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.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Is Swaraj or Self Rule Possible?

The other day I got a phone call from a friend asking me to attend a meeting called Swaraj Samvad (discussions on Self Rule) in the city of Ujjain which is about 50 kilometers from Indore, organised by Swaraj Abhiyan (SA) to chalk out a path to Swaraj or Self Rule. The SA is the organisation set up by Yogendra Yadav and Prashant Bhushan and their followers after they were expelled from the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP). I responded by saying that I had been sceptical earlier as to whether the AAP would be able to bring about Swaraj as it claimed and was sceptical now that the SA would be able to do so and would continue to be sceptical whether any organisation or individual can bring about Swaraj in the present milieu. Given that beginning with Gandhi, in the early twentieth century, many people in India have tried to establish Swaraj in the sense of individuals living in small communities being empowered against the centralised State and Corporate systems, have all failed, I feel that there should be deep thinking on why this is so before we begin yet again to chart out a programme to achieve Swaraj.
The problem as I have come to see it is one of garnering enough resources to fight the centralised State and Corporate behemoths. This problem was faced by Gandhi. Even when he was writing his seminal book "Hind Swaraj" in 1909, propounding his anarchist ideas, he was financed by the Tatas who were the major donors for his activism in South Africa. On his return to India in 1915 he was funded by the Birlas who remained his main benefactor throughout the independence struggle. That is why he had to jettison much of the radical anarchist tenets he had propounded earlier in Hind Swaraj and go along with a capitalist blue print for the development of India post independence.
Recently I read a book that details the history of Lenin's years in exile prior to the Russian Revolution and there too this problem of funding comes to the fore. Lenin and the Bolsheviks were funded by capitalists among others who were against the Tsar but not necessarily Marxists or Communists and in the later stages by Stalin who used to abduct and extort ransom from the oil millionaires in Baku on the Caspian Sea. In the end the Russian Revolution resulted in the rejection of soviet democracy and workers' control of industries and opted for a centralised bureaucratic managerial form of government and industrial production under the strict control of the Bolshevik Party.
Today the State and the Corporations are immensely more powerful than they were in the early twentieth century in terms of military and police power and control of the economy and they also control the media and academia which produce the dominant ideology. What do the Swarajists have to offer to the people? Very little!! If one follows the path of Swaraj then one is likely to die of poverty, hunger and disease. Livelihoods have been so compromised that the lower and middle classes who used to produce activists cannot do so any more. The funding from the capitalists goes for reformist work by NGOs to patch up the devastations wrought by the Corporations and not for overthrowing the centralised system. The lure of consumerist lifestyles which have been made very achievable and attractive through propaganda makes it difficult to get people to strive for an austere life of struggle for Swaraj.
Thus, the first and most important step, currently, in the path to Swaraj, assuming that Swaraj itself has been adequately defined by now, is to garner funds from the people who are to fight for Swaraj and not from capitalists like Gandhi and Lenin did, as otherwise the chances are high that Swaraj will not materialise. The AAP had initially been able to do this but after having come to power in Delhi and embroiled as it is now in running a highly centralised government system that is hamstrung by various legal hurdles, one is left wondering as to what it will be able to do in the long run.
As I have mentioned in many posts before, I myself have not really succeeded in securing enough funds from the people who I fight with for anarchist goals and so have not others. That is why Swaraj remains a distant dream amidst a highly centralised political and economic system controlled by a few who also control the media and academia - the means of knowledge production.
I would like to sign off with the example of the recently concluded Jal Satyagraha protest of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) in Ghoghalgaon. The faction of the NBA active in the protest against the Omkareshwar Dam is also aligned with the AAP. Their fight was a typical Swarajist fight in that they were protesting against the construction of a dam on the River Narmada which was environmentally, socially and economically destructive in the long run. However, given their lack of strength the NBA was not able to stop the construction of the dam but had got orders from the High and Supreme Courts to the effect that the water could not be filled in the dam to its highest level until those to be displaced by it were properly rehabilitated. Despite these legal orders the Government of Madhya Pradesh went about filling the reservoir and so the affected people went on a protest by sitting in the dam waters. They sat for more than a month and as a result their feet became sore and began to bleed as shown below.

Yet ultimately the Government did not relent and refused to reduce the water level and only provided some flimsy assurances like they had done a couple of years back when too the NBA had staged such a Jal Satyagraha. This NBA faction funds itself mainly from contributions of those fighting against the various dams on the river Narmada and so is always strapped for funds. The alignment with the AAP has not helped much because they fared miserably in the Lok Sabha elections in which a lot of funds got drained including the personal assets of the activists and now the BJP Government in Madhya Pradesh has taken a vindictive stand given that the AAP and the BJP are fighting tooth and nail in Delhi.
Thus, given the tremendous resources at the command of centralised systems and their control of society, economy and knowledge production, it does look as if Swaraj is difficult to achieve. That of course does not mean that one should not try to achieve it. Personally, however, I would like to plough a lonely furrow in the fight for Swaraj than align with others in a movement!!

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