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.

Monday, December 22, 2014

The Charade of Self Rule

Panchayat elections have been notified in Madhya Pradesh and with this will begin another round of the intensification of centralised politics in the State. Paradoxical as it may seem, Panchayati Raj as it is practised in this State, especially the process of elections, actually strengthens the centralised system of oppressive governance, rather than promoting decentralised self rule. In centralised democratic systems due to the large numbers of people, it is not possible to have direct democracy with everyone participating in decision making. That is why there are elections to choose representatives to law making bodies and executives. However, if the unit of governance is small then there is no need for representatives and all the members of the general body can meet periodically to take decisions regarding their governance and development resulting in true mass self rule. Thus, ideally the third tier of governance in India, Panchayati Raj, when it was made compulsory through the 73rd Constitutional Amendment in 1993, should have been based on direct democracy with small governance units of twenty to thirty households that normally constitute a locality in a village. Instead, a replica of the centralised representative system was foisted on Panchayats also with election of a Sarpanch as the leader and Panches or ward members as the other members of the executive, from a Gram Sabha or general body. This general body consisted of several villages so that it became difficult for the Gram Sabha to meet regularly and transact governance and development on a regular basis. Once the executive is separated from the general body then the doors are opened for all kinds of skullduggery that we so frequently see in centralised systems where the elected representatives are only nominally accountable to the electorate as they are in reality beholden to the moneybags who fund their expensive elections. The same process of corruption has entrenched itself into Panchayati Raj and the Sarpanches and Panches are more interested in embezzling funds ably supported by the bureaucracy and the higher level elected representatives. In fact, there is a patron client relationship between the higher level politicians and the local politicians at the Panchayat level and they all work together to disempower the masses.  Each Panchayat election further reinforces this corrupt system of indirect governance as the money to be expended to win elections increases with time and so the newly elected representatives are more inclined to defalcate funds and act against the interests of the people.
The extent to which Panchayati Raj has devastated communitarian collective action can be gauged from a recent story.   The Barela Adivasis, a subtribe of the Bhils, of Jamasi village in Dewas district are preparing to celebrate the Indal festival. The Indal festival is celebrated by the Bhils periodically to give thanks to their Gods for ensuring good harvests. Every few years a family must celebrate the Indal and while worshipping their Gods also give a feast to the whole community. This, traditionally, was a way of distributing surpluses that may have been accumulated by a household to the community and thus maintaining equality and also strengthening community bonds.  Normally the Indal is celebrated in February or later once the farms have been cleared of their monsoon and winter crops and there is enough space for people to dance during the night long festivities. But this particular family had cleared a farm that had a standing crop of cotton and was preparing to celebrate Indal early. When asked why they were doing so, they said that with Panchayat elections slated for January, they were forced to prepone their celebration. Many candidates from the village would be contesting for the posts of Sarpanch and Panch and so there would be tremendous campaigning against each other. Typically the elections created great animosity among different localities in the village which lasted for a year or more. Thus, if the Indal were to be held after the elections, very few people would come to participate in the festivities as the animosity generated during the elections would be fresh. This would defeat the whole purpose of the Indal, as community participation in the festivities is as much a criterion for the success of the Indal as the worship rituals. There could not be a more telling comment than this on the way in which Panchayati Raj has broken up the traditional community, especially so in tribal areas in which community cooperation has been a way of life.

The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath enthusiastically jumped into the electoral fray in 1989 when elections for Sarapanches and Panches was introduced in Madhya Pradesh well before the Constitutional Amendment in 1993. Many Panches, Sarpanches and block representatives were elected from the organisation, some unopposed. However, very soon they all became corrupt because they found it more profitable to accept the enticements provided by the Panchayat bureaucracy and the mainstream politicians, than to meet the demands of the electorate. So the organisation decided to work to empower the Gram Sabha instead of fight elections from the next time onwards and that is what it has been doing. From 2005 onwards with the implementation of the MGNREGA and the Forest Rights Act and now the provisions of the National Rural Health Mission, Right to Education Act and Food Security Act, the Gram Sabha has become very powerful on  paper and the KMCS works to make it powerful on the ground also. So much so that it does not matter any more as to who is the Sarpanch or Panch is in KMCS areas as the Gram Sabha is powerful enough to bypass them completely. In the forty to fifty villages where it has a strong base, the Panches and Sarpanches are all members of the KMCS but they have been elected on their own without any backing from the organisation and instead have had to rely on the support garnered from their dual membership of mainstream political parties. They have to listen to the Gram Sabha and if they don't they get sidelined.
The provisions of the Panchayat Extension to Scheduled Areas Act as incorporated in the Madhya Pradesh Panchayati Raj Act, make the tribal Gram Sabha even more powerful if it can be registered separately as an institution in every small tribal hamlet. The KMCS has initiated a process for this legal registration but the administration is stonewalling it and it will require moving the High Court by and by. The KMCS has already used the provisions to stall many projects of the Government aimed at displacing tribals but once the Gram Sabha in the small hamlet becomes a registered entity it will become a legal entity and make it easier for people to establish self rule. All this just shows how true self rule requires a persistent effort to make the Gram Sabha more powerful instead of participating in the Panchayat elections and making efforts to get the present form of Panchayati Raj to work in favour of the people in the face of forces that can easily coopt the elected representatives to sabotage attempts at building up the strength of the Gram Sabha.
It is in this context that one has to see the futility of the move by some organisations in Madhya Pradesh to initiate a Swashasan Abhiyan or self rule campaign around participation in elections and the election of honest and accountable Sarpanches and Panches. A regional training workshop was held recently in Kukshi by the campaign with the KMCS as one of the hosts. Those members of the KMCS who were keen on fighting elections attended the training. For the record let it be known that there are many people in the KMCS who want to fight elections including some of its leading activists as they feel the KMCS, being a small entity, cannot really fight the dominant system. The training concentrated on teaching people how to file nominations for the various elected posts and then explained what were the powers of Panches and Sarpanches. Many members of the KMCS pointed out that this was like playing into the hands of the established centralised system and getting co-opted by it instead of truly fighting for swashasan or self rule which could only be possible if there was direct democracy as experience had shown that some of the best grassroots activists of the organisation had become corrupt after being elected. Thus, the charade of self rule gets perpetuated in many ways by the machinations of the dominant centralised system and difficult as it is a counter movement for direct democracy through the Gram Sabhas has to be built up.

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