Jagatsinghpur Resistance – Playing By the Book

July 17, 2011

by Vinay Bhat

There who have scrutinized the facts about the POSCO project in Odisha, have little doubt that all democratic norms have been flouted through the alliance of the Government of Odisha, Government of India and POSCO. However, one of the more glaring facts this incident spells out is that, in the present context, the free market that is touted by the neo-liberals in nothing more than a myth. POSCO – a corporation that thrives on globalization and international trade, has had to resort to bullying and arm-twisting tactics with the State in the forefront as it’s foremost champion. Capitalism in its present form does not survive on free market principles, but survives on the backs of the nation state and the machinery constructed around it.

A market cannot be free unless all its participants have a level playing field and their lives are safeguarded. But, when all the safeguards are constructed for only side, the idea of this market collapses. In this market freedom is proportional to the extent of capital one entity has. And when the participants of the market try to reject this notion and try to introduce more freedoms, the capital holder in collusion with the nation state suppresses these urges.

Residents in Jagatsinghpur were playing by the book. They live very much within the constructs of a capital driven economy, and were even doing well for themselves with incomes that were sustainable for rural living – a thriving agrarian community one would say. But, as it has always been, it is not enough to play by the book. One also has to have all the face cards in the deck to survive. It was not enough that the Jagatsinghpuris obeyed the democratic norms laid out by the Indian nation state, passed Palli Sabha (village council) resolutions to reject the idea that their lands be used for industrial purposes. It is also not enough that even a Government appointed committee has declared that POSCO clearances violate all environmental norms. There have been no Maoists in the area, and no resident really requested Government help for development at any stage. However, the State is not only hell bent on imposing capitalistic policies, it is obdurate that there has to be only one kind of capitalism.

This is where the people in Jagatsinghpur fall out of favor. It is important in the eyes of the neo-liberal that if agriculture exists, that it be only at industrial levels. An independent agrarian community is not “efficient”. Independent agriculturists are only fit for industrial wage labor. All farm land must be fair game for industrialization. After all even Mr Chidamabaram has advocated that urbanization is inevitable in a world when agriculture is becoming less profitable.

The people of Jagatsinghpur particularly in Dhinkia have put up the most fierce, peaceful and innovative resistance one has witnessed in recent times. Here too, playing by the rules is not enough. It is not enough that they protest by the rules. They have been admonished for having women and children take the front lines. Officials remember human rights at times like this, but forget that it is the very women and children whose homes will be stolen, rendering them displaced.

So, while all those of us including me, advocate following the rule book of democracy, let us spare a thought for those who are left with no choices when the State decides to shred every page from this book and burn them in a public bonfire.