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.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Reality Check

Last week a meeting was held in Bisali village in Bagli Tehsil of Dewas district at the memorial for the four martyrs who died in police firing in 2001 while protesting against the high handed oppression of the Government in suppressing an Adivasi people's movement fighting for the actualisation of Adivasi Self Rule in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution of India. The memorial also has a central statue in memory of the great Bhil rebel who fought against the British in the nineteenth century - Tantia Bhil. These memorials known as "Gatha" picturise the martyrs as riding horses and armed in traditional gear as shown below.
The meeting, however, was about something else altogether. Alok Agrawal the redoubtable activist of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) had asked for this meeting to be organised. He has been selected by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) as the Lok Sabha candidate for the Khandwa constituency and Bagli assembly constituency forms a part of the former. He had asked me to organise this meeting so that he could speak to the leading members of the Adivasi Morcha Sangathan which is active in this area and convince them to support his candidacy. Alok began by saying that the time had come for people's movements to make a mark in mainstream electoral politics and the AAP with its stellar performance in the Delhi assembly elections in December and its short stint in power had shown how this could be done. He said that the forthcoming Lok Sabha elections provided a golden opportunity and if it wasn't capitalised on then the movement for justice in the country would be set back by another thirty to forty years. Mojiram Akharia who is an Adivasi from Dharaji village which is to be submerged by the Omkareshwar dam on the River Narmada  then got up and detailed how their struggle against the dam and the obdurate State Government had not resulted in any solution and that Arvind Kejriwal had shown the way to them on how to come to power through the elections and then get the people's agenda implemented. He also exhorted the people present to pull out all stops to get Alok elected to the Lok Sabha.
Jhanjhar Bhaidia, the veteran leader of the Adivasi Morcha Sangathan then got up and asked them why they had now come to the conclusion that electoral politics was the key to people's emancipation. He said that even if it was the policy of the Adivasi Morcha Sangathan to be indifferent to all elections from the lowest Panchayat to the highest Lok Sabha it allowed its members to fight elections or support political parties on their own. Consequently members of the AMS have fought at the Panchayat and Assembly election levels and supported some party or other at the Lok Sabha level. During the assembly elections of 2008 Versingh Davar of the AMS had contested and a big contingent of the Sangathan had taken part in the rallies organised by the NBA in Khandwa. However, when Versingh and Jhanjhar had asked the NBA to support Versingh in the elections then the NBA had taken the stand that they do not take part in elections and neither do they support any party considering the whole electoral process to be corrupt. Jhanjhar asked Alok as to why had the NBA now changed its stand when it had refused to support Versingh earlier.
Alok had no answer to this apart from repeating that by becoming part of the AAP phenomenon it had now become possible to win elections. In the same breath he said that since the NBA was a people's movement it did not have the resources of political parties and thus it required the support of the AMS. Then, I intervened and said that organising people's movements and electoral politics are two different ball games altogether. The AAP had performed well in the Delhi elections by mobilising huge resources from all over India and abroad both in terms of finances and voluntary human power. On an average Rupees 25 lakhs had been spent per assembly constituency and hundreds of volunteers had given their time and skills to the electoral campaign. This had created a mass upsurge in its favour through a publicity blitz involving door to door campaigning, hoardings, radio advertisements and the like. Thus, if Alok wanted to win the elections he would have to mobilise similar resources which in the case of a large Lok Sabha constituency like Khandwa meant Rs 2 crores at least. Given the fact the AAP's centralised resource mobilisation had mustered only about Rs 10 crores so far, there was little possibility of any support coming from the central kitty for Alok's campaign and so he would have to mobilise resources on his own. Therefore, in addition to appealing for support from the AMS, he would have to more importantly mobilise resources for a publicity blitz to cover the whole of Bagli assembly constituency because even at its best the AMS could mobilise only about 10000 votes which is not sufficient.
Later on we had a long discussion about electoral politics. People said that electoral politics had become extremely vitiated with money power and it was unlikely that it could be cleansed on the strength of idealism. Unlike many of our Adivasi activists in Alirajpur, the veterans here did not appear to be impressed at all by the AAP's Delhi performance!!! Deepsingh, another veteran of the organisation said that the farther we stayed away from elections the better it was and he broached the subject of the annual Gatha celebration to commemorate the martyrs on April 2nd instead.
Alok is not the only activist but there are many others of the people's movements, notably people like Medha Patkar, who have now jumped into the electoral fray enthused by the AAP's performance in Delhi. However, none of these activists seem to have given a thought to the crucial resource mobilisation aspect which was the main factor behind AAP's electoral success. Both door to door campaigning to cover each and every household in a constituency and a publicity blitz through hoardings, posters and vehicle rallies will cost a huge packet and without this it won't be possible for a candidate to convey to the electorate that she is a winning proposition.
And here lies the most important problem. People who have money, not only the upper class but even the middle class, do not go along with the views about development that people like Alok and Medha espouse. Arvind Kejriwal was clever enough to target only corruption and promise freebies but he took care to not fundamentally challenge the present development pattern and that is how he has managed to raise resources. In fact faced with the daunting prospect of raising resources at a much greater level for the Lok Sabha elections he even went and held forth to the Conference of Indian Industry that he was in favour of capitalism and only against cronyism. Nevertheless the daily contributions to the AAP rarely cross Rupees 10 lakhs these days and that is woefully short of the huge requirements of fighting a nationwide election. Thus, if Medha, Alok and many other activists have to garner funds then they have to give up some of the central tenets of their development philosophy. There is no way in which Adivasi Self Rule or decentralised sustainable agriculture  can be accommodated in the resource extractive development paradigm that holds sway at present. Even if Alok and Medha do declare like Arvind that they are for capitalism they are unlikely to be believed by those who hold the purse strings.
Even if we grant for the sake of argument that the activists of people's movements will be able to garner the necessary financial resources, the fight for a more decentralised system is unlikely to be won through winning elections with such huge expenditures. Winning the elections in this manner will require a jettisoning of the ideals for which the people's movements have been fighting. A lot more thought should be expended on how to take forward people's movements in an era of near complete capitalist domination instead of getting carried away by the AAP's victory in Delhi. Personally as an anarchist I find this rush of stalwarts of the people's movements across the country to join the electoral bandwagon of the AAP a little disconcerting!! Anyway the forthcoming elections will provide a reality check to all and sundry!!


Bhaswati said...

Excellent, incisive post as ever. Thanks for bringing these conversations to us.

One small request. Please give para breaks in your posts for ease of reading. You can hit the enter button to do so.

Rahul Banerjee said...

thanks Bhaswati. hitting the enter button creates a big gap that is why i prefer not to do so!! i will try and see how this can be rectified.

Rajarshi said...

Dear Sir,

A very sound analysis indeed with which I fully agree.

I think it was AAP's unpredictable and improbable win in Delhi Assembly Elections which has swayed leaders of many mass movements who earlier were constrained to watch things from sidelines. So, AAP has provided them with a platform to participate in electoral politics.

However, the very fact that one needs huge resources to fight elections these days with any credible chance of winning them makes it an uphill task. And as you pointed out, resource mobilisation will continue to be difficult because of a fundamental oddity between the interests of people who have the resources to spare and the developmental paradigm espoused by people's movements - all talks of Kejriwal's Swaraj and decentralised governance notwithstanding.

So, the issue probably lies with our electoral system itself which doesn't provide a level playing field.