Anarcho-environmentalism allegorised

The name Anaarkali in the present context has many meanings - Anaar symbolises the anarchism of the Bhils and kali which means flower bud in Hindi stands for their traditional environmentalism. Anaar in Hindi can also mean the fruit pomegranate which is said to be a panacea for many ills as in the Hindi idiom - "Ek anar sou bimar - One pomegranate for a hundred ill people"! - which describes a situation in which there is only one remedy available for giving to a hundred ill people and so the problem is who to give it to. Thus this name indicates that anarcho-environmentalism is the only cure for the many diseases of modern development! Similarly kali can also imply a budding anarcho-environmentalist movement. Finally according to a legend that is considered to be apocryphal by historians Anarkali was the lover of Prince Salim who was later to become the Mughal emperor Jehangir. Emperor Akbar did not approve of this romance of his son and ordered Anarkali to be bricked in alive into a wall in Lahore in Pakistan but she escaped. Allegorically this means that anarcho-environmentalists can succeed in bringing about the escape of humankind from the self-destructive love of modern development that it is enamoured of at the moment and they will do this by simultaneously supporting women's struggles for their rights.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Raise Your Voice!!

Every year on October 16th I participate in Blog Action Day when bloggers across the world post in their blogs on a common theme related to human rights. This year the theme is "Raise Your Voice". It is well known that in a large majority of countries, including the developed one, people are suffering rights violations and especially so in some strife torn countries. There are many people who have to suffer great atrocities when they raise their voices against injustice. Many are being murdered and maimed and many more are in prison. This year the blog action will focus on the plight of these dissenters and protestors who have been subjected to atrocities for daring to give expression to their feelings and thoughts. Like earlier years all my posts leading up to Blog Action Day will focus on the denial of freedom of expression.
I start with a post on the way in which Stalin the all powerful erstwhile ruler of the Soviet Union clamped down on freedom of expression in particular and freedoms in general. Even though stories of Stalin's brutality were rife all over the world even when he was ruling, the gory details were never known from official records. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, gradually the archives of the various government departments were opened up to public scrutiny. Thus, the records of the NKVD or the People's Commissariat of Internal Security, the papers of Stalin's office and that of the Politbureau of the Communist Party have now become open and many resesarchers have accessed these and written new histories based on the material they have discovered in these archives. One of these is a new biography of Stalin written by Simon Montefiore which I have just finished reading.
The NKVD, right from the time of its inception under Lenin when it had a different name, was diabolically used by the Bolsheviks to clamp down on freedom of expression and also other freedoms of the people of the Soviet Union and especially those politicians both within and without the Bolshevik party who opposed the dominant line. There was little to differentiate it from the secret police of the earlier Tsar known as OKHRANA, apart from the fact that it was now the repressive organ of a workers' state!!! Torture and extra judicial killings were a common practice. Once Stalin had established his supremacy within the Bolshevik party by the mid 1930s by banishing Trotsky and subduing his supporters with the help of Zinoviev and Kamenev, the close associates of Lenin, he began systematically to undermine these very associates. All the Bolshevik leaders beginning from Lenin downwards had scant respect for human rights and merrily ordered executions with or without trials but they could not imagine that Stalin would play this game against them.
Stalin cooked up some story or other about his compatriots being involved in anti party activities and then asked the NKVD to collect evidence in support. This involved rounding up people close to the associate and torturing them till they confessed to being involved in conspiracies which had been hatched by the associates Stalin was targeting. In this way beginning with Zinoviev and Kamenev, during the Show Trials of 1936-38 hundreds of senior Bolsheviks were accused of anti party activities and executed and their families deported to Siberia to work as slave labour alongside peasants and workers in the millions who were also being deported for their resistance to the dictatorial rule of the Bolsheviks. Later, bureaucrats, technocrats and military personnel were also executed or deported in this manner and through the NKVD, Stalin established a reign of terror in the Soviet Union and cemented his authority. Even though the scale of these killings subsided by the early 1940s, this process of cooking up stories and falsely implicating people became a staple of Stalin's administration and devoured many of his close associates right up to his death at the ripe age of seventy four in 1953. Sometimes as in the case of Alexei Kuznetsov in 1950, Stalin chose to turn on those he had hand picked earlier to groom as his successors. In Kuznetsov's case, his crime was that he tried to emerge as a power centre and began going through the files of the Show Trials of 1936-38 kept in the records of the NKVD which had by then been renamed the MVD and which was under his supervision.
Freedom of expression is the key to a just society and powerful centralised states have always tried to curb this right and this trend continues to this day even if it is not in as crude and overt a manner as practised by Stalin. There are NKVDs of some sort or other everywhere and wide spread surveillance of those who dare to protest. Therefore, it is essential that we raise our voices against curbs on the freedom of expression.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Can Parliamentary Leftism Deliver?

First we had the Syriza coming to power through the ballot in Greece on a far left platform and now we have Jeremy Corbyn being elected leader of the Labour Party in England on an equally far left platform following the resignation of Ed Miliband who failed to win the recent elections in U.K. on a relatively lesser leftist platform. Given the fact that historically parliamentary left parties have not been able to stand up to the powerful Corporate entities that control the world, what are the chances of their being able to do so now. Especially as it is much easier for Corporations to shift their production and administration out of a particular country at the drop of a hat without much dislocation and leave the Government and the people in the lurch.
The Syriza in Greece for instance could not stick to its far left platform because the Government it ran very soon found itself broke after coming to power. Anticipating the popular mood and the very real likelihood of the left coming to power through the ballot, the corporates shifted their money out of the country before the elections and business which generates tax revenues came down to a trickle. The choice was either to bow to the demands of the creditors or isolate the country from the global economy and bear the extreme hardships entailed in doing so. Used to a comfortable lifestyle, the majority of the Greeks were not prepared for this latter course and so even though they had initially voted the left to power on an anti-austerity platform, when push came to shove they did not have the guts to cock a snook at the might of global capitalism and face the consequences.
The Labour Party in England has been trying to rebuild its traditional socialist platform again after the pro-capitalist stance that it had acquired under Blair and Brown earlier seemed to make it more and more a clone of the Conservatives. Ed Miliband, the earlier leader before Corbyn, had led a fairly leftist campaign for the U.K. parliamentary elections in May this year and was undone in the end by being wiped out in Scotland by the Scottish Nationalist Party. The difference in terms of vote share between Labour and Conservatives was not much - just 6.5 per cent with the latter getting only 36.9 per cent of the votes polled whereas those who did not vote constituted a whopping 33.9 per cent meaning that only 24.4 per cent of the electorate voted for the Conservatives and 20.1 per cent of the electorate voted for Labour. Since 50 per cent of the Labour party members voted for Corbyn's left platform one may safely assume that 10 per cent of the U. K. electorate or less are likely to be active votaries of such a left platform. Meaning that even though many people may be critical of the way in which the Corporates are squeezing their livelihoods, they are not really convinced that a socialist blueprint will solve their livelihood problems in a sustainable manner.
Corbyn celebrated his victory by going to a pub and singing the Labour Party anthem "Red Flag" with his supporters as shown below. The Red Flag is a panegyric to the heroism of the workers throughout the world who have fought and laid down their lives but while being heart rousing it contains little to convince the populace at large to lay down their lives for the socialist cause. What Corbyn will have to do is make the general populace believe that it will indeed be possible to tax the rich, preventing tax avoidance and evasion by them, cut down on military expenditure, especially the maintenance of a nuclear deterrent and nationalise British rail without making its running a burden on the exchequer given that nationalisation will immediately hike up the wage bill.
 Contract labour, small businesses and self employment have become  the order of the day throughout the world and very much so in the U.K. Many Government services, including the National Health Service run through outsourcing. Moreover, most of the people are under the spell of consumerism and aspire for the luxurious lives that the rich lead. Under the circumstances just slogan shouting and the singing of revolutionary songs will not do. Corbyn will have to get down to the drawing board and work out in graphic detail how exactly he is going to implement all that he has said and yet keep the British economy floating in the face of trenchant opposition from local and global capital. That is a credible plan catering for all aspects of the economy and society from the micro to the macro with responsibilities and resources at each level has to be mapped out if Labour has to get votes from people including from the large section that is not voting.
The unholy trinity of the Military-Industrial-Financial Complex which controls the world today has already begun planning in earnest to thwart Corbyn!!! It must be remembered that after being taken by surprise in the initial years by the victory of the Bolshevik party in Russia in 1917, capitalism has worked hard to stymie the possibility of further such revolutions and the post revolutionary socialist states in Russia and China too have later morphed into capitalist ones not a little due to the machinations of the Capitalists. Though, initially capitalists made some concessions to the working classes and agreed to welfare measures and better working conditions funded by the imperial and neo-imperial exploitation of the third world, later they used technology to roll back these concessions and so emasculated the parliamentary left and trade unionism from the late 1980s onwards. Today the Corporate entities are hugely powerful and devious, controlling the economy, universities and the media with a well chalked out plan. Any battle against them will involve being ready to bear huge hardships and commitment to change from the masses which are not there at present.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Revolution Betrayed!!!

The other day I met up with some old comrades at a meeting. We were all at one time either Marxists of one form or the other or in agreement with some of the basic tenets of Marxism and considered the October Revolution of 1917 in Russia to have been a game changer. All of us had since moved away from Marxism and Communist parties for various reasons. However, while I had later become a conscious anarchist and so had come to the conclusion that the spirit of the October Revolution had been betrayed by the Bolshevik Party (The Russian Social Democratic Party had two factions, one was called the Bolshevik or majority faction and the other the Menshevik or minority faction) and Lenin in particular, the others still considered Lenin and his contribution to be game changing. In the debate that ensued, I was surprised to find that the others were not even aware of the results of the huge archival research that has been done post the opening up of the Soviet archives in 1989 which reveal the sinister way in which the Bolshevik party suppressed Soviet democracy after it seized power following the revolution. This kind of refusal to face up to the reality of deviation from the goal of establishing true people's power is one of the main reasons for the marginalisation of the left all over the world.
There is one special aspect of the first decade after the revolution that needs to be discussed in detail as it holds great importance for any future mobilisation. This is the relationship of the centralised party with the organs of people's power - the Soviets or small factory councils and peasant councils. Contrary to what he wrote just before the revolution in "State and Revolution", Lenin summarily rejected the fundamental concept of "All Power to the Soviets" and instead concentrated all power in the Politbureau of the Bolshevik Party. Since the Party in 1917 had a very thin mass base restricted to the industrial areas of Petrograd and Moscow and almost no mobilisation among the peasants and since it was immediately faced with the counter revolutionary backlash from the ousted monarchists and bourgeois elements, in the initial years the Bolshevik Party was able to convince the industrial workers that the Soviet State could survive only by being run in an authoritarian militaristic way while fighting the Civil War. There was what was called "War Communism", in which grain, meat and vegetables was taken from the peasants in large quantities forcibly to fund the war and also to feed the cities. The workers in factories were made to toil hard and forbidden from striking work or from running their establishments by themselves.
However, once the Soviet State won the civil war by the end of 1920, the peasants and the workers became restive and demanded that true socialism based on grassroots soviet democracy in the factories and the farms should be implemented and the authoritarian control of the Bolshevik Politbureau eased and civil freedoms and rights allowed. The control of the heights of the economy should be with the Soviet State but the running of these establishments should be in the hands of factory councils or soviets. The main demands were -
free and secret elections to the Soviets, 
freedom of speech and press, 
the peasants' right to work their own land as they wished and 
the legalization of small scale private industry 
 The Bolsheviks would have none of this, however, and decided to crush the workers, soldiers and peasants who were making these demands. The strongest group that were in support of this democratisation of the Soviet State were the sailors at the naval base in Kronstadt near Petrograd. These sailors had played a crucial role in the victory of the October Revolution when it was their storming of the Winter Palace that finally led to the overthrow of the Conservative Government that had come to power after the February Revolution earlier following on the abdication of the Tsar. When the Bolshevik Party refused to accede to their demands the sailors of Kronstadt rose in rebellion and this led to a fight with the Soviet army ending in the massacre of the sailors who preferred to die rather than surrender and fought to the last as shown below.
Following this the Bolshevik Party tightened its authoritarian control over Russia even further but was faced with silent opposition from the workers and active revolt from the peasants who refused to give up their produce to the Soviet State. Given the fact that the Bolshevik Party still did not have a big enough mass following especially among the peasants in the country side it found that ruling by military repression alone over such a vast country, which was in reality an empire, would be very difficult. So, mainly at the behest of Lenin, a New Economic Policy was introduced in 1921. While the military control of society continued and civil freedoms and rights were denied, the NEP allowed peasants to sell their produce in markets and only a tax was levied on them. Small enterprise was also allowed but control of the major economic sectors of heavy industry, banking and transport and also military production were retained by the State. The State factories and services were run on a managerial system according to western industrial practices and workers were not allowed to unionise or form soviets. Thus, a form of State Capitalism came into play under the control of the Bolshevik Party.
This then brings up the crucial question regarding how post revolutionary states and societies should function. Especially when revolutions take place in backward countries and are immediately put under pressure by more developed imperialist countries who sponsor counter revolution. The revolution in Russia took place because the State had been weakened due to its participation in the imperialist World War I and it survived because this war had also weakened the winning imperialist powers to an extent where they were not able to provide enough support to the Russian counter revolutionaries. Contrary to the plan he had enunciated earlier for a truly democratic grassroots Soviet system, Lenin after the revolution immediately clamped down on civil liberties and continued with a repressive authoritarian system closely controlled by the Politbureau of the Bolshevik Party. Faced with revolt, he crushed the opposition, clamped down on debates within the party and initiated capitalist management of industries and the functioning of markets and small enterprise. It was clear that a big country like Russia cannot be ruled by a clique of people who still did not have enough power and resources and in one way or other the common people have to be given a say. Instead of allowing civil freedoms and rights, what the Bolsheviks did was to suppress them but allow private enterprise, peasant production and capitalist managerial control of workers in industries. By the time Lenin became terminally ill and finally died in 1924, the revolution had been betrayed and its emancipatory potential had been scotched. After 1928, when the Soviet State had become powerful enough, the New Economic Policy was withdrawn and Stalin, who had become the supreme leader, initiated a terror campaign against the peasants to collectivise and mechanise agriculture. From authoritarianism, Russia morphed into totalitarianism.
Often, when we work at the grassroots, even in our small organisations surrounded as we are by a hugely powerful Capitalist and Neo-imperialist system, the question of how to decide on our courses of action crops up and we have to choose between authoritarian or democratic decision making. I am happy to say that in Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath we always choose in favour of democracy even if on many occasions it leads us into trouble because the majority view of a situation turns out to be flawed in the end!!! Only if there is a firm belief in democracy at the grassroots and decentralised social, economic and political systems, are solutions to the serious problems that beset us at present likely to emerge.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The General Strike

The tremendous euphoria among the left parties in India over the huge response to the call of their trade unions for a nationwide strike on September 2nd recently has made me reflect on how much of a game changer it actually was. This, despite the fact that the striking workers in large numbers showed considerable militancy and faced police repression during the strike across the country as shown below.

Primarily my interest was piqued by the left parties and following them the media, categorising the strike as a "General Strike". Essentially because historically the term General Strike has a special significance and cannot be bandied about in the way it is these days mostly as an English translation of the "Bharat Bandh", calls for which are given quite frequently on various pretexts.
A general strike is one in which the vast majority of workers across most industries and government administration including the crucial ones of mining, power, heavy industries, transport and banking, refuse to work for an extended period of time in an industrialised economy, thus bringing production and services to a halt, in pursuance of their demands. For a strike to be so all pervasive and long, the demands have to be ones that fundamentally change the way the economy is to be run and cannot be just about higher wages and better working conditions alone because these cannot be ensured on a long term basis without fundamentally changing the relationship between the employees and employers and the role of the State as an arbiter between the two. There have been various views regarding the utility of General Strikes but since in the present case it is Marxist parties that have categorised the recent action as a general strike we will go by the Marxist views. The hard core Marxists who see little possibility of workers' emancipation in a capitalist economy, tend to see trade unionism in general and strikes in particular as a means to advance the cause of revolution to overthrow the capitalist order through a seizure of power. Marxists seek to use trade unionism and strikes to make workers politically aware and unite them in a bid to capture political power to usher in a class less society. Crucial to such seizure of power is rebellion by the army and the police which are the repressive organs of the State that keep the system of exploitation going. Thus, when a general strike reaches a peak, then the rank and file of the army and police too join the striking workers.
Obviously, what happened on September 2nd, impressive though it was in its spread and mobilisation, though not at all close to the participation of 150 million workers claimed by the left parties, was definitely not a general strike. In history there have only been two occasions when general strikes have been called with the intention of seizing political power and have gone on to do so. The first was the Paris Commune of 1871 which overthrew the Government of Adolphe Thiers and the second was the February Revolution of 1917 in Russia that overthrew the rule of Tsar Nicholas. In both cases the ruling State had been weakened by external aggression and the army and police had been politicised.
The situation today in India is a far cry from those two occasions. Not only is the Indian state and the capitalist class that controls it far stronger vis a vis the working class but the organised industrial, government and service sector workers are a labour aristocracy getting comparatively high wages that constitute a miniscule minority of the total number of workers in the country most of whom are in the rural areas. A large proportion of the toiling masses, both in urban and rural areas are in fact not workers in the strict sense of the term but extremely low earning self employed individuals in the artisanal, service, petty trade and agricultural sectors who lose their earnings if they strike work and will find it difficult to survive if they participate in a prolonged general strike. However, the most important difference is that there is no anti-statist politicisation of the armed and security forces whatsoever and the State uses them with impunity to crush any challenge to its hegemony. The left parties have themselves used the police to crush protests by the unorganised sector workers when in power in various states.
The serious problem with this farcical characterisation of a one day strike of a fraction of the working class of the country around a few economic issues and without any greater political ambition than the immediate goal of winning elections in a bourgeois democratic system, as a successful general strike, is that this closes the door to a practical programme for a more widespread mobilisation to usher in a socio-economically equitable and environmentally sustainable order. For instance the laudable demand for a minimum wage of Rs 15000 per month for unskilled workers is unlikely to be acceded to by the Government when in reality the average wage being earned currently by workers is around Rs 5000 per month. The Government itself does not pay the current legal minimum wage of Rs 7500 or so to many of its casual workers. If the Government tries to force this wage on the employers then there will be flight of capital from the country. So this demand can be met only if there is a prolonged strike that includes the huge number of agricultural workers, many of whom are migrant workers with little bargaining power and which includes a demand for the cooperativisation of all enterprises whether in the industrial or agricultural sectors based on environmentally sustainable technology and the management firmly in the hands of workers. Since managing cooperative enterprises with socio-economic equity and environmental sustainability as goals, whether in the agricultural, industrial or service sectors, in a global economy dominated by profit seeking corporations is not an easy proposition, this demand will seem a joke to the workers themselves unless there is prior sensitisation and mobilisation around this issue.
What is necessary first is a clear formulation of an alternative socio-economically equitable and environmentally sustainable system that can seem viable to the workers in all sectors and so enthuse them to fight for it. The workers who fought in the early twentieth century to bring about revolutions believed in the Marxist prognosis of a new socio-economic order controlled by them. However, Marxism, the way it has played out in the large countries of Russia and China, has failed to provide a viable alternative on a large scale even though Cuba to a certain extent has set up a fairly egalitarian and environmentally sustainable system especially since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 when it was left to fend for itself. Lenin, Stalin and Mao, in fact, turned their back on Marxism pretty soon and implemented distorted centralised systems that were oppressive rather than emancipatory towards workers. So there is no viable alternative model to present to the workers currently. The left parties or for that matter groups on the environmental fringe, like ours, do not have any such well worked out alternative to offer at the moment and nor are they trying to  make workers aware of the need for formulating one through collective thought and action. The left parties in India have largely clung to the path of winning elections within the liberal democratic constitution or waging armed struggles in fringe areas. We, of the new social movements, have also populated the fringe without being able to increase our mass bases and in fact are desperately trying to retain whatever mass support we have. There are many prolonged strikes and sit ins going on now in various parts of the country by both leftist trade unions and new social movements but they are not coalescing into real general strikes precisely because neither the leftist parties nor the new social movements have a convincing alternative to offer to the masses. So these numerous small strikes and also the recent nationwide strike will at the most put a tentative brake on the juggernaut of centralised profit seeking industrial development but will not be able to stop it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Fight For True Independence in Baiga Chak

Naresh Biswas of Nirman ( who is associated with the Baiga Mahapanchayat in Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh has written an excellent write up on their efforts to establish the habitat rights of the Baiga Adivasis under the Forest Rights Act -
The British had established the Baiga Reserve in the current Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh in 1890 spread over an area of 23000 hectares where the primitive Baiga tribe resided in seven villages to provide them with special protection to continue their "Bevar" or shifting cultivation, hunting and gathering based livelihoods. This came to be known in local parlance as the "Baiga Chak". However, after independence the situation of the Baigas instead of improving, deteriorated for the worse.
1. Dispossession and Resistance
The forest department instead of continuing with the British policy of providing special protection to the Baigas to live in their traditional manner began harassing them by preventing cultivation, hunting and gathering citing the restrictive provisions of the Indian Forest Act 1927 which the British had kept in abeyance in the Baiga Reserve. The forest department staff used to beat up the Baigas, destroy their standing crops, sieze their ploughs and bullocks and arrest them. Since they had no other livelihood option the Baigas would submit to such repression and still continue to cultivate their lands and live in constant fear.
Then, from 6th to 8th August 2000, a combined team of forest department staff and special armed police force raided the villages of Dhaba, Rajnisarai and Jilang and another village adjacent to the Baiga Chak named Gourakanhari and severely beat up the people and destroyed their standing crops. This repressive campaign so terrorised the Baigas that they refused to even speak about it let alone pick up the courage to complain at this blatant violation of their rights.

Nevertheless, a meeting was organised in the village Chara on 22nd September 2000 by the NGO Nirman to discuss this repressive action of the forest department staff in which along with the victims, people from other villages of Baiga Chak also participated. The people decided that the repression level had crossed all limits and the only way in which they could survive was to form an organisation to protest these atrocities. Thus was born the Baiga Mahapanchayat (Grand People's Assembly) as an umbrella organisation of the people of Baiga Chak.
A detailed complaint about the repressive action was submitted to various Government, Non-Government and media fora. After persistent mass agitation, the Baiga Mahapanchayat succeeded in getting the administration to conduct an inquiry into the repressive incident and the guilty forest department staff were transferred out of the Baiga Reserve. This was a big victory and it created a great excitement among the Baigas and considerably increased their courage. Instead of hiding in the forests as they used to do earlier when forest department staff used to come to their villages, they now confronted them en masse and spoke to them as equals.
Regular monthly meetings of the Mahapanchayat began to be held to sustain the organisation process and the enthusiasm and courage it had generated. These meetings stressed the need to assert their right to Bevar guaranteed by the British and also drew up plans to access the various public services that were to be provided by the Government but which were all absent in the area. The vanishing indigenous land races that are used in Bevar cultivation were also sought to be conserved and promoted through the "Beej Virasat Abhiyan" (Seed Heritage Campaign).

Then, in 2006 the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, popularly known as the Forest Rights Act (FRA) was enacted providing for legal title to the land that the Baigas were individually cultivating in the forest area and also community title to the forests for their livelihoods, religious and cultural needs. However, the big problem was that due to lack of literacy and not having any documentary proof of their cultivation, the Baigas could not apply properly for legal title and all their applications were rejected. After this the forest department staff once again began to raid the villages to dispossess the Baigas from their land in the same way as they had been doing earlier till 2000. The people of Gourakanhari village filed a petition in the High Court of Jabalpur and got a stay on their eviction and the Mahapanchayat used this to mobilise the people of Baigachak to organise to resist the forest department.
The Mahapanchayat pointed out to the administration that under Section 3.1.(e) of the FRA it had been clearly stated that - "Rights including community tenures of habitat and habitation for primitive tribal groups and pre-agricultural communities" are to be ensured in addition to the general rights provided to all Scheduled Tribes to cultivate and live in forests. These provisions were specifically detailed in Rule 12 of the Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Rules 2007, which were further amended in 2012 to specifically mention the habitat rights of the primitive tribal groups and the procedure for their recognition. Thus, the Baigas being notified primitive tribes had special and stronger habitat rights in the forests in which they had lived for generations. Especially since the British had made special provisions for the people residing in the Baiga Chak to be able to live in accordance with their indigenous customs, religion and lifestyle.
However, there was some confusion as to what was meant by habitat rights as some people interpreted them as to mean just the right to reside in the forest in a habitation but not to cultivate land in it and access its resources for livelihoods, cultural and religious purposes. Subsequently, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs of the Government of India has clarified the confusion in this regard through its directive to Chief Secretaries of all States dated 23.04.2015 numbered 23011/16/2015/FRA which states that Community Forest Resources (CFR) will be recognised and managed by the Gram Sabha in accordance with the customary practices and livelihood needs and will include all the resources in the forest area. The working plans of the forest department have to be modified to accommodate the management plans drawn up by the Gram Sabha.
2. Establishment of Habitat Rights
During an informal meeting with the District Collector of Dindori on 26th November 2014, the subject of providing recognition to the habitat rights of the people of Baiga Chak was raised. The Collector said that there is a provision for habitat rights in the FRA, however, there were no guidelines as to how these rights were to be established. Then it was explained to the Collector that the British had established the Baiga Reserve in 1890 over an area of 23000 hectares and the people of seven villages had been given the right to practice Bevar cultivation in this area while those living outside the reserve did not have that right. The British delineated this area on a map and it was notified in the Mandla Gazetteer published in 1912 extending to an area of 36 square miles. Many different anthropological studies of the area also mention the existence of the Baiga Chak with its special rights for the inhabitants and the names of the villages. The villagers too possess documents stating that they are residents of the Baiga Reserve.
These documents state that the seven villages of the Baiga Chak are - Ajgar, Dhaba, Jilang, Silpidi, Dhurkuta, Rajnisarai and Lamotha. However, presently the number of villages are more possibly because more people have come and settled in the reserve over the past century and more since the notification of the area. The present situation is given in Table 1 below.
Table 1: Villages in Baiga Reserve of Dindori District of Madhya Pradesh
Gram Panchayat
Revenue Villages/Gram Sabhas within the Baiga Reserve
Hamlets in the Villages/Gram Sabhas
Jamuntola, Tendutola
Bhoulatola, Chhapra




The tribal residents of the Baiga Chak have preserved the bio-diversity of the area by practising their nature friendly Bevar cultivation and animal husbandry and so under the provisions of the FRA they are entitled to get habitat rights.  Rule 12.1 of the FRA Rules 2012 specifies the following regarding claim settlement of primitive tribal groups -
(d) ensure that the claim from member of a primitive tribal group or pre agricultural community for determination of their rights to habitat, which may either be through their community or traditional community institution, are verified when such communities or their representatives are present; and
(e) prepare a map delineating the area of each claim indicating recognizable landmarks.
(f) delineate the customary boundaries of the community forest resource with other members of the Gram Sabha including elders who are well versed with such boundaries and customary access;
(g) prepare a community forest resource map with recognizable land marks and through substantial evidence as enumerated in sub-rule (2) of rule 13 and thereafter, such community forest resource claim shall be approved by a resolution of the Gram Sabha passed by a simple majority.
The Collector accepted that the process of habitat right settlement could be begun on the basis of the documents provided in accordance with the aforementioned rules. After the documents regarding the special status of the Baiga Chak were submitted, a workshop was organised to discuss the process with the community leaders of the Baiga Chak.
3. Workshop on Habitat Rights
The District Collector organised the workshop on 8th January 2015 to ascertain the status of forest and habitat rights in Dindori. Forest Department Staff of the district from the lowest to the highest, a Government trainer on Forest Rights Act from Bhopal, Baiga leaders, Chairpersons of the Forest Protection Committees, the leaders of the Baiga dancing troupes, Principals of schools and members of the Baiga Mahapanchayat were the participants in this workshop. The forest department staff and the leaders of the forest protection committees spoke against the settlement of habitat rights saying that this would lead to the forests being destroyed by over exploitation. The trainer from Bhopal did not know anything about habitat rights for primitive tribal groups and said that these meant only the provision of rights to habitation and not to the control of Community Forest Resources. The members of the Baiga Mahapanchayat spoke at length about their forest based livelihoods, the diversity of the traditional Bevar cultivation and its produce in terms of food and nutrition, the food and nutrition security that this provides and the spiritual relationship of the Baigas with the forests. They also said that the leaders of the Baigas that had been invited to the workshop were not the traditional leaders but ones who had been forced on their community by various Government departments. The traditional leaders referred to in the FRA as the arbiters of rights in the villages are the Mukaddams and Dewans. As a consequence of this detailed presentation by the Mahapanchayat it was decided that a campaign would be conducted to have discussions in the seven villages of the Baiga Chak with the traditional leaders, Sarpanches and the Chairpersons and Secretaries of the Forest Rights Committees.
4. Mukaddam Awareness Campaign
The opposition of the leaders of the Forest Protection Committees set up by the forest department to the establishment of habitat rights led the Baiga Mahapanchayat to initiate a campaign to raise the awareness of the traditional Baiga leaders, the Mukaddams, regarding the provisions of the FRA regarding the special role they have in settling habitat rights. Each village in the Baiga Chak has its own community organisation which is headed by a leader who is variously known as the Mukaddam, Dewan or Samarth. Small disputes within the community and various other social matters are decided by these leaders in consultation with other elders. They also play an important role in the conduct of various social and religious events. The community meetings that are held to decide on disputes and social events are called "Jati Samaj". The awareness campaign was conducted in each village of the Baiga Chak to make these leaders and the community in general aware of the provisions of the FRA so that they would be able to competently place the demand for habitat rights before the District Collector and other government officers.

5. Forest Food and Indigenous Seed Festival
The Baiga Mahapanchayat in association with the NGO Nirman organised a Forest Food and Indigenous Seed Festival on 9th April 2015 in village Bhoulatola. The District Collector was invited along with other government officers so that they could understand the forest based livelihoods of the Baigas and its basic conservationist ethic. Many different kinds of seeds, fruits, herbs, medicinal plants and grasses were on display. The various agricultural implements, cultural artifacts and musical instruments that are used by the Baigas were also on display. The traditional Baiga leaders and men and women in large numbers had come to the festival. The District Collector stayed for four hours and had detailed discussions with the village leaders and the people. The traditional Baiga leaders submitted a written memorandum demanding the settlement of the habitat rights for the whole 23000 hectare area of Baiga Chak.
Following this the members of the Baiga Mahapanchayat and staff of Nirman remained in constant touch with the Collector providing various documents regarding the process of settlement of habitat rights. Initially it was decided to hold a combined Gram Sabha for the whole of Baiga Chak but after a close perusal of the FRA it was decided that the legal provision is for holding separate Gram Sabhas in each hamlet and so this was decided on.

6. Sample Habitat Mapping and Preparatory Workshop
Subsequently in a meeting with the Collector on 13th August 2015 it was decided that there would be a preparation workshop at the district level on 20th August followed by Gram Sabha meetings in all the seven villages of the Baiga Chak on 22nd August. It was also decided that a sample habitat mapping exercise would be conducted in one village prior to the Gram Sabhas and the procedure established in this sample exercise would be followed later also. This sample habitat mapping exercise was carried out in Dhurkuta village on 18th August. The District Project Officer along with two workers of Nirman and the Baiga leaders and people of the village conducted this exercise. The results of this mapping exercise were presented in the preparatory workshop. The traditional leaders of all the seven villages, forest department staff, revenue department staff and the Sarpanches and staff of Nirman all took part in the workshop. All the procedures to be followed in the Gram Sabhas were finalised and explained to the participants and Deputy Collector rank officers were designated as nodal officers for the conduct of the Gram Sabhas. The Collector decided to tour all the seven Gram Sabhas to oversee the process.
7. Gram Sabhas for Habitat Rights
The Gram Sabhas were held as per schedule on 22nd August 2015 in all the seven villages from 11 am onwards and they went on till 4 pm. The Collector chose to be present in the Gram Sabha at village Dhaba. The habitat mapping was done through participatory rural appraisal (PRA) method. The claim for habitat rights was presented and the Gram Sabha resolution accepting the claim was passed. In all seven villages the people and their traditional leaders held forth at length on the symbiotic relationship between forests and Baigas, the dependence of the latter on the forests for their livelihoods and food, the importance of Bevar cultivation and the spiritual connection of the Baigas with their forests which are home to their Gods and clan symbols. On the basis of this the people claimed their right to the entire forests.

Thus, a process that had started with an informal meeting on 26th November 2014 has culminated in the conduct of Gram Sabhas for securing habitat rights in the Baiga Chak. This was possible because the District Collector of Dindori Ms Chhavi Bhardwaj is a very sensitive officer committed to the proper implementation of the FRA. Our effort has been to facilitate the cooperation between the Baigas and the administration so as to benefit the former. Often, NGOs expend a lot of energy and resources in mobilising the people and conducting habitat mapping and Gram Sabhas but without the active involvement of the administration, ultimately nothing concrete is achieved in terms of securing legal title under the FRA. This is the important contribution of Nirman in this case in securing the cooperation of the administration to actualise the FRA. The Collector says, " If we can establish the habitat rights of the people in the Baiga Chak then in future nobody will be able to displace them for any project whatsoever." This will then be a historic achievement of the people of Baiga Chak and a first in Madhya Pradesh and only the second after Mendha Lekha village in Gadhchiroli district of Maharashtra where too the tribals have established their habitat rights. The Baiga Mahapanchayat and Nirman have together been able to organise the Gram Sabhas for habitat rights but there is still some way to go before the process is brought to its logical end with legal title to the forests with the Baigas and establishing true independence denied to them so far.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Beauty and The Beast

The year 1985 is when two important streams in the political landscape of India renewed themselves. These are that of mass environmentalism and Hindu majoritarianism. On the one hand the battle to secure the sustainability of livelihoods for people who live close to nature, which had been somewhat in abeyance after the initial thrust of the Chipko movement had ebbed, took off again with the beginning of the struggle against the Sardar Sarovar dam on the River Narmada. On the other, the majoritarian Hindu political movement which had received a body blow after the decimation of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in the Lok Sabha elections of 1984 when it was reduced to just two seats in parliament, began to reorganise its cadres around a more aggressive and overt anti-Muslim and pro-Hindu agenda. The first was led by Medha Patkar and the second had as one of its able ground level organisers, Narendra Modi, who was specifically assigned for this purpose to the BJP by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) of which he was a Pracharak or organiser. It is indeed a telling comment on our times that while the mass environmental movement is languishing on the margins, the movement for mass Hinduism is the dominant political force in the country.
Thus, on independence day recently, while Medha Patkar was launching a dharna with a motley crew of a few hundred people on the banks of the River Narmada in the politically inconsequential Barwani district of Madhya Pradesh as shown below, Narendra Modi, as the Prime Minister of India, was addressing thousands of people at the Red Fort and his speech was being televised to millions more across the country and the world. Since, what he had to say was more important to track as it had more of a bearing on what we in Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath were doing than what Medha had to say, I too was listening to Modi through TV instead of being at Barwani!!!

Medha and Modi are at loggerheads in a very fundamental way currently. Immediately after coming to power in 2014, in his very first Cabinet Meeting, Modi had a resolution passed that the construction of the Sardar Sarovar dam on the River Narmada, which had been stalled, should be begun forthwith. Soon after this the Narmada Control Authority after a meeting gave the official go ahead for the construction to begin and since then work has been going on apace. The work on the last 17 m of the dam for the installation of the gates will be completed in another two years or so. The work had been stopped because there are still many households in the submergence area, especially in Barwani and Dhar districts who have not yet been rehabilitated. Since the Supreme Court had in its order stipulated that the dam can only be completed after all the affected people have been rehabilitated, the work was stopped. The Congress Government earlier had not made much of an effort to get things moving faced with the opposition of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA). However, for Modi the Sardar Sarovar dam is most important and the centrepiece of his industrial development thrust which has led to the dilution of many social and environmental safeguards since the BJP Government assumed power last year and so he is pushing ahead with its construction. That is why the NBA has now launched the Jeevan Adhikar Satyagraha in Barwani against this blatant violation of various statutes and court orders.
Actually it is not a clash of personalities but that of global politico-economic trends. The 1980s were a crisis time for global capitalism as demand was sagging all over the world and environmental problems had assumed threatening proportions  leading to mass movements like that of the NBA in India. The subsidised welfare apparatus put in place in the developed countries from the early twentieth century onwards was becoming too costly to fund for their governments. This, triggered the neo-liberal onslaught of capitalism with the rolling back of welfare states across the world and a fierce attack on labour and the environment so as to shore up profits through primitive accumulation. Information technology made it possible to outsource both manufacturing and services on a global scale and casualise work. Casualisation of work not only economically weakens the working class but more importantly reduces their ability to organise for their rights. Then, in the late 1980s, the Soviet Union and its satellite states in Eastern Europe collapsed severely discrediting the whole ideology of mass mobilisation for revolutionary change. Across the world conservative political parties, like the BJP in India, began to gain in popularity and come to power backed by huge funding from the corporate sector. Even liberal and social democratic parties became more rightist. The media and academia, which form public opinion and ideology, controlled as they are by the capitalists, were dominated by neo-liberal ideas completely marginalising the mass movements for a more equitable and sustainable world order. Thus, the beast of centralised neo-liberal development has completely overwhelmed the beauty of decentralised equitable and sustainable development which continues to languish at the margins. That is why three decades on from 1985 Medha and Modi are at two contrasting ends of the spectrum of political power!!!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Tragic Lone Ranger

Finally after many years I met up with Khajan again at his house in Anjanwara. Two failed fighters against destructive modern development who have had vastly different life trajectories of late as is somewhat evident from our looks in the picture taken below to mark this meeting for posterity!!
Khajan is one of the most steadfast fighters against the Sardar Sarovar dam being built on the River Narmada at Navagaon in Gujarat. The dam has been built partially but the final act of putting the gates on it and completing it to its full height is still in abeyance mainly due to the intransigence of a few people like Khajan. The Supreme Court in 2000 delivered its final judgement on the petition filed by the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) for the scrapping of the dam dismissing it and allowing the construction of the dam but with the proviso that the affected people would have to be rehabilitated and resettled first in accordance with the provisions of the Narmada Water Disputes Tribunal Award. This Award stipulates that each affected person will have to be given a minimum of five hectares of irrigated agricultural land in lieu of the land that is to be submerged and this land can be either in Gujarat or in the State of his residence in accordance with the choice of the affected person. Many Adivasi people in Alirajpur district of Madhya Pradesh initially refused to be rehabilitated in Gujarat and instead demanded land in Madhya Pradesh. Khajan who had been fighting against the dam from the mid 1980s led this new phase of struggle also in refusing to go to Gujarat. Since the Madhya Pradesh Government was not prepared to resettle the people from Alirajpur in Madhya Pradesh, this resulted in a stalemate that is still continuing in that the dam cannot be completed despite all efforts of the Gujarat and Central Governments.
However, with time the situation has become a little dicey. One by one or in groups of a few most people in Alirajpur have agreed to go to Gujarat over the last fifteen years since the Supreme Court judgment was given in 2000 and now only twelve families remain who are still hanging on to the demand to be rehabilitated in Madhya Pradesh. Khajan and three of his brothers (two other brothers have opted for land in Gujarat) are the only ones from Anjanwara village who are still holding out.
In these fifteen years Khajan has fought tooth and nail along with other affected people to get land in Madhya Pradesh but to no avail. Twice he has led people to forcibly occupy Government Agricultural Research Farm land and gone to jail in the process. The Government has consistently showed them barren land or those in adverse possession by others and refused to give them either good unencumbered land that it owns or buy good land from farmers and give it to them. The Supreme Court has time and again heard contempt petitions from the Narmada Bachao Andolan about this negative attitude of the Government of Madhya Pradesh in not giving the affected people land and rapped it but even so in the end this has not resulted in anything positive. So one by one the stalwarts of the fight against the dam have accepted land in Gujarat and only a few like Khajan are still holding out (The Gujarat Government of course is eager to give land to the people from Madhya Pradesh because it can construct the gates to the dam and complete it only when all affected people are resettled).
Finally today Khajan is dispirited even though he swears that he will not go to Gujarat under any circumstances. He says that after all these years he is without any money in his pocket and hope in his heart. He survives on the forest land up on the hills in his village which he has encroached and to which he does not have any legal title. His legal agricultural land has been submerged in the dam and even the small farm behind us in the picture above is one for which he does not have legal title. He is able to farm the forest land because the Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath (KMCS) has fought a long battle to ensure access to forests for the Adivasis in Alirajpur and has considerable strength in the area.
Khajan recalled that the River had been so beautiful flowing majestically through the gorges very clean and great fun to swim in. I too have great memories of the River in its pristine form. Now the water is dirty and stagnant and infested with crocodiles so that it is neither possible to swim in it nor drink its water. A man who has given his all to fight against destructive modern development has lost the battle.
I couldn't but reflect on the dire situation of Khajan and the comparatively better situation that I am in. We have both failed in our fight but I am in a much better situation financially at least because of my money earning skills. I harked back to the days of our youth when he was such a handsome guy with a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step as we fought our battles thinking we would never lose. Looking at the old man that Khajan is now, a deep sadness engulfed me. Fourteen years back after a particularly hard battle against the State that I lost, I decided to stop fighting the State full tilt as I had been doing till then and toned down my activism. However, I had something to fall back on but Khajan not only continued his good fight but now when he is exhausted he does not have the luxury of an alternative source of livelihood. Of course he gets considerable support from both the KMCS and the NBA and that is why he is able to continue his fight but he is a lonely tragic figure like many great Adivasi fighters before him who have made huge sacrifices in the fight for a more socio-economically just and environmentally sustainable world.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Reality of Criminal Investigation

Of all the writing about Yakub Memon's case the one that I found to be most pertinent, because of its resonance with my own experience as a sufferer of the police's propensity to falsely implicate people in this country, is this comment of Justice Markandey Katju, retired judge of the Supreme Court of India -
"I believe there has been gross travesty of justice in the case of Yakub Memon. I have carefully studied the judgement of the Court. The evidence on which he has been found guilty is very weak. This evidence is (1) retracted confession of the co-accused, and (2) alleged recoveries.
As regards the first, everyone knows how 'confessions' are obtained by the police in our country-- by torture. And torture is such a terrible thing that one will confess to anything under torture. Joan of Arc confessed to be a witch under torture. Moreover, in this case, the alleged '├žonfession' was later retracted in court. As regards 'recoveries', anyone having even the slightest knowledge of the working of the police knows that such alleged recoveries are often planted. The truth is that our police usually cannot nail the culprits because it is not trained in scientific investigation."
The inability on the part of the police to get good independent witnesses and proper material evidence due to shoddy investigation is a common failing of theirs. Going by what Justice Katju says, it would have been very difficult to get a conviction even in the trial court in this case under normal circumstances but the indictment of the accused under the now repealed TADA ( Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act), in which confessions by co-accused and the accused themselves to the police are admissible as evidence) and the general tendency in the judiciary to come down hard on terrorists has led not only to conviction but also to the death penalty for Yakub. That is to say that even if there can be a strong suspicion to believe that Yakub played an important role in organising the blasts, the evidence is not sufficiently strong legally to nail him.  
In this regard here is an excerpt from another interesting analysis of the biases of the Judges of the Supreme Court who upheld the death penalty of Yakub by Sudeep Singh - 
"The two member bench that originally decided Yakub’s appeal at Supreme court included Justice Sathasivam and Justice BS Chauhan. This is same bench that is famous for Dara Singh’s judgement – yes, the same Dara Singh, a Bajrang Dal activist, who burnt alive Australian Missionary Graham Staines along with his two minor children. The Supreme Court judgement, which upheld Orissa High court’s decision commuting death sentence, observed in Dara Singh’s case, "Though Graham Staines and his two minor sons were burnt to death while they were sleeping inside a station wagon at Manoharpur, the intention was to teach a lesson to Staines about his religious activities, namely, converting poor tribals to Christianity". "It is undisputed that there is no justification for interfering in someone's belief by way of 'use of force', provocation, conversion, incitement or upon a flawed premise that one religion is better than the other"".
In fact the trial court had slapped the death penalty on nine other accused which was commuted to life sentence by the Supreme Court. So, as I see it, one can be thankful that the judges of the Supreme Court at least saw it fit to commute the death sentence of the nine other accused to life imprisonment even though the evidence against them also was the same as that in the case of Yakub - confessions of co-accused made to the police which were later retracted in court. It is also important to note that Abu Salem, another underworld Don associated with the Dawood Gang, which is said to have masterminded the lethal serial blasts in Mumbai in 1993, cannot be tried under draconian laws and sentenced to death, because Portugal, from where he was extradited, had made it a condition of his extradition that he would not be sentenced to death. When the police slapped TADA on him along with nine other accused against whom the case is still pending because they were all arrested later, he immediately complained to the Portugal court that had extradited him citing the violation of the conditions and the court cancelled the extradition order and demanded that Abu Salem be returned to Portugal. So the police removed the TADA charge against Salem while it is still there against the others.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Where will the Money Come from?

A few days back an activist friend of mine sent me a slew of proposals that he had drawn up for ensuring funding for his ongoing projects, asking my opinion on their feasibility. While some involved raising funding from the Government some others involved running his project as a business proposition. In both cases I pointed out that a project like his that challenges existing power structures is unlikely to get funding from the Government or be successful as a business proposition. For a business proposition to be successful the customers of a service must be able to pay for it to cover its costs at least, if not provide a profit but projects to improve the status of the poor cannot get the latter to pay for the service provided because they do not have the wherewithal to do so. Therefore, most projects for the poor run on donations from individuals or funding agencies which eventually are part of the capitalist system of profit making and so while they can provide some bandage treatment to relieve poverty they cannot challenge the basic tenet of profit making and rent seeking that powers capitalism and entrenches poverty not to speak of fomenting mass murder and mayhem.
So how have challenges to capitalism been funded and what have been the results of such challenges in the long run? The initial grand system changing challengers like Proudhon, Blanqui, Saint Simon, Marx and the like all hailed from the middle or upper classes and either survived on donations from the wealthy or conducted businesses themselves which were at variance with what they preached. Consequently they did not get very far. The Paris commune of  1872 was the first socialist Government to come to power and it lasted just two months because it did not have the funds to withstand the onslaught of the Capitalist French State which it had displaced. The Bolsheviks, who brought about the revolution in Russia, learnt their lessons from the failure of the Paris Commune and immediately took control of the state apparatus even though they were in a minority at the time of the October Revolution in 1917. Prior to that the Bolsheviks depended on individual donations from wealthy sympathisers and robberies, kidnappings and various other skullduggery to garner funds. However, to remain in control of the State apparatus they initiated an authoritarian system which was far removed from the ideal of proletarian freedom that they had initially spoken about. In fact the Soviet Union deteriorated into a State Capitalist system within a decade of the revolution. Most socialist revolutions following this were also flawed by the use of force and dubious funds.
The less said about the more passive brand of social reformers the better. Not just the modern ones like Vivekananda and Gandhi, but even people like the Buddha were all supported in their endeavours by well heeled power brokers of their day and so in the end were never able to challenge the systems of power which they ostensibly set out to change. Thoreau, who is feted by anarchists the world over for his advocacy of individual and small community freedom used to depend on the income from a pencil factory and mine in which he exploited his his employees to provide him with income to pursue his anarchist dreams. Anarchists like Kropotkin, Bakunin and Tolstoy were all princes or well to do people and anyway they were mainly theoreticians with limited activist programmes.
Then there is the trade union movement. Initially it fought its battles with the contributions of the workers and that remained the trade unions' main source of funds. When initial gains were made and job security gained in the organised industries and services these trade unions became restricted to themselves instead of using their funds to further trade unionism in the unorganised sector. Currently capitalism has reinvented itself in such a way that production and services can be outsourced at the drop of a hat and the power of trade unions in the organised sector and so their finances are on the wane. The unorganised sector remains as weak as ever and is dependent on doles and philanthropy.
Since I have found that our own mobilisation work among the Bhils requires funding from capitalist sources and so is circumscribed by it in many ways I have been reading up on how various so called great social reformers and revolutionaries have funded their work and have found that in every case they have had capitalist funding in one way or the other and so in the end have not been able to mount the challenge to capitalism that they initially proclaimed as their goal.
In 1993 it became clear that the KMCS could not continue on ad hoc funding anymore given its spreading work. There was a debate within the organisation as to how to garner funds. While I advocated doing consultancies and accessing grant funds through the NGO Dhas Gramin Vikas Kendra which we had registered earlier, others demurred and said that we should try for donations from individuals who felt that our work was worthwhile. I let the others have their way and left to pursue my own work elsewhere funded by consultancies for such dubious organisations as the World Bank and various US Foundations. Eventually the donation route did not yield much and DGVK had to be used for accessing grant funding. We have been able to retain some amount of independence and a radical programme because we access only minimal funding and still rely greatly on the voluntary contributions of time and labour of the Bhil members of the KMCS. However, even so our work is quite far from being a challenge to Capitalism because the members of the KMCS today are reconciled to making a place for themselves in the prevailing capitalist system rather than fight it to accord with the intellectual predilections of some of their activist colleagues!! Moreover, those in the KMCS who had objected to accessing grant funding now ask me to garner funds for them despite my telling them that the sources of these funds are dubious in ideological terms!!
The Aam Aadmi Party has provided a new model where they have garnered online donations and voluntary contributions of time and labour from ordinary people. They succeeded in coming to power in Delhi with a landslide victory on the back of these. But whether they will be able to sustain this model in the face of attacks from the State and Capitalists remains to be seen. However, since Arvind Kejriwal seems to think that he has single handedly brought about the AAP miracle there are already signs of his megalomania written large on the way the AAP is operating in Delhi!! There are many movements, some totally anarchist, others socialist and yet others a mixture of the two which are afoot across the world against capitalism but as far as I can see none of them are anywhere close to posing a serious challenge to the dominance of capitalism and the main reason is the lack of funding.
There are a lot of people writing all over the place that with the coming of the internet there is the possibility of challenging capitalism through decentralised mass action but this is so much poppycock. The internet is not only controlled by capitalists and the State but it and all communications generally are diligently monitored by their intelligence agencies. The other day I did an internet search for flights from Indore to Ahmedabad on Google. After that I have been continually getting adds in Gmail and in Facebook offering great deals for Indore to Ahmdebad flights!! That is the level of surveillance that is taking place and so the prospects of a challenge to capitalism are indeed dim. 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Megalomaniacs and Compromisers All!!

I have just finished reading two new biographies of Lenin which cover his life from birth to death in some detail based on research on new material made available from archives that have been opened up in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. The striking aspects of Lenin's character and life that are revealed in these biographies are as follows -
1. He used to believe that what he understood about politics and economics was right and would engage in heated debates to assert this even if reality may belie his interpretations.
2. He was prepared to tweak his interpretation of orthodox political and economic theory if it seemed to him that the attainment of some practical goal needed him to do so. Thus, there was a serious gap between what he preached and what he practised.
3. He had no respect for democracy and justice and was ever ready to manipulate people and situations so as to be in control of his party and state. Especially after the seizure of power in the October Revolution, which itself was done through military action by his Bolshevik party which was in a minority even among the various socialist factions, he used terror and military action to suppress other socialists who were more numerous than his own Bolshevik faction and also the workers and peasants who did not agree with his policies and programmes. And what is even more interesting is that all the other members of the Politburo, the highest decision making body of the Bolshevik party, too were megalomaniacs like Lenin with scant regard for democracy and justice!!
4. He had a fierce hunger for power and would brook at nothing to achieve his goals.
5. He thought nothing of making compromises with those on the other side of the ideological spectrum to gain money for his party. Thus, after the February Revolution of 1917, the Bolsheviks were funded heavily by the Germans with whom Russia was at war and this helped the former to increase their propaganda work among the workers in Petrograd and arm their militia prior to the October Revolution.
6. Given the fact that the Bolsheviks did not have enough skilled people to run the Russian State, Lenin thought nothing of inducting people from the old Tsarist bureaucracy into the party as long as his overall control over it remained secure. In the process he had no compunction in crushing the workers and peasants soviets which were demanding control of their factories and farms.
7. Eventually with the introduction of the New Economic Policy in 1921, Lenin had to give way to peasants and allow them to produce and trade independently because of the impending collapse of the agricultural system in Russia, but even so this was a strategic retreat because of the inability of the military and the secret police to enforce total nationalisation of farming through terror. Later when the Bolsheviks were in a more secure position and the Soviet Union had bolstered its economy, Lenin's successor Stalin, resorted to even greater repression to nationalise farming forcibly in the 1930s.

Lenin, being a votary of dictatorship of course had little compunction in the use of arbitrary State power to suppress dissent, but even within overtly liberal democratic dispensations, State power is used, even if less arbitrarily, to further the political and economic goals of leaders who see themselves as being right in their interpretations of society and the economy even if they fly in the face of reality and those dissenting have to face oppression. Throughout the twentieth century the power of centralised States has increased considerably vis a vis the individual citizens even in liberal democratic dispensations and the might of the State is used to crush dissent. The control of these centralised State systems can only be possible by winning elections through organisation in centralised political parties. Invariably these political parties are led by power seeking and concentrating leaders who are not much different from Lenin in their megalomaniac and compromising tendencies, even if they may not resort to direct terror due to the legal provisions that prevent overt dictatorship. Any political party requires a considerable amount of funds both for its day to day activities and for fighting elections. These funds are mostly acquired from Capitalists and so the latter have a major say in the determination of the policies of the State. So like Lenin, the leaders of democratic parties too tend to be ambivalent of the source of their funds. In the end the masses, the ordinary citizens, end up having little say in the affairs of the State even in liberal democratic dispensations.
Even within smaller organisations fighting the centralised State apparatus for the rights of citizens, there is the tendency on the part of megalomaniac leaders to brush aside dissent.  It is very difficult to actualise true democracy where there are no leaders and only citizens. One is left wondering if the anarchist goal of decentralised communitarian consensus based social, economic and political arrangements will ever be possible to actualise on a large scale.