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, April 29, 2015

The Elusive Right to Livelihood

One of the most inspiring personalities I have met was Mama Baleshwar Dayal. Originally from Uttar Pradesh he came to Bhabra village in Alirajpur district in the 1930s, at the invitation of the mother of the martyr of the freedom movement, Chandrashekhar Azad, to organise the Bhil Adivasis for their rights. He was able to put together a militant movement of the Bhils against both the Princely States of the area and the British colonial rulers, mainly centred around the right to own and cultivate land as the primary means of livelihood instead of being serfs of the feudal lords. The long struggle of the Bhils under the banner of the Lal Topi Andolan or Red Cap Movement, which got its name from the fact that its members wore red caps to signify their adherence to socialism, convinced them and their leader Mamaji that with the coming of independence they could immediately seize the lands of the feudal lords and finally win the battle they had been fighting for so long. Imagine their surprise when they were summarily bundled into jail by the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru for doing so. In fact Nehru clamped down hard on all land to the tiller movements across the country in the immediate aftermath of independence using the draconian preventive detention laws of the colonial period which continued to be in force. Finally, a rightist like Chakravarty Rajagopalachari had to intercede with a socialist like Nehru to get Mamaji and the Bhils freed after eight months. These initial black portents of a betrayal of the masses were confirmed when the Constitution that was adopted in 1950 and that came into force in 1951, relegated the right to work, education and health which together constitute the right to livelihood, to the Directive Principles of State Policy which were not justiciable and so unenforceable.
In fact this was of a piece with what the nascent Indian capitalists, who had all been collaborators of the British during colonial rule, while at the same time exerting influence over the Indian National Congress because of their money power, had in mind for independent India. The capitalists looking ahead to the situation that would prevail after independence had come up with a national plan in 1944, popularly known as the Bombay Plan, which spoke of both strengthening their ties with imperialist capital and at the same time of protecting the Indian market from predatory penetration by the latter (Thakurdas, P et al, 1944, A Brief Memorandum Outlining a Plan of Economic Development for India, Mumbai.) The Bombay Plan also envisaged the rapid development of basic infrastrucure through heavy state spending garnered from exploitation of the labour of the masses and the vast natural resources. It specifically mentioned that the state must intervene to maintain law and order and restrict individual freedoms given the possibility of dissent from the masses against such a policyNo wonder then that G.D. Birla the doyen of the Indian capitalists gloated at the time of independence, "We have embodied large portions of the 1935 Act, as finally passed, in the Constitution which we have framed ourselves and which shows that in the 1935 Act was cast the pattern of our future plans"!(Birla, G D, 1968, In The Shadow of The Mahatma, Mumbai, p. 131 quoted in S. K. Ghosh, 2001, The Indian Constitution and Its Review, Research Unit for Political Economy, Mumbai.) Consequently, not only was the Right to Livelihood not granted in the Indian Constitution but "One of the striking features of India's new Constitution is the continuity with British-Indian practice. Approximately 250 articles out of 395 were taken either verbatim or with minor changes in phraseology from the 1935 Government of India Act and the basic principles remained unchanged"Brecher, M, 1959, Nehru: A Political Biography, London p. 421 quoted in Ghosh Op. Cit.)
Thus, it has been a long battle over the past seventy years or so in independent India for the right to livelihood which has still not been achieved. The Lal Topi Andolan and Mama Baleshwar Dayal all fell by the wayside in this battle as did all the variants of the Communist and Socialist parties. In various places small mass organisations have taken up this battle since the 1970s and in the end with the turn of the century we saw the enactment of some legislation towards guaranteeing a modicum of the right to livelihood through the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act, Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act and the National Rural Health Programme and now the National Food Security Act. The Khedut Mazdoor Chetna Sangath too has done its bit towards mobilising people in the sporadic battle for a right to livelihood over the last thirty years and so when these new legislations came into being the organisation put in a lot of effort to try and get them implemented well. However, from the beginning there has been a lack of provisioning of adequate funds and functionaries to effectively implement these legislations and so even with the best efforts the impact has been marginal in ensuring livelihoods and food security. 
Many organisations throughout India, like the KMCS, have tried to improve the implementation of these legislations in the face of governmental and administrative apathy but success has been limited.
I had the opportunity, recently, to visit once such organisation, the Jan Jagaran Shakti Sangathan, working in a few districts of North Bihar near the border with Nepal. I was invited to conduct a workshop in political economy for the members of the organisation. Even though it was a long haul from Alirajpur, I agreed to go there because I wanted to see an organisation that was still young and full of energy unlike our own KMCS which has become old and lethargic!! There was a time when we used to have regular monthly workshops on various aspects of political economy and political strategy but since the turn of the century all that has become history and now the KMCS is just a programme based organisation going through its motions without much intellectual churning except in the sphere of promotion of Bhili culture. The last time I had conducted classes in political economy was in 1998 almost two decades ago despite the fact that my knowledge and understanding of the workings of the global capitalist system have increased considerably since then . 
My hunch was well founded and I met up with a group of enthusiastic men and women both old and young who were very excited about fighting for their rights. The JJSS had evolved from campaigns for the implementation of the MGNREGA and is a trade union with active village level members who both paid their membership dues and contributed their time and labour to establish the organisation as a grassroots political force. In the face of the apathy with regard to implementation of the MGNREGA and other laws and policies which together can ensure a right to livelihood the JJSS has carved out a space for itself in the region. Surprisingly in the eight years or so of their existence they had never had a workshop on political economy!!! Yet they had gone from strength to strength even though the funds and functionaries provided for the MGNREGA implementation had gone down and serious problems had cropped up with regard to getting work under it and getting paid once the whatever little work was sanctioned was completed. I extracted a promise from them that they would have at least one workshop every month as without political analysis it would be difficult to sustain the momentum of the organisation in the face of the concerted onslaught of late capitalism. The workshop ended with an analysis of how financial capital had now become all powerful and controlled the global economy, polity and the infotainment industry to the detriment of society, economy and environment at large.
On the one hand I was rejuvenated to find a grassroots organisation that was so full of life and fighting against heavy odds to establish the right to livelihood and on the other hand I couldn't help thinking how little power they had in comparison to the crooks in Wall Street who are hell bent on depriving the masses of a decent living and nature of a renewable future. May Day is nigh and there will undoubtedly be many rallies and programmes and the JJSS too has a public event scheduled. The KMCS celebrates its annual Jungle Mela about the same time every year in which along with the right to livelihood, the issues of tribal identity and culture and the conservation of nature are highlighted. However, as long as finance capital rules the globe, the right to livelihood will continue to prove elusive for the vast majority of people on this earth. While those struggling for the right to livelihood are dispersed and do not have the resources to build up a concerted unified challenge, those bent on denying this right are well organised and flush with the funds they have looted and are continuing to loot.
The MGNREGA, the Right to Education, the Food Security Act and the National Rural Health Mission have ever since their introduction provided a tenuous plank for mobilisation even with their minimal fund allocations but without a larger political mobilisation based on intensive political education of the masses it will not be possible to sustain these struggles or carry them to a higher level. There is a need for more political workshops but no resources for them. I went all the way from Alirajpur to Araria in Bihar on resources garnered from elsewhere but I cannot do so again and again. In fact I cannot conduct such workshops on a regular basis in our own Alirajpur among the members of the KMCS!!!

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