Introduction to Sanhati Selections 2011

February 7, 2011


While the international business press regularly applauds India’s recent growth trajectory, it consciously shies away from looking deeper into the nature of that growth process. Political and social activists, and progressive academics have characterized this as a peculiar form of neoliberal capitalist growth, foisted on a backward social formation in the periphery of global capitalism by an unholy alliance of domestic big capital and international finance. Such a growth process, many acute observers have noted, is built on ruthless displacement, dispossession, and pauperization of the majority of the population, including, perhaps unsurprisingly, the most vulnerable sections of Indian society. As the late Arjun Sengupta so tellingly reminded us: even today about 77 percent of the Indian population spend only about 20 rupees a day on consumption expenditures. Not the new breed of cars for them, nor the fat salaries of MNCs, not even the occasional vacations to the mountains; for three-fourth of the Indian population, life remains a struggle to put adequate and nourishing food on the table, to secure decent living quarters, to get clean drinking water and electricity on a regular basis, to have access to functioning medical and educational facilities. The neoliberal growth process has largely bypassed this segment of the population. As Debarshi Das points out eloquently in his article on agricultural investments in India, the contemporary growth narrative has nothing to offer to the majority of the Indian population save trickle down homilies.

Faced with pauperization unleashed by the exclusionary logic of neoliberal growth, the people of India have started organizing resistance movements in defense of their lives and livelihoods and for a better future. In 2006 Sanhati emerged within this whirlwind of struggle, and has gradually worked to establish itself as a website of record, a website that documents the trials and tribulations of the working people of India, that records the victories and losses of their struggles. Every year, we have decided to publish a selection of articles from our website that offers a peek at these million mutinies, at this tremendous struggle of people against all odds to fashion a better future. Hence, dear reader, Sanhati Selections 2011.

To facilitate your task, the articles in Sanhati Selections 2011 have been distributed into the following sections: agrarian change, displacement and dispossession, economics, industrial proletariat and the urban poor, political theory, repression and resistance, and womens’ movement.

The section on “Agrarian Change” has three articles, all of which throw light on how the structure of the agrarian economy and society has been transformed over the last few decades. Deepankar Basu’s article looks at agrarian change in Eastern India by focusing on the case of Bihar; Amit Basole’s article looks at agrarian change in North India. Both Basu and Basole present their analyses by drawing on a large collection of insightful village-level studies of agrarian change. Debarshi Das’s article, on the other hand, looks at the extremely important problem of capital formation (i.e., investment) in Indian agriculture, supplementing a macroeconomic narrative with findings from a survey of several villages in Bihar conducted in the summer of 2010. All the three articles highlight the relative decline of feudal forces, the persistence of small-scale, petty production and the retreat of the State under the influence of neoliberal policies as a major cause of agricultural stagnation.

The section on “Displacement and Dispossession” has two articles. The first one, by Partho Sarathi Ray, deals with the political geography of SEZs in India. Surveying the evidence on the geographical distribution of SEZs, Ray finds that SEZs have been primarily set up “near the big cities, on fertile agricultural land, in coastal areas and in areas rich in water resources, and in the states where the governments have been most aggressively following neo-liberal economic policies.” SEZ’s have been consciously located in developed geographical areas; hence, this evidence should help dispel the widely circulated myth that SEZ’s will assist in the infrastructural development of backward areas of the country. The second article in this section is an interview of Akhil Gogoi, the general secretary of Krishi Mukti Sangram Samiti (KMSS), which appeared in the Assamese daily Dainik Janambhumi in two parts on April 6 and 7, 2010. The text has been translated from Assamese and prefaced with an introductory note by Debarshi Das. KMSS, as Das notes in his introductory note, is an anomaly in the political landscape of Assam and should be of wider interest to readers of this book: it raises issues related to the lives and livelihood of people like the problems in the public distribution system, ecological impacts of big dams, non-implementation of MNREGA; it is not aligned to any political party; and it does not pursue identity politics!

The next section entitled “Economics” features two incisive critiques of the substance and effects of neoliberal economic policies. Debarshi Das rips apart the façade of “inclusive growth” from Budget 2009, a phrase that is routinely parroted these days after every neoliberal pronouncement, and displays its substance: a policy framework for “redistributing wealth of the nation to the already-wealthy”, and “securing domination of the powerful over the powerless.” The other article in this section is a note collectively prepared by members of Sanhati to “educate” Home Minister P. Chidambaran about the basics of contemporary Indian political economy. It answers a simple question: does the phenomenal growth of cellular phone subscribers in India imply that it has become rich country? The answer is a resounding no, as every informal sector worker would easily understand; cell phones are away to deal with extreme uncertainty and a precarious existence, it is not a marker of wealth and prosperity. For details of the argument the reader is invited to turn to the article and disabuse oneself of one of the most widespread myths of neoliberal India.

One of the most important characteristics of the political economy of contemporary India has been the continuing “informalization” of the nonfarm economy. This has meant a stagnation of formal sector employment, coupled with an explosion of informal sector jobs. The latter are marked by a lack of job security, social security, low wages and abysmal working conditions. An overwhelming majority of the Indian working class population finds itself in this informal sector and the articles in the section “Industrial Proletariat and the Urban Poor” tell their stories. While narrating the story of the largest unorganized sector strike in Delhi – the strike by the badaam workers of Karawal Nagar in December 2009 – Amit Basole also offers a political economic analysis of a typical informal industry (the almond industry), carefully identifying its links with international capital. The next two articles in this section draw our attention to the forced displacement of the urban poor in the name of development. The pamphlet by the Brihottoro Kolkata Khalpar Basti Uchhed Pratirodh Committee (Greater Kolkata Slum Eviction Resistance Committee) highlight the prospect of eviction faced by slum-dwellers lining Tipi, Manikhal, Chariyal and other canals, as well as Narkel Bagan, Hatgachhiya, Kachharipar, Hosenpur Purbapara, and a number of other places in Kolkata in the name of “improvement” of the environment. In the next article in this section, Sriman Chakraborty and Shamik Sarkar travel to the “rehabilitated” colonies in Nonadnaga (Kolkata) and talk to the residents about their life conditions. The stories they tell should puncture all claims of government agencies and neoliberal policy makers about the implementation of any meaningful form of “rehabilitation”.

The next section entitled “Political Theory” offers the readers three thoughtful essays on the political content of the Maoist movement in India today. If we agree that so-called civil society contemporary India is neatly divided between the dogmatic, don’t-talk-about-harmads, corrupt parliamentary left (the CPI and the CPM) and the globe-trotting, nonsense-spouting postmodern left, then all the three articles in this section engage with debates thrown up in this civil society. Ravi Kant offers an incisive critique of a new-fangled rights-based approach to socialism offered by Prabhat Patnaik, a leading theoretician of the parliamentary left in India. Kant’s logical pen shows up Patnaik’s recent writings for what it truly is: a cloak to hide the class character of the CPI(Marxist). In the next piece in this section, Radha D’Souza takes on the civil society anxiety about Maoist violence and demonstrates its contradictions. If violence begets violence, and violence of the State leads to Maoist violence, then civil society must “insist that the state, clearly the more powerful party, must cease its violence first, must stop displacement of people, stop forcible acquisition of land, [and] stop unending suffering.” In the third article in this section, Saroj Giri cautions against civil society initiatives calling for talks and dialogues between Maoists and the Indian state. The State attempts not only an armed liquidation of the Maoist movement through Operation Green Hunt; it also attempts what Giri calls a “democratic liquidation” via attempts of “progressive” politicians like Digvijay Singh and other civil society actors. To regain their radical edge, Maoists must “advance the (class) struggle into new areas and new classes”, stresses Giri.

If, as we have pointed out, the neoliberal growth process is built on displacement and dispossession, people at the receiving end of the process is bound to resist attempts to rob them of their livelihood and prevent further deterioration of their material conditions. Instead of addressing the basic issues that lead people to agitate, the State has decided to opt for the military option. Thus was born the notorious Operation Green Hunt (OGH), the undeclared war by the Indian State on a section of its own population. The articles in this section throw light on various aspects of this on-going war. Gautam Navlakha takes a detailed look at the assassination of Cherukuri Raj Kumar a.k.a Azad, a senior leader of the CPI (Maoist), on July 1-2, 2010 and draws valuable lessons of this event for the emerging peoples’ movements in India. In the next article in this section, Siddharta Mitra looks at the 35 human beings who perished in the IED blast near Dantewada on May 14th, 2010. He asks: who exactly died? His article explores the main targets of the attack, the Special Police Officers or SPO’s – the identity conferred on the SPO’s by mainstream reporting, and the politics behind that identity. In the third article in this section, Partho Sarathi Ray presents evidence, which he was the first to bring to public notice, that school buildings in Jharkhand and West Bengal are regularly being occupied by the OGH security forces. This is damning evidence against a State that talks about inclusive growth and pro-poor policies.

Political activists working for a better future know full well that addressing gender issues is an integral part of the radical transformation of society; after all women hold half the sky on their shoulders. Failure to address issues of the womens’ movements necessarily keeps the radical gesture of transformative politics inadequate. The two articles in this section look at issues thrown up by the womens’ movement. Shoma Sen argues that women’s exclusion in the neoliberal model of growth must be understood as inherent to its logic, a logic that benefits from the presence of patriarchy; women face a double exclusion, not only from the exclusionary logic of neoliberal growth but also from the attempt to keep a majority of women confined to housework and child care. She notes that any progressive movement to transcend the current system must “include women in these processes [of democratic decision- making and development] and not simply make symbolic gestures for their empowerment.” In the second article in this section, Rukmini Sen uses the occasion of the Women’s Day on March 8 2010 to look back at “100 years of women’s struggles for a just and egalitarian society”. Comparing the leaflets of two organizations – Centenary Committee to Celebrate International Women’s Day and the National Women’s organizations (AIDWA, AIDMAM, AIWC, JWP, CWDS, GOS, MWF, NFIW, YWCA, SMS, JAGORI, DWF, Nirmala Niketan) – she draws lessons for two crucial lessons for the contemporary women’s movement in India today: (1) to explore issues related to working conditions of women, and (2) to address issues related to the heterogeneity (arising from different cultural, geographical, religious locations, and sexual orientation) of women.

Right from its inception in 2006, Sanhati’s aim has been to provide a platform for evolving news, analyses and debates pertaining to the political economy of India and the world, with special emphasis on West Bengal. Allying with the struggle of working people against corporate capital and for the upholding of their democratic rights are the prime objectives, along with participation in the search for sustainable and equitable alternatives. With Sanhati Selections 2011 we renew our pledge and re-dedicate ourselves to this historic task.

The Sanhati Collective

1 Comment »

One Response to “Introduction to Sanhati Selections 2011

  1. shyam Says:
    December 24th, 2011 at 07:45

    i want every week info of peopole struggle and socil economic poitical.dowan dowan impirialism.thanks

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