Challenges in extremist-hit areas

30 05 2008

22 May, 2008, 0000 hrs IST, TNN

Growth feeds democracy — this is the essence of the strategy of inclusive growth, in contrast to the conventional wisdom on the Left that growth and prosperity are achieved by preying upon the common people. A recent expert group report on Naxalite violence submitted to the Planning Commission echoes the philosophy of inclusive growth. This is welcome.

But the report presents development essentially as an administrative task, to be carried out by the government through wise policy, sound planning, enlightened legislation and honest implementation. What this leaves out is the political essence of the process of development.

The Planning Commission appointed a 17-member committee, including three former police chiefs and senior administrators, along with social scientists and human rights activists, to submit a report on development challenges in extremist-affected areas.

The committee’s report is available on the Planning Commission’s website. The report calls for departing from a security-centric view of tackling naxalite violence. This is a refreshing break from the mainstream approach to the problem. However, the report can be faulted for not offering a radical enough vision of what is possible when it comes to emancipation of the oppressed.
The fault, in turn, stems from inadequate appreciation of the changes that globalisation has heralded and its immense potential to change lives for the better, particularly for those at the bottom of the economic hierarchy. One crucial change is that the world is awash with savings. Investible resources are available in plenty. What is scarce is availability of profitable avenues for their deployment — the sub-prime crisis shows what happens when unregulated greed mediates the mismatch between bounteous supplies of capital and a paucity of sensible investment opportunities.

And one consequence of this abundance of investible resources is that primitive accumulation of capital, through dispossession and loot, is no longer necessary for businesses to commence and flourish. Try telling the farmers of Singur or the those being evicted from their land for the Posco project this nice story about the historical obsolescence of primitive accumulation of capital, some might sneer. True, dispossession and loot do often take place, but these are far from necessary today.

Another facet of globalised growth that needs to be fully internalised in development thought is its enormous potential for wealth creation, provided people are integrated into the global production process.

Following from this is the need to carry out enormous, sustained research into strategies of creating proactive roles for the rural poor in the process of urbanisation and industrialisation.

The simple point is that it is not enough to give those displaced by new projects from their traditional land and occupations a package of relief and rehabilitation based on the current market value of the land they lose or occupations they give up.

That land use will change extensively across India has to be accepted and welcomed, if India is to build the new roads, railways towns, factories, mines, power plants, ports and airports that would create new prosperity. Millions of people will be uprooted from their traditional habitats, physical as well as economic. It is not enough to offer them ‘compensation’ linked to the current market value of what they lose. Those categorised today as ‘project-affected’ must be transformed into stakeholders in the project. This calls for concerted efforts in skills creation, creating new companies or cooperatives of the ‘project-affected’ to carry out essential services for the new project such as transportation services, construction, maintenance, etc.

But all this cannot happen, merely on account of enlightened policy. The first precondition for any pro-poor policy to work is political mobilisation of the poor, so that they have agency, a sense of entitlement and the will to enforce their rights. This cannot come from government schemes or better planning or honest administrators. Voluntary organisations can help. But there is no substitute for the intervention of a political party with the right vision, when it comes to political mobilisation.

Even today, we read reports of six-year-old girls being thrown into the fire for the crime of overstepping their Dalit boundaries and daring to walk on a road frequented by upper caste Thakurs. Scheduled caste panchayat presidents dare not assume office in some parts of the country. Tribal people are cheated, their lands are sold, they themselves are sold by their social superiors. Such violence and oppression feed the naxalite movement in this country.

Policing can tackle the core activists who preach and practise violence as the only solution. But unless redemptive politics removes the grounds for rural violence, mere policing will only breed more violence.

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