MAC: Mines and Communities

Is Nyamgiri ruling a "revolutionary" moment for India's poor?

Published by MAC on 2013-05-07
Source: Merinews

"The battle lines will be drawn indelibly between the people and the Corporates and it is anybody's guess as to who will win."

So comments human rights activist, M C Raj in his review of the implications of  last month's "historic" decision by India's Supreme Court over Vedanta's future in Orissa's Nyamgiri hills. See: India: Nyamgiri ruling "a great victory for indigenous rights"

Supreme Court's decision on Vedanta a tip of the iceberg

MC Raj


1 May 2013

Decentralization of power! Empowering Gram Sabhas [village-level governments] to take decisions on Corporates! Wow! What a courageous step in the annals of Indian history! First reactions of the naive and well meaning citizens of India! Welcome! It is historic step, no doubt. Let us understand the context.

White House Boardroom strategists proposed decentralization of power long ago. Many countries of the world had to lap it up. No wonder that Rajiv Gandhi even brought about the Panchayat Raj Act in India during his regime.

Did you think that power would be decentralized? It is a ploy to centralize power in the hands of a few while simultaneously creating the illusion that people have power in Gram Panchayats.

Taken by itself, decentralization of power is a must in any democracy. Democracy after all is power of people and they are everywhere. Therefore, when judges of the Supreme Court apparently empowered Gram Sabhas in the coverage area of Niyamgiri Hills in Orissa on the future of the Vedanta company in that region, it was definitely a manifestation of the residual effects of democracy.

Thus, 18 April 2013 will go down in the annals of history as a significant day. The judges need to be highly appreciated for being so naïve about postmodern democracy. Goodness often is inextricably intertwined with naiveté. If only the Parliament of India followed this model of democracy propounded by the Supreme Court, many ills of Indian society will be wished away easily.

If only the White House pursued this brand of democracy all over the world, sans its missiles and cluster bombs, we shall be able to see a different face of world governance.

Let us look at the ideal situation of democracy and governance, as we are provoked towards it by the Supreme Court. If all the villages in India had the power to decide on what is best for their village and if all the villages do decide on what is best for the entire village and its surroundings it will mark the best implementation of democracy and governance.

The Parliament of India with all its instruments and mechanisms of governance will lose much of its sheen. It will be quite legitimate all the same. If all the countries of the world had such powers to decide for themselves what is best and make their choices then the Presidents of the US need not go into different countries and kill them ruthlessly in the name of democracy.

Leave alone the fact that they will still find another reason to intrude into the sovereignty of nations. Communities across the world will be empowered to decide what type of infrastructure they need, what type of industry they would allow, what type of health system they should create, what type of irrigation they should have, what type of taxation they should have etc. the litany can go on and on.

Wow! If only the desire of the Supreme Court can be translated into a mandate, into an Act, into a law! It will mark a radical departure in the way people will govern themselves. Will this ever happen? Will the Supreme Court take the audacious courage to pass such strictures all over the country about every industry in India? Let us face it squarely; will the Supreme Court or the Parliament of India be ever able to overshadow the influence of the Ambanis, for example over the institutions of governance in India?

We have entered undoubtedly into an era of corporate governance and from the time of Indira Gandhi, we have seen how institutions of governance have been subverted to suit the designs of Corporates. ESMA, NSA, Emergency, AFSPA, POTA etc. are all symptomatic of such corporate malady that has crept into genuine democracy and governance.

The battle lines will be drawn indelibly between the people and the Corporates and it is anybody's guess as to who will win. A people that vote same set of politicians election after election who are nothing but semi literate and feudal agents of caste and corporate governance cannot hope to stand on their side of the line if ever such lines were drawn.

This is the tragedy of India and perhaps of most other poor countries in the world. They will never be allowed to decide in freedom what is best for themselves, and for the rest of the world. The world has irreversibly entered into capitalistic mechanisms of governance. Accumulation of resources in the hands of the most powerful is the mantra of modern and postmodern governance. In such a situation the ‘empowerment' by Supreme Court is bound to cast more doubts than strengthen the confidence of the people.

Let us imagine this ‘empowerment' becomes a law in India, just imagine. All Gram Sabhas are empowered to decide on what is best for them. Will they be able to stand against the consistent and irresistible pressures from the corporates?

How many Gram Sabhas will be able to make decisions that are best suited to the people of the region? Do we have evidence that Gram Sabhas will stand the test of time on this? If Gram Sabhas are so enlightened on common needs and needs of future generations why are they making their choices only among the existing political parties in the county? Why are they waiting for the same feudal lords of their ilk to make another political formation?

The data available in India does not adduce enough evidence that the type of empowerment the Supreme Court is croaking about will ultimately lead to the power of the people.

The Supreme Court must understand that they are talking to a mass of illiterate people who are deeply entrenched in feudal values. It is only natural that they will join hands with the likes of Vedanta to perpetuate their feudal society.

The leaders of people, on the other hand, eternally croak about the uniqueness of India without ever realizing that this uniqueness is a mask to cover some of our internal and intellectual decay. Ask Swami Agnivesh and he will say that the uniqueness of India lies in vegetarian food and in non-alcoholism. Eternal sweepers and dusters, while the drain underneath need a total reconstruction.

One of the biggest dangers that the Supreme Court needs to keep in mind is that such empowerment will invariably bring back caste governance in India totally marginalizing the subsistence and existence of the Dalits, Adivasis and MBCs. Just imagine what the Khap Panchayats have been doing to Dalit ‘lovers' in these postmodern times.

Just imagine the callous indifference of the ‘educated' class in India to such issues. It raises a serious doubt that the educated class in India is indeed the perpetrator of such social maladies. I am imagining an empowered Gram Sabha that has to deal with the question of inter-caste marriage, inter-dining and access of Dalits to public spaces. How many such empowered Gram Sabhas will stand against caste precepts enshrined in scriptures and make decisions that will mark radical forays into the future?

Therefore, lawyers and judges of the Supreme Court or any other court in India, my appeal to you is to look at Indian society in its totality before you blindly pass any judgment.

The Supreme Court will do well to take up the issues of non-implementation of education at all levels for all sections of society. It will do well to pass stricture on the government for its callous indifference to the implementation of the Constitutional ban on untouchability.

What is the state of the SC/ST prevention of atrocities Act of 1989? Is it enough to have them in the Constitution and in the law books? Why go that far? Is not the Supreme Court empowered to take action against the wastage of public money in the Parliament by constant disruption of parliamentary proceedings? We, the people of India are proud and happy to be fooled by the ‘democratic' dance of our elected leaders in the floors of the Parliament.

And thus we arrive at the ultimate question. Should the Supreme Court empower the people in the ‘Grams' or should the people in ‘Grams' empower the Supreme Court? There is no doubt that it is a mutual process and may be, this directive from the Supreme Court awakens many sections of India.

We need to appreciate the Supreme Court for boldly touching on the tip of the iceberg. Our only prayer to the Court is that it should not run away when the citizens begin to wake up.

About The Author

M C Raj is a human rights activist and award-winning author of more than 18 books. He has initiated a national campaign for proportionate electoral system, popularly known as CERI, in India. He is deeply involved in Climate Change issues.

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