Bullets vs people

Bullets vs people

It is critical to engage the people in meaningful dialogue before embarking on ambitious industrialisation that requires land acquisition and displacement

Arun Varma Delhi

We strive to live in two worlds, that too, with equal comfort in both the worlds. The struggle is to strike a balance between two metaphysical entities: urban and rural, English and vernacular, agrarian and industrialised, Gandhian and capitalist. One is not sure whether these are symptoms of an evolving society. However, these conflicts are happening at the most inopportune moment and threaten to stretch the social fabric too far.

The Nandigram unrest needs to be looked at in this light. What exactly is our preached and practiced way to development? After 60 years of independence and after 16 years of economic liberalisation, we as a society seem to be at a baffling state of ideological conflict. Mass murder and rape over land acquisition in Nandigram shows just that. This is the second incidence after the Kalinganagar firing in Orissa. Singur, where the Tatas are building their small car factory, is still smouldering. The situations in Nandigram and Kalinganagar are comparable. This is shocking in a democracy.

The list of ironies continues. While Singur,   Nandigram and Rajnandangaon were all happening, Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi secured investment commitments worth two lakh crore rupees. Tamil Nadu outwitted all other contenders for a large investment by Mahindra-Renault-Nissan unit. How come people of two states on the Coromandel Coast behaved in a diametrically opposite way?

West Bengal, in its attempt to redefine growth and development, seems to have forgotten one key stakeholder – the people. After feeding on Communist and Marxist ideologies, the people are suddenly exposed to a radically opposite way of development. The concept of Special Economic Zones is being reviewed. However, people have already painted this idea with dark colours. Strong comparisons like “Industrial Colonisation” have already begun to trickle down.

The problem seems to be rooted in our own lack of conviction. Elsewhere, the journey to development began with agriculture and the peasantry. Mechanisation began as a natural corollary to the burgeoning agricultural activity, which further led to industrialisation. Just as these regions migrated on to industrialisation, the governments there took care not to forget the backbone of agriculture. The recent crash of the cotton crop in India is a case in point. The crash of cotton prices is attributed to the ongoing subsidy the US extends to its farmers. Result? Farmers in Vidarbha consume poison to end their lives because they are unable to repay the debt. French wheat growers and Canadian cod fishermen sustain themselves with government support.

Back in India, we still are not clear in our minds if we would like to root our principal economic activity in agriculture or industry. In today’s context, the obvious answer is agriculture because of the large number of people engaged in it. However, the rewards are dwindling and we are still not anywhere in the reckoning in international levels of production. Industrialisation brings a big list of advantages. Right from basic infrastructure like roads, it goes on to uplift the lives of a sizeable number of people directly or indirectly.

Agriculture and industrialisation are not an either-or proposition. When such paradigm shifts take place, meaningful consultations are critically important. In Kalinganagar, the people who were being displaced depended entirely on the forest, water and land for their existence. The compensation offered did not address this crucial livelihood issue. The Muslim-dominated Nandigram could have an added dimension because of the leading role by Jamaat-e-Ulema-e-Hind in opposing land acquisition.

Dadri in UP is simmering with anger today. Land has been acquired for a proposed power plant of Anil Ambani. Rumour has it that the adjoining areas of the plant site were occupied by construction hawks, who jacked up prices through speculation. Now the farmers want to reopen the compensation deal to demand higher amounts.

With the rushing in of dream merchants with promises of amusement parks, malls and large retailing chains, a point not to be overlooked is the end-user — the common man. Has he been readied for this paradigm shift? If not, let us begin from there, lest more bullets are showered upon them.