believe that market-driven and ruler-managed life and society can be efficient, even if not sustainable, and the country can be competitive, even if not self-protector and peaceful harnesser of its own resources. The disadvantaged (in the context of new propositions and impositions) sections, facing the backlash of neo-colonisation, on the other hand, are not only asserting their rights to redefine ‘development’ against the elitist way, choosing new technological options, saving good old sustained practices of resource-management but also propagating new political initiatives.

The distance that is at times bridged when there is a common cause, impact or dialogue, appears to be growing with the media, the fourth pillar of democracy, sharing the ‘private interest’ more than the ‘public interest’. Whatever space was used in the mainstream media by the people’s struggles is shrinking and increasingly being occupied by the market and money power. The mass upsurges, like the one against corruption, become ‘news’ and get inevitable attention, with a base or bases in the urban megalopolis more than in the rural. But that too soon gets infested with bickerings to accusations and investigations, bypassing the cause. Unlike with the long-rooted movements, the new movements are not necessarily with the broadest ideology and vision as these are believed to be focused and single-goal oriented to be appealing, effective and efficient in dealing with the statutory powers. Social networking has opened up a media regime that is not without market control but is independent of direct suppression of expression, with exceptions like the incident of arrest of two girls after Bal Thackeray’s demise.
The role of the mainstream media is also challenged on the grounds of ‘paid news’ by the parties to corporates and contractors but it’s still not fully replaced, why even matched, by the alternate media. Their ownership by corporate houses and related resourcefulness that is beyond competition, can’t be so easily questioned by those who are victims of the absence of a level playing field; and hence the struggle.

Amidst this chalengesing reality the movements seek a respute through media platforms like Mainstream. An alternative development-focused magazine with serious intellectual domain retained over decades, it has also used media-activism to provide the best supportive role for activists in the field. The tradition and position set by none else but Nikhilda (Nikhil Chakravarty), and carried forward by his son, Sumitda, has made a history that will be duly recognised, if not today, in the not-so-distant future.

It upholds the tradition of openness, trans-parency (not of the superficial kind as in the corporate world) as also accountability with regard to commitment to the values of equity and justice. From armed struggles to nonviolent movements and resistance, it is a large arena that can’t be so easily reported, analysed and presented to the readership as contributory to the mapping of a new path. Nikhilda’s ideological clarity and the authenticity of Mainstream always made its role valuable and indispensable for not one but many a people’s struggle. Narmada Bachao Andolan (Save Narmada Movement) for one, has been deeply grateful to the Chakravarttys and their support with sensitivity and understanding since the 1980s.

When we challenged the States and the Centre, as also the World Bank and the bilateral funding agencies of the USA, Germany, Canada and Japan and when we faced false accusations to arrests, lathis and jail, it was they who reached out and held our hands. Sumitda, I can never forget, travelled to and climbed the mountain range of Satpuda. Batu Narmadya Pavara, the Patil (local policeman) but also the Mukhia of village Bharad in Maharashtra, on the banks of Narmada, is no more. He, who had an inherent world vision, as is reflected in the mythological songs and stories, orally transmitted by the adivasis, always remembered Sumitda and his visit and dialogue. Those were the days when mediapersons such as him were not only investigative but active in being with the movements thick and thin. Mainstream helped narrate our stories as theories, could communicate with the ‘Indians’ in dilemma and appeal to the sensitive lot amongst them; but also unhesita-tingly became the ‘media’tor for the down-trodden yet resourceful Dalits, adivasis, farmers, labourers who followed their own idiom.

From Prabhash Joshi to Arundhati Ray, and Harsh Mander to Mahasweta Devi, many writers have been critical of the role of the media and intellectuals when they fail to stand by the populace, our brethren in agony, in jail as thousands of Adivasis from Chhattisgarh or even West Bengal; Dr Sunilam and Dayamani Barla as activists challenging the corporates and neoliberalism are thrown behind bars; and when peace-loving people of Nandigram living in peace face massacres. But without the ‘literary forums’ created by magazines such as Mainstream, their writings and critiques too can’t remain in the books of history, to be able to educate and motivate generations.

While continuing to fight since the last 27 years, with Saradar Sarovarr still incomplete and stayed, with the National Alliance of Peoples’ Movement that was formed and strengthened with non-violent movements against casteism, communalism and for an equitable, just economy through true democratic polity for the last 18 years, we salute Mainstream on this occasion of its Golden Jubilee and hope to receive love with solidarity from it as always.

The author is the unquestioned leader of the Narmada Bachao Aandolan.

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