Bhu Adhigrahan Nahi, Bhu Adhikar Chahiye (No Land Acquisition, We want Land Rights) echoed the Parliament Street when almost 20 thousand people gathered in the capital on 24th February to protest the Land Ordinance which the Modi government had hurriedly passed on 30th December 2014. The protestor’s logic was simple – when the people of the country (those poor, ailing, not middle classes, mostly rural, already forced on the margins) have repeatedly said no to an aggressive and pan-national development logic in to take shape in their backyards, it was idiotic for the new government to believe that it could do away with clauses of social impact assessment and requiring consent required for acquiring land for development projects without attracting their ire. They are all reassembling, even more strongly on May 5th, again in Delhi, to reassert their opposition to the ordinance, and take forward the campaign for land rights. Meanwhile, ordinance-burning campaigns and resistance across the country has increased, inviting many illegal arrests, police firing and atrocities on the protesting people from an impatient government.
What followed early in 2015, were opposition parties joining farmer unions, trade unions and social movements across the country to multiply the opposition. The Congress party defended its version of the 2013 Act – while the ruling party maintains that it will solve the ‘critical, even emergency issue’ of the need of land, much needed for setting up industries. Their logic is simple too – development is directly proportional to acquiring more land as industries need land, and the land hence must be acquired at all costs. No longer can the development of the country be allowed to halt, claims everyone in the ruling coalition at the behest of the PMO, some ministers very unconvinced with the argument themselves.
The unleashing of a singular belief in the trajectory of growth and development is a gory dream we gulp down with a tinge of nationalism. While the presented logic usually removes realities of people who do not benefit from this development idea, any other need is considered going back centuries of civilized world order.
As a citizen of the country, is it a crime to call out fellow citizens and point out failures to move towards pro-people policies, even when loud thumping by the new government dismisses all opposition from individuals and groups as a ‘political ploy’ or just a bunch of ‘anti-national’ and ‘anti-growth’ people, shouting hoarse over everything they want to do to take the country ahead?
The magnificently publicized ‘Make in India’, Smart Cities and Industrial Corridors are the avenues where all the supposedly acquired land is to go (even when millions of hectares of land lie unutilised or in SEZs or in government land banks, or simply under the capture of forest departments). While the Indian government’s logic regards huge corporate industrialization as the only saviour of the country and the economy – its methods and ways are extremely questionable, if not only the intent. Even the Supreme Court raised question of the re-promulgation of the land ordinance on 3rd April 2015, giving the government 4 more weeks to reply on the charges of using Emergency Powers under Article 123 of the Indian Constitution.
What is the emergency then? One side may again argue that development is the need of the hour, we need land for development and more industries is equal to more jobs. This logic too, is simple; yet powerfully captures aspirations of a class who has seen the dream they were shown magnificently. Over hundreds of hours of work of PR agencies and shouting leaders – to imagine what nation do they want! How many peasants, farmers, workers, adivasis and dalits even come close to represent their views when their lands, lives and livelihoods are so vigorously debated, and becomes a cause for upheaval in the national and international arena, specially for a government which does not bother too much to care too much about protests. It sees them as an anomaly, an abnormality of sorts – led by anti-national and anti-development brigades.
The criminalisation of dissent and portraying everyone who differs with a single-point agenda of the government is a dangerous trend, especially when no justifications are given in the Parliament or outside, to the demands and concerns raised by the judiciary, activists, farmer and trade unions, journalists, academicians and the intelligentsia. It is simply my way or the highway – perhaps democracy is too much an impediment for the Modi government – who gave a call for Minimum Government and Maximum Governance as the motto of the popularly elected government.
The BJP has found itself in a peculiar position here. On one side, the parent organisation and ideological guru – the RSS has its own agendas en-route to the formation of a Hindu Rashtra. The government has also not done much to differ from the ideologies, except playing down idiotic remarks made by their ministers and MPs against religious minorities, conversions, ghar wapsi, taking away of rights – civil and political. [You know, all to save the nation from the menace that are non-(upper caste)Hindu. Very Good Maths. A+]
But will saying out anything against this would not earn people the tag of pseudo-secular, a dreaded term used by Internet trolls to dismiss all opposition to the stupid ways and objectives? Is this how the 21st century for India will go, in the hands of ever increasing power hungry people? Will ordinary citizens not understand the pain with which the people on the margins are saying no to the efforts of the Dream Man India has stumbled upon? Is the government the only source of making laws and force ways of life – will people never be consulted, their needs never given priority? Are some people more equal than others, indeed?
The loosely used ‘anti-national’ phrase does not bring a smile to people who work day and night to protect the environment, read, discuss and put forward legal opinions all advocate the need for pro-people, and not pro-corporate agendas. Perhaps it does not bring a smile on the donors of thousands of crores to political parties – hence this aggressive campaign. But to hear that from the government, even the PMs mouth only encourages them further, for they must have struck some wrong chords. Why will the PM and the entire executive work overtime to declare a bunch of people as wrong and working on falsely driven agendas? They actually must be making some serious damage.
The question of land and acquisition is the story of the farmer, and the landless, the dalit and the adivasi. It is the story of the woman who works day and night in the family, to keep the stove burning. It is the story of millions of people still waiting for getting their constitutional rights recognised – to preserve what is left to preserve, and to build howsoever much they can. The government can only destroy the environment, not create. It is for the local people who have held on which gives us the air to breath, to produce food which we eat and to preserve rain cycles as much as they can.
What governments do is license it out to others to destroy it, dig more mines, build thermal and nuclear power plants, divert rivers to industries – destroying and displacing communities in the process, sanction the conversion of farmland to produce smoking chimneys. Indiscriminate consumption in the name of progress is the progress of only a few, not the many – and certainly not of all. It takes away all that we need to hold dear, and hands it over – sometimes through legislation, and mostly through brute force.
Economic policies today no longer take the conditions of citizens into account. It builds a rhetoric that is backed by all that is powerful – all the wings of state power, the dominant castes and classes, and inter(national) institutional of the first world jumping to finance projects in the third world. Not many spare a thought in the middle of all this for the farmer suicides, for the landless women depending on a 300-rupee pension, for the huge threats to environment and the living reality of climate change. These are mere roadblocks in the discourse of independent nation-building. Nothing must stop marching armies of the nation even when it has to take on its citizens – to build, build and build.
Build on lives?
Then build some more. And a little more after that.
P.S. – Relax, I am not being paid by foreign agents who want to destroy any development activity in the country. I am speaking what I have felt, witnessed and imagine my nation to be – to believe in the people of the country. I claim my active citizenship, my right to dissent and to imagine a future free from the violence of the state. And not put all my trust only in a bunch of people who would want us to believe that it is okay to build houses over the bodies of dead people. I won’t live in such houses or eat that food.
It would haunt my soul, forever.