Confronted time and again with the vicissitudes of democracy that threaten middle class prosperity, the standard response has been to fall back on the armed might of the State, let loose first of all on a dissenting intelligentsia and then on the general population. Vir Sanghvi’s piece,We have reached a turning point (Counterpoint, April 11), is an example of this.
It is common belief that those who call themselves Naxalites are inhuman, in spite of their professed politics of speaking for the rural poor. All groups, which subject people to their murderous notions of what is ‘correct’ with a sense of finality and arbitrariness need to be seen as inhuman. But if this category includes the usual suspects, space must also be kept for those who destroy the world for a telos which is theirs alone. This includes the 9 per cent-obsessed economists, land ‘developers’ and mining mafias who have no regard for those they displace. For if the Naxalites are predators, so are the Lafarges and the Reddy Brothers and the Vedantas and the Tiscos who only serve their own interests.
The irony lies in the fact that while the poor who protest their displacement are either killed or imprisoned, those who exploit rural resources enjoy full State support. Lest anyone thinks the State doesn’t support illegal actions, one needs only to draw attention to two recent cases where illegal plunder took place. The BJP government in Karnataka was fully
aware of the mining excesses of the Reddy brothers. So was the Congress government in Andhra Pradesh.
If these powerful people couldn’t stand up to the mining mafia (or chose to look away) how could anyone expect a poor tribal who was being handed a few thousand rupees to fight the might of the mine lords? In Meghalaya, Lafarge did not dispute the illegality of its actions. The Centre’s and Lafarge’s initial plea was that the court’s stay on illegal mining would upset India’s relations with Bangladesh or that Lafarge would compensate.
The State has consistently expedited development only where there was profit to be made. Improvement of living conditions of the rural poor has never been on its agenda. Acts like the Recognition of Forest Rights Act which took decades to be passed are still not sincerely implemented. This does not imply that all tribal’s must, therefore, become Naxals but that those who were collateral by default are now being made collateral by choice.
Pankaj Butalia is a Delhi-based film-maker
The views expressed by the author are personal