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Instead of Gandhi, Sardar, Modi, Gujarat should reflect aspirations of social groups, inequalities: Scholar

Wetland off Nirma cement plant
By Rajiv Shah
A just-released book by senior Gujarat-based scholar Varsha Bhagat-Ganguly, who has served as professor at a top Indian IAS training institute, seeks to make a controversial suggestion: About the need to look at Gujarat not as a land of “Gandhi, Sardar Patel, and, of late, Narendra Modi”.
Insisting instead to look at Gujarat in the context of aspirations of different “social groups, communities and nature of inequalities among them”, the book, “Protest Movements and Citizens’ Rights in Gujarat (1970-2010)”, seeks to analyze five major protest movements that rocked the state between 1970 and 2010.
These movements are – Navnirman movement of 1973-74, which proved to be precursor to the JP movement; the two anti-reservation movements of 1981 and 1986; the pro-Narmada dam Ferkuva movement of early 1990s; and the 2009-10 Mahuva movement against the Nirma Cement Plant in the Saurashtra region of Gujarat.
The book has been published by the prestigious Indian Institute of Advanced Studies (IIAS), Shimla, where Bhagat-Ganguly was fellow before taking up as professor at the Centre for Rural Studies, Lal Bahadur Shastri National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, the institute that “trains” IAS babus in administrative skills.
Even as providing a complete account of each of these movements, the 300-page book seeks to look into what Ganguly-Bhagat says, “Hegemony of elites, nature of subjugation of the backward or disadvantaged sections of the society, historical injustices and grievances in the region.”
“The earlier studies on social movements and protests have largely been state-centric, and focused on political structures and processes”, the scholar complains, adding her effort, instead, is to bring in “contentious issues in the open” in order to highlight “a cycle of collective action that reflects citizens’ views in public domain.”
The scholar notes that three of the five movements -- the two anti-reservation movements and the pro-Narmada dam Ferkuva movement – were led by “relatively privileged groups” which became “the forerunners in exercising rights”, and succeeded in opening up “debates on citizens’ rights” in such a way that they “subverted the norm of rights.”
In fact, these movements, according to her, subverted the “right to reservations, right to resettlement and rehabilitation (R&R), right to development of the tribal oustees of the Sardar Sarovar Dam.”
Especially referring to the Ferkuva movement, she says, it “spoke of Narmada as a lifeline of Gujarat”, which increasingly became “an act of Gujarati identification with all denominations: religion, sub-sect, class, gender, occupation, regions and simultaneously viewed those who opposed the dam as the radical ‘Other’ of the state.”
The Navnirman movement, on the other hand, says the scholar, made the “distinct contribution” of “articulating democratic rights, including civil liberties, right to development, addressing corruption as ethical-political issue.”
Even if it lacked “theoretical understanding of societal problems” and talked of “reconstruction in simplistic, uncertain terms”, the scholar believes, there is much truth in what its leader Manishi Jani said, “For the first time in history of India, the students of Gujarat entered the Andolan with social commitment, where they felt that they had duties towards the nation and they participated to curb the corruption…”
As for the Mahuva movement, the scholar says, despite it being a largely “legal action” and fought more in the High Court of Gujarat, the Supreme Court and National Green Tribunal, the protesting farmers and agriculture dependents “fought for conservation of a water body meant for prevention of salinity ingress and storage of sweet water for irrigation and potable water.”
While the legal battle got bogged down mainly on two technical queries – whether this is government waste, pastureland or wet land, and whether there existed a water body – the scholar says, the movement significantly helped raise a ‘development debate’.
The debate, according to the scholar, was round the importance of “agricultural development versus industrial development; role of administrative institutions in maintaining land records, supporting democratic processes like public hearing, etc.; protection of the environment through prevention of salinity ingress, conservation ”; and “land use for livelihood instead of mining for cement plant.”

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