Continuing Conflict

Modiā€“the Uniting Factor?

Biswajit Roy

Ascendance of Narendra Modi on the throne of Delhi seems to be the only hope for sorting out the pathetic disarray among assorted activists of peoples' movements and grassroots resistance organizations against neo-liberal state-corporate onslaughts. Otherwise, the one-upmanship among Quixotic mavericks will continue irrespective of their ideological leanings, political understanding and field of activism.

There is hardly any difference that the deadly mix of growth fundamentalism of India Inc and Sangh Parivar's dream of Hindutva-based aggressive nation-state in Modi's campaign, coupled with his fascist mindset poses gravest dangers to all that progressives stand for. This understanding has led many activists in Delhi, Gujarat and elsewhere to focus on defeat BJP campaign. In Vadodara, local groups reportedly tinkered with the idea of putting up a joint candidate but dropped it to avoid division of anti-Modi vote. In practice, it means support to Madhusudan Mistri of Congress. In Varanasi, similar efforts are on to unite all anti-BJP vote, which means support to Arvind Kejriwal. Lesser challengers to Modi including SUCI and CPM are in the fray but won't be much consequential.

Ruthless repression against all sorts of resistance against state-corporate plunders of minerals and other resources in Raman Singh-ruled Chattisgarh and JMM-ruled (Congress-TMC supported) Jharkhand has made room for similar overtures to Congress, AAP and other non-Congress alternatives. BJP's successive electoral success in Chattisgarh and MP as well as return to power in Rajasthan in state elections made the ground situation more difficult for the peoples' movements in these states. Elsewhere, particularly in Congress-ruled states, UPA government's decade-long record of running with hares while hunting with hounds and wanton corruption has made it no lesser evil.

Choices are more complex in states ruled by regional parties with their changing equations with main two contenders of power in New Delhi. Despite their anti-Centre rhetoric and populist postures, Mulayam and Mamata, Jaya and Nabin in UP and Bengal, Teimilnadu and Odissa have reneged on their electoral pledges to peoples' movements and promises on return of democracy in their respective realms. CPM's courtship with neo-liberal forces including homegrown crony capitalists, in addition to its penchant for one-party rule has made the choice difficult for alternative in Kerala and Bengal despite the fact that BJP is going to make dents in these states too.

In this backdrop, a straitjacket political line at the national level is highly problematic. But a shared, flexible and realistic approach is not impossible. One of the tactics that is popular this time is the campaign for extensive exercise of right to say NOTA. Some local organizations in different states have opted for it as a bargaining chip with vote-seeking parties. Some others have decided to oppose BJP and Congress but left the choice of alternative to the voters. Some deliberately opted for weakening the state ruling parties while opposing BJP.

Despite this disparate electoral tactics, there lies a possibility to forge a national and state-level collective campaign to expose the impact of 'Gujarat Model' and other varieties of development by highlighting the issues dear to the toiling millions that have been kept deliberately missing in mainstream campaign trails and media.

If the national and local interests of the, peoples' movement against neo-liberal and divisive forces are to be guiding compasses, it is more than urgent to sail skillfully through the electoral crosscurrents by negotiating the perils of 'Modi waves' and the underwater rocks posed by Congress et al. Instead, many of progressives decided to ground themselves at the beach in a sabbatical mood to watch the foamy battle for parliahient from afar. Happiest are those who do not suffer from the delusions about bourgeois democracy like the masses they claim to represent or take the trouble of making distinctions among the evils as the hoi polloi tend to do at poll times.

For these wise cynics, likes of AAP candidates SP Udaykumar in Kudankulam, Soni Sori in Dantewada, Dayamani Barla in Kunti and Medha Patkar in Mumbai north-east are the fallen guys since they broke ranks with perpetual naysayers. The hostility or indifference is no less to candidates of CPIML groups and other splinter left formations who are parts of local movements of farmers, workers and tribals. Yes, AAP is still Janus-faced and torn between pro and anti-corporate sentiments, between the proponents of top-down clean capitalism and bottom up radical democracy.

No doubt, host of these purists are practicing high-risk activism and deserve kudos from chicken-hearts. But they can't keep their closest fellow travelers together, courtesy their self-righteous sectarianism and huge ego-trips. Divisions in the country's human rights movement are most glaring in this aspect. The mandarins of the movement drew cold feet over a proposal for a countrywide and united pre-poll campaign on the release of political prisoners including those are in jails for demanding implementation of progressive parliamentary laws like RTI, PESA, FRA and environmental laws etc.

Notwithstanding differences on Maoist and other non-state organized violence vis-a-vis state terror, nature of Indian democracy and scope for pro-people interventions within its state and social structure, joint campaigns of radicals and liberals is possible. It is also a political imperative in view of the increasing attacks on democratic rights across the country. Experience shows, governments of all hues treated radicals as well as Gandhians, liberal democrats and socialists with same harshness and disdain when they protested against repression. But the radical rights groups who support Maoists and other armed insurgents in northeast and J&K maintain distance from those who are termed as believers in 'sandwich theory'. This connotes a position that declines to consider the interests of the insurgents and civilians as identical and posits the latter as people caught in the crossfire. They are hostile to those condemn cycle of state and non-state violence. But the fact remains radicals too criticized some aspects of non-state violence, particularly the 'war crimes' including booby-trapping of slain government soldier's body and killing of civilians. This should have narrowed down the difference.

Still, it's not always an issue to deny joint moves. In Bengal, partners in a central platform of radical rights groups declined to join a collective campaign before polls. Their public bickering over Mamata Banerjee's policy on political prisoners that included joining a committee to review inmates' cases ended with trading charges of backstabbing and character assassination. The ember of that bitterness is still glowing though many of those who had joined the Mamata charmed circle in 2011 felt betrayed by now.

Any effort to redeem the third space between the government and opposition, a non-partisan but mass political space for independent civil society and grassroots movements, has been frustrated by both sides. While pro-Mamata activists express some disappointments after two and half years of Didi's rule and offer some low-pitch criticism, they still prefer her against CPM. On the other-hand, anti-Mamata activists dismiss them as establishment cronies who are trying to renew their credentials as independent dissenters. Some of them are not averse to join hands with CPM against Mamata's increasing highhandedness. There are others who don't like to be loud against new regime but denied compromise. So the gulf remains.

It is not in the human rights movement alone. Those are working for hunger-free India, demanding full implementation of the Forest Rights Act and similar laws, opposing nuclear power and championing environmental causes et al are also divided in numerous factions. Name any other sector of activism, the cacophony is so confusing that the ideological, factional and personal factors are often indistinguishable. Organizational drives stems more from the desire for expansion and consolidation of own fiefdom than the professed concerns for affected and threatened communities.

Some practice untouchability towards funded NGOs with others suspect them deeply even when compelled to rub shoulders with for practical reasons. Ideo-political fight is necessary with those advocating solutions within the framework of Bretton Woods institutions' good governance and conflict resolution. But equally important is the understanding of complex ground reality where NGOs, at least their local functionaries who are part of peoples' movements or supportive to it. Not every reformist is imperialist or corporate agent. While some top guns with social work degrees enjoy corporate lifestyles and lobby for berth in government committees and social elite clubs, there are many examples where smaller NGOs or big NGO workers have graduated into non-indentured movements and activists. But xenophobia and blanket judgment suits closed -door communities.

Hierarchy is pervasive in the activist world too. Whether it is among the champions of democratic centralism or the opponents of party regimentation including NGOs. In Bengal, one finds veterans with varying degrees of admiration and criticism to Mamata. They behaved like imperious walruses on the beach who overlord on their respective herds and charge at outsiders whenever one tries to befriend their flock members. Notwithstanding their mutual hostilities on political and personal grounds, (not exactly in that order), they are united only in justifying their cocooned clubs and derision about the efforts for united actions. In private, they describe each other as snakes and other reptilian version in human forms. But they joined in frowning upon the pygmies who dare to criticize the giants inside the dwarfdom or try something different. They are not exceptions.

Who or what will unite these infinitely quarrelsome do-gooders who are otherwise sensible and committed people by and large?

Vol. 46, No. 44, May 11 -17, 2014