Saturday, September 16, 2006

CHHATTISGARH: Has The Opposition Failed?

The silence of the Congress- most notably, its charismatic SJ leader- is deafening: there is a widespread feeling not only among the general public, but also Congress workers, that the Opposition in the state has been, for lack of a better word, 'bought'. It is not entirely unmerited. I was reading the text of Mr. Karma's speech in the Vidhan Sabha: concluding the debate to a motion condemning this government's failure to protect tribal lives at its 'base-camp' at Errabore, the LoP said that "this is a mere political stunt...but I must demand your (CM's) resignation." That speech, which ought to have been highlighted more in the media, was less of an attack, and more of an apology.

His role in securing land for the Essar and Tata projects is even less ambiguous: together with the local Collector, Mr. Karma has been instrumental in directly getting gram-sabhas to give their lands for the setting up of these industries. Not that there is much need for gram-sabhas: if he has his way, all villages in the area will be automatically evacuated, as the villagers will be herded into 'base-camps'. Indeed, that seems to be the more effective way of securing lands for the mega-industries.

While on the subject of SJ, a film-crew recently filmed a so-called people's rally. Mr. Karma, wearing a blue t-shirt and cargo pants, is telling the camera just how much the people love him: "look- from how far they have come to see me!" On either side of the road, tribals walked in rows. Armed personnel were escorting them. At the site of the rally itself, tribals are packed in a barbed wires-and-wood enclosure- a human sheep-pen, really- before a makeshift stage. Of course, they are subjected to a rigorous security-check, metal detectors and all, before being let in. The people's leader takes the stage. He takes out a piece of paper from his shirt-pocket, and begins to read names of people from a list. For a while I think he is acknowledging the prominent persons of that area, as is customary. Then suddenly his tone changes: "I know these persons are here," he warns in Gondi, "and you are all protecting them." Now he is positively fuming: "if you don't hand them over to us, we will..." Well, you get the drift. His armed friends certainly do: rifles are suddenly pointed at the crowd. I can think of no other Congress leader- ostensibly emulating Gandhi's satyagraha- get away with this.

Anyone who dares to speak out against this Terreur is considered a Naxalite, and therefore, fair game for the SPOs (the official name for Mr. K's private army). Not surprisingly, not many people do: after all, not all of them have the comfort of a Z-plus security cover. A CRPF officer posted in Jagdalpur had this to say about our local officers: "they don't give a damn about Naxalites or the tribals as long as the money keeps pouring in." Money that is being siphoned-off by the sack-full in the name of keeping 60,000 tribes in SJ 'base-camps'. What possible right has the government got to keep them there when it cannot even protect their lives?

Talking to them, I get the feeling that they are a page out of Conrad: modern day Marlows who have come in search of the megalomaniac-merchant Kurtz in what is our version of 'the heart of darkness'. The greatest risk in waging war- of any kind- is that more often than not, we turn out to be like our enemies.

I happened to come across two BJP MLAs recently. They were both from Bastar. Like Mr Karma, they weren't subtle: "no one listens to us, not even our own government". I asked them why. They look at me as if I've just landed from Mars. "Karma," they said, "is the CM of Bastar." This is quite plausible, and in keeping with the CM's feudal style of governing: as overlord, he has parceled off parts of his kingdom between his notable feudatories. For all facts and purposes, his writ prevails only in Kawardha (his home district). During a recent visit to see the flood-relief work, the local Minister Mr Kedar Kashyap was hounded by an angry mob at a village in Konta block. Mr Karma heroically jumped to his defense. While departing, the crowds hurled stones at his helicopter. It is the duty of the CM to come to defend his ministers. Mr. Karma seems to think that the principle of collective responsibility includes the LoP as well.

During the last Vidhan Sabha session, when his own deputy cornered the Finance Minister on the allotment of Raoghat iron-ore mines to certain private parties, the LoP was moved to tell him to 'shut up'. Instances of the entire Opposition staging walkouts, minus its Leader, are too many to be recounted here. More recently, when a tribal woman lost two of her children- aged 5 and 3- to starvation within a day of each other, the LoP didn't say a word. I would like to think of all this as Mr. Karma's large-heartedness, even statesmanship: after all, what's the point in opposing everything? However, the fact that under his leadership, the Opposition has failed to bring even one no-confidence motion in the House so far points to one of the two things: one, the Government has been exemplary in all respects; or two, the Opposition - and its leader- have failed.

For the record, my father too isn't exactly in favour of ensuring that Bastar goes on being a glorified 'human-zoo' indefinitely. Development is an inevitability. However it is also true that so far the tribal experience with development has been dismal: it has made them more vulnerable, led to their displacement, not just physical but also cultural, and increased their exploitation. The rally- led by Mr. Manish Kunjam, the only leader there who has been vociferous in his opposition to Essar, in which over 20,000 tribals participated, but which for some reason didn't make it to the morning newspapers- demanding that displaced tribals be allotted a stake in the company instead of merely compensation and benefits, deserves our fullest support. In fact this demand should have been part of the original MoUs between the state government and the two companies. Why these documents have not been made public, is beyond me. Why Mr. Karma hasn't demanded that they be made public is even more perplexing.

The only saving grace is this: in a candid admission, the CM has said that there isn't room for any more steel-plants: these MoUs have in effect established corporate monopolies over the mineral resources of the state; monopolies in which neither the state nor its people will have any say.

Given all this, the fate of Chhattisgarh-tribals seems doomed: they will meet their ends, through displacement, apathy, starvation or the bullet. And in the case of Dantewada tribes, all of the above. We can only make noises. But is anyone listening?


3 comments (टिप्पणी):

Hitendra said...

After reading this post, it seems the state of CLP there is shocking. But what is the role of majority of ongress MLAs there? As they are not supposed to be in the camp of Mr. Karma. I have a question, what was the reaction of Mr. Mahant and PCC there? If we don't have a strong opposition in the assembly, then what sort of democratic process we are into?

As far as Monopoly of certain corporates is concerned, were there others who were willing to invest? And It is true that Bastar should not remain a human zoo, for that you need huge investments. This idea of stakes of Adivasis is welcome but a detailed study of the practical implications is needed. While there should be such measures, the process of development and industrialization should be speeded up rather. If not industrialization, then what is the key for a change in Bastar, and how fast and effective it would be? Things like herbal medicines or tourism are too nice looking ideas only. God knows when such things would materialize.

Very sad to learn about the Baloda tragedy.

Str8 Talk said...

Nice to get ur view point, why dotn youngsters like you ....along wiht others like Rahul Gandhi, Sachin Pilot, Milind Deora, Jiten towards picturing a progressive image for Congress party...

I have been a Congress supporter for long unitl S.Bangarappa was made to quit Congress by Karnataka Congress leaders....still haev sympathy to Madam Gandhi and support her

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